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Grow, Experiment, and Learn: Microsoft Library Evolution

Philippe Cloutier and Nicole Partridge

Philippe Cloutier and Nicole Partridge

Nicole Partridge and Philippe Cloutier from the Microsoft Library & Archives discussed the role of libraries in Microsoft and how they have evolved. In 1983, Microsoft’s first librarian was hired, and the library had 50 books, It received the first mouse and produced the first edition of MS Word. In 2014, a new CEO was appointed. The company’s new mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. To deliver on the mission requires vision and alignment. A growth mindset was developed; it is foundational in achieving the mission. This mindset encompasses one customer-obsessed and an inclusive Microsoft, They want to be “learn-it-alls,” not “know it alls”. Here are some features of the mindset.

Growth Mindset

With a new CEO, Microsoft experienced a new inflection point. The library is also at an inflection point: management wants it to be a learning organization. Libraries are a deep part of Microsoft. Qualitative feedback was that the library was being used by people to learn their skills. Learning is the value that the library provides. It used to operate as an island; in the new culture, they knew they were not the only learning organization in the company.

How could the library help to build a bigger overall learning organization? It started reaching out in partnership and asked what the partners knew, found opportunities for cross-promotion, and reorganized into the learning group. Through partnering they were able to define their unique value. The library is a data-driven organization; it mixes quantitative and qualitative data to make a rich story about how they are adding value to the organization. Here are some of the questions they asked, their responses, and the unique value of the library.

Questions asked


Value of the library

The library used to look like an academic organization; now it uses a customer-obsessed brand to represent Microsoft in a simple, premium, and fun way.

customer-obsessed brand

A major service of the library is to help people navigate the Microsoft organization. Employees ask questions using a form so the library can compile data on the topics being researched. It thus takes advantage of its unique perspective on the community.

customer-obsessed brand

How does the library serve 115,000 employees in 120 countries? A team works together with the mission, worldview, providing solution areas within the culture, using customer-obsessed listening and insights, resulting in people recommending things to each other.  Testing and experimenting (A/B testing, testing to get more feedback) are also used. You can never test enough. Don’t do Q&A until after you have received the feedback.

Testing and listening

Diversity accelerates growth. Experiences: bookmarks, little libraries, insight summits (learn from leaders).


Inclusion experiments

Ask how to help; look and listen.

How to help

Understand the culture and how the library contributes to it. Communities have a long history; we need to understand how the library is aligned with the organization’s history, mission, and vision. How can you partner to make the customer’s experience better? Understand your value proposition–what you do, and stand behind it. Listen to your community. What can you do to get more feedback into the system? Adapt your voice not to sound like a librarian but a member of the community; improve the quality of your communications. Have a strategy that allows you to say “no” to protect your career. Everybody should know your strategy, where you are going, and have buy-in.

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