From Start to Finish: Sharing what I learned during my career at Microsoft

An often-shared slides describing "what I do"​ at Microsoft, with various photos that describe what various people think of my role.
One of my often-shared slides WRT “what I do”​

Here’s a question: have you thought about how you leave a lasting impact on your customers and colleagues?

Over the last few years in dozens if not hundreds of meetings and discussions at Microsoft, I’ve shared some of the guidance and thoughts by the incredible Bill Buxton, which I’ve kept at the top of my OneNote notebook:

  • Ideas are a dime a dozen (or you are doing it wrong)
  • Complementary, not competitive
  • Work together, not in silos
  • Everyone has their own problems to solve and opportunities to make a creative contribution to the final product
  • Reviewing past games (case studies) can be a good place to start

Impact is something that’s been on my mind over the last several weeks as I’ve leaned in to help others after a layoff (both those departing and those who remain), some to find new roles, answer their questions, help plan on how to address new opportunities and concerns at work, assuage their concerns, and generally be there for them.

And one red thread through all of these conversations has been an ask for advice, much of which has boiled down to this.


In a nutshell, it’s not about being the smartest or the most talented, it’s about being truly customer-driven and obsessed – not just lip service or a corporate tag line. It’s about knowing what makes our customers truly successful and achieving their business goals inside and out, using data and insights over opinions, and partnering with other groups to close the loop. It’s about speaking truth to power (always in a most respectful but provocative way) and finding work-life integration. And above all, it’s about leveraging and building on such practices every day.

As I retire today (a little earlier than planned given the wave of industry layoffs, but a little later than originally scheduled and just as welcomed) and look back on my time at Microsoft, let me share some advice that has served me well and often shared with others over the years.

Be customer-driven and obsessed

Always put the customer first and strive to understand their needs and wants. This will help you deliver exceptional service and build strong relationships. If people remember one thing about my time in the industry, let it be how I promoted this cause and effect each day.

Being customer-driven means putting the needs and wants of the customer at the forefront of everything you do. This involves understanding their pain points and working towards finding solutions that address them. One way to achieve this is by actively seeking feedback from customers and using it to improve your products or services.

“No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.”

Those are powerful words from Daniel Kahneman on wrong numbers ( It’s not enough to simply collect data on our customers: we have to do better to really and truly understand their needs and wants so we can deliver the exceptional service they deserve and build strong relationships that last beyond a sales cycle. By being customer-driven and obsessed, we can create meaningful connections that drive success for both our customers and our company. This is also one of the steps towards creating successful habits that Charles Duhigg has written about (in his book, The Power of Habit), and a key to understanding what drives customer behaviours. When you take the time to get to know your customers, you can use that knowledge to drive your actions that benefits you both.

Be an impartial voice for customers

Advocate for the customer and ensure their voice is heard within the company, as it will help improve the customer experience and drive loyalty.

As an employee, it’s critical to act as an advocate for customers within your company. This means speaking up on their behalf to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed – listen, act, and drive impact (more on the OODA loop in a moment). I’m reminded by Marcus Buckingham that the best managers know that their job is to help people fall in love with the work they do. (See also What Great Managers Do on By being an impartial voice for our customers and advocating for their needs, you improve the overall customer’s experience and drive loyalty.

But it’s not just about meeting their needs, it’s about creating a connection that inspires them to love what we do. When you truly advocate for the customer and take the steps towards improving CX, loyalty, brand love (more on that from Microsoft’s CMO Chris Capossela in Selene Suau‘s post), you find those key factors in what Richard Holden (author of Loveability) said…

“… the most successful companies are those that listen to their customers and act on their feedback.”

Some of the best in the business have shown that listening to customers is also key to company comebacks (, so there’s never a bad time to ensure you’re listening to your customers and using their feedback to improve.

Know what makes the customer successful, inside and out

To truly understand your customers, it’s important to know what drives their success. This involves understanding their business goals and objectives as well as their challenges and pain points. By having this knowledge, you can provide tailored solutions that meet their unique needs. Today I was discussing Angela Duckworth’s book (author of Grit) with one of the folks on my team at lunch and her maxim:

“Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development and then a lifetime of deepening.”

By taking the time to truly understand your customers and what makes them successful, you can develop and deepen your relationship with them to provide solutions that not only meet their needs but exceed their expectations. That’s often a delicate balance: you may find that you’re defined by what you’re willing to struggle or wrestle with when it comes to truly understand customers. It’s imperative to know what drives their success: it’s not just about meeting their needs, but about understanding their struggles and helping them overcome them. By knowing what makes our customers successful inside and out, we can build stronger relationships and deliver exceptional service.

Data and insights over opinions

This is something that I heard once again from key executives at Microsoft when we embarked on a new and ambitious project just a few years ago. They told me quite pointedly that to affect change and show credibility, we needed to use and frame customer data and insights to inform decisions rather than representing or relying on opinions. I came to learn that it helps you make more informed decisions and drive towards better outcomes, presenting key points and recommendations backed by evidence. That’s one way that employees can consider and bring all options to the table before making a decision. As Duhigg once said…

“Data can tell us what we need to know. It’s our job to turn that data into insights.”

By relying on data and insights rather than personal opinions, employees can make more informed decisions that benefit both themselves and the company.

The words from Daniel Kahneman are also quite clear in my head: “We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.” In this case, it reminds us that it’s easy to fall into the trap of relying solely on our opinions when making decisions. But by using data and insights to inform our choices, we can make more informed decisions that drive better outcomes. And egos may need to be pushed aside: it’s not just about being right but being rigorous in our thinking and open to new information. (Also see “We Are Blind To The Obvious And Blind To Our Blindness”)

Make the connections, close the (OODA) loop

I’ve shared a lot about the OODA loop at work (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, referenced previously), and it’s one of the strengths when it comes to navigating a company of the size of Microsoft over the last two decades. Leveraging the model of the #OODA loop provided a framework to connect with other teams across Microsoft, to share information and collaborate on initiatives. It helped me and my teams drive the “close the loop” efforts we needed to be more effective, and ultimately ferret out issues and leverage new opportunities that contributed to revenue, consumption, and share. These connections and collaboration across varied and sometimes different teams was essential in closing the OODA loop, leading to better decisions, increasing agility (which is tough with more than 200,000 people) and making us act with a greater sense of urgency. As Stephen Covey said:

“Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge.”

Partner with other groups

Building strong partnerships with other groups across Microsoft has been key to driving collaboration and innovation, and probably should’ve been near the top of this list. By working together and sharing ideas, teams can achieve more than they can alone. And this can help employees leverage a broad, collective knowledge and expertise across their own company to achieve great things. Some of the benefits I’ve experienced:

  • Greater investments in time and attention: Partnerships can help us access more resources and attention to projects and initiatives.
  • Bringing new perspectives and varied expertise: Connecting can help us learn from different viewpoints and skill sets that complement our own.
  • Support when we need it: It can help overcome challenges and difficulties by providing emotional and practical support, gaining insight and guidance from their experiences. Partnerships also help diversify our views and reduce risks.
  • Sharing the costs, material and psychological: Bringing teams together to solve big problems can reduce costs by sharing the load of the work as we drive solutions.

As I’ve found in listening to and reading Adam Grant, as people help each other they improve their collaboration, creating a culture of cooperation and mutual support. Grant argues that helping others is not only good for them but also good for ourselves. He calls this “givers gain”, meaning that those who give more than they take tend to achieve more success and happiness in the long run. Grant suggests a few different ways to foster a culture of giving across teams:

  • Be proactive: Don’t wait for others to ask for help – offer it before they need it.
  • Be specific: Don’t just say “let me know if you need anything” – offer concrete ways you can help.
  • Be generous: Don’t limit your help to those who can reciprocate – help those who can’t or won’t as well.
  • Be humble: Don’t brag about your contributions, the ego monster remains with others long after you’ve left the building – acknowledge the contributions of others.

(Reminds me also of 📚 Michael Bungay Stanier’s three principles: Be Lazy, Be Curious, Be Often. Read more on

Work-life integration

Striving for a healthy balance between work and personal life is essential for overall well-being, and by integrating these in a way that works for you can lead to greater satisfaction and fulfillment in many different areas of life. I’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as work-life balance: there’s work, and there’s life, but rarely is their balance. I’ve shared that instead there’s a level of integration that you can strive to achieve, as it can be challenging to find the right balance between our professional and personal lives. Striving for integration rather than separation enables you to create a healthier balance that works. It’s not just about finding time for both, it’s about finding meaning in both. Stephen Covey said…

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

By focusing on what truly matters and finding ways to integrate work and personal life, you and your teams can get a healthy balance that benefits both themselves and the company – and it’s up to you to maintain and reinforce it.

Speak truth to power

This is a big one for me (perhaps I should’ve listed it first), and probably the one I’ve echoed more in the last few months and quarters/years than the rest of my career combined. I attribute that more to the wisdom that comes from experience, less about bravado or ego.

IMHO, it’s critical that you lose the fear to speak up when something isn’t right, runs off the rails (or as one favourite and passionate exec shared with me, asleep at the switch), or when you have an idea of ways to improve things. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, you need courage to practice other virtues consistently. By having the courage to speak up and share your thoughts and ideas, you can help create positive change within the company. As Adam Grant wrote in ‘Originals,’ you have to…

“Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.”

I get it: it can be intimidating – even career limiting – to speak truth to power, but it’s essential for driving change and fostering innovation. By speaking up when something isn’t right or when we have an idea that could improve things, we can make a difference. Plus, it’s not just about being heard, it’s about being courageous in our convictions and open to feedback. (See also ways to develop a work culture that values respectful dissent).

Rinse, lather, repeat

Continuous learning is essential for personal and professional growth. By learning from your experiences and applying those lessons moving forward, you can achieve greater success and fulfillment. As Carol Dweck (Growth Mindset), said…

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning.”

By embracing challenges and learning from mistakes, employees can continuously improve and achieve their full potential. Also from Grant’s Originals, “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.” It’s essential to continuously learn from our experiences and apply those lessons moving forward. By rinsing, lathering, and repeating, we can drive innovation and growth. It’s not just about doing things differently, but more about doing things better.


I hope this is beneficial and enables you to do things a little better in your career and life, as it has served me so far in mine. Let me know your feedback (being a learn-it-all 😉 and feel free to share the advice that has helped you in your career. In the immortal words of Lou Reed: “You can depend on the worst always happening. You need a busload of faith to get by.”

#career #advice #CX #EX #Microsoft #customerobsession #careeradvice #customerobsessed