How to get people to work for free…

Yesterday I went to visit some of my ex colleagues at Microsoft, and I found out that one of my employment practices had been replicated:  recruiting internal people to work for free. I had forgotten about this, but thought I’d write a quick post in case you want to try it out…

My problem when working at MS was that I had significant overload. I had to be active in many areas of the business including marketing, sales, customer service, support, finance and HR, so it was impossible to do everything that needed to be done:  I had to prioritize the most important 60% and just focus on that.

At one point, we were receiving a huge number of support calls around a particular product area, which required significant time in order to ensure that customer satisfaction was managed effectively. I had to manage input from multiple team managers and make sure that our MD was regularly informed on the status of the UK situation. I would have had to drop almost everything else in my day job in order to manage this well, so instead I decided to outsource this new activity…

I advertised the role, basically saying that it would be a difficult, time-consuming job, with an almost impossible goal to achieve, with no additional pay. The selected candidate would need to do this in addition to their current job, with possibly a large proportion using up their own personal time, and not be paid to do it. However, the fact that they had to report to the exec team meant exposure.

To my surprise, the response was pretty much overwhelming… it appealed to people’s competitiveness, the belief that they could make a difference to customer satisfaction, and their desire for recognition from senior management.  I had always assumed that people’s primary goal was financially oriented, but this really interested me because it showed that people can be even more motivated by recognition, by contributing, and by stepping up to achieve big, bold goals.

We ended up selecting a few people to run with this initiative as a virtual team. They got exposure to the senior execs, worked hard together to achieve a goal, while I got to carry on with my primary job responsibilities.

I decided to leave a few months later in order to take on my own big challenge, but this week I was pleased to see that this practice has since been replicated in different parts of the company… if I had stayed on I would have tried to outsource my WHOLE job… now that would have been something to write home about 😉

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