With 3 words, Microsoft’s CEO Proved You Can Fire 10,000 People With Empathy
It’s a tough time to be a CEO. With the federal government slamming straight into the debt limit and Gen Z refusing to work for an honest paycheck, the siren calls of a new recession are long past here. Now, with nowhere else to turn, it’s left to our nation’s best and brightest corporate leaders to chart a path forward.
It wouldn’t be the first time it took ardent industrialists to lift us out of a mess of our own making. But this is a new generation of leaders, some yet untested in the arena of plebeian hubris. My editor Rick and I argue about this all the time — he says the old ways of putting down strikers by the sword and sending severed employees to Ireland were better than today’s softer appeals. I’ve been hesitant to agree. This week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella proved me right.
It all started Wednesday morning, when he and the organization’s C-Suite called the whole Microsoft cinematic universe together for a company-wide Teams meeting. The lucky lower-level employees were free to call in from home, but the untiring and undeterred executives were set up at the company’s Redmond campus, where they’d taken their seats in front of a massive glass orb affectionately branded the X-Sphere.
It was from this orb that one of the home campus’s most promising summer interns, Navya, pulled ten thousand names at random to determine which employees would ultimately get the axe.
“It wasn’t really random.” Microsoft human resources executive Brad Muhlenberg excitedly explained to me over a private Teams call. “But the rank and file of the company, they identify with the idea that they at least had a chance. It’s like the American Dream in motion.”
Of course, the employees who would be let go weren’t the only ones with a stake in the outcome of the sphere.
“After I finished reading off all the names of the people who got fired, they dumped another ten thousand names in.” said Navya, that lucky intern and recent college graduate who spoke with us via Teams from her parents’ home in Maharashtra, India. “The winner got a new Microsoft Surface tablet. They put all the interns’ names in, too, so I was really excited. But, ultimately, it went to Kyle.”
Kyle Muhlenberg was one of Navya’s fellow interns. He was unavailable for comment, but his father says he’s excited to start his new full-time position at the Redmond campus in June. Navya was intending on starting her career in the same department at the same time, but her name was drawn early on from the X-Sphere. “It was kind of disheartening, seeing my own name come up in the first hour and knowing there would be eight more hours of this.” Navya said. “It also kinda sucks losing this job, since it was the only thing keeping my Visa active. But, ultimately, yeah, I guess it felt cool to be part of the X-Sphere’s unveiling.”
“Yeah, it’s too bad we had to let Navya go.” said Brad Muhlenberg, the HR exec. “She was the best in the program, but ultimately, that’s the economy. With all the new redundancies in place, we only had room for one person in her position. But with the experience she got at the X-Sphere launch, I suspect she’ll land on her feet.” Brad added after the interview that the X-Sphere was making waves through the tech community and that he expected Sony to drop its competitor, the rumored Layoff Station, within the next few months. “Who knows, maybe they’ll snap up Navya.”
Microsoft’s HR team confirmed in a separate email that Navya’s selection for her role with the X-Sphere project was contingent on the signing of a non-compete clause. The company rep stressed that any attempt to aid Sony in the development of the Layoff Station or Amazon in its Kindle Fire™ Firing Machine project would be in direct violation of that agreement and result in legal action.
With the bad news delivered, the CEO took the stage to address the firees directly. What happened next blew me away. At the end of the call, Nadella set aside his spaceship keys, looked directly into the camera, and proceeded to say “I love you” once for each of the ten thousand terminated employees.
Without so much as a single sip of water, Microsoft’s CEO expressed his genuine love and affection for each of the severed employees. In one swift motion, Nadella demonstrated a greater capacity for emotional intelligence than most of us will display across our lifetimes.
And the employees? They were blown away too. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to find work again,” said one employee, who is expecting her first child in May, “but I do know that the CEO loves me, and that’s what really counts.”