Throwing in the towel(s) at Microsoft

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A Cautionary Tale

2014 marks a dubious 10th anniversary for Microsoft.

Here’s the backstory: As part of a broad series of cutbacks in 2004, Microsoft eliminated their laundered towel service. The towels were available for employees who showered after biking to work or playing sports on the company’s Redmond campus. That and the other changes, especially to the employee stock purchase program (ESPP), caused a groundswell of opposition from Microsoft employees, folks commonly referred to as “SOFTIES.” The towels became a rallying point of discontent.

microsoft throws in the towels


It’s Not the Towels, It’s What the Towels Represent

According to the blog mini Microsoft,

It’s not like we’re sweaty work-out animals always in need of a shower and fresh towel. No. What riled us was the bone-headed way the towel cut-back was handled, explained, and justified. It truly made us wonder just who are these people in charge and just who do they think they are leading? The towels became the symbol of poor leadership.”

Rancor continued and some prominent departures from Microsoft ensued. Business Week reported about the troubling exits,

“Just whisper the word ‘towels’ to any Microsoft employee, and eyes roll. Employees who helped the company build its huge cash stockpile were furious.”

Less than two years later in 2006 the towels were back. Microsoft reinstated the laundered towel service and added additional extras in an effort to stem the tide of exits and increase morale.

TAKEAWAY: It’s a Commitment, Not a Campaign – A green goldfish “employee extra” is different than a one off or limited offer. Add one or a school of green goldfish at your convenience, remove them at your peril [did someone just say TOWELS?].

Interesting aside: 

According to a report in Mashable, it’s customary for Softies to celebrate their yearly employment anniversaries with candy, and more specifically, M&Ms. Each anniversary, a Microsoft employee is expected to provide one pound of M&Ms for every year they’ve worked. That means if Bill Gates observed the tradition, he should have turned up with 39 pounds of M&Ms on June 27th of this year.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – What’s Your Green Goldfish is based on the simple premise that employees are the key drivers of customer experience and that “Happy Employees Create Happy Customers.” The books focuses on 15 different ways to drive employee engagement and reinforce a strong corporate culture. Here is a preview:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.

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