Microsoft's 'three-part test' for getting involved

Global public affairs GM Dominic Carr says purpose has helped his company respond proactively to tech-sector criticism.

L-R: PRWeek's Steve Barrett, We's Melissa Waggener Zorkin, Microsoft's Dominic Carr
L-R: PRWeek's Steve Barrett, We's Melissa Waggener Zorkin, Microsoft's Dominic Carr

CHICAGO: Purpose is more than a guide for decision making. It can also help brands that are attempting to reinvent themselves, said panelists on PRDecoded’s Leading with Purpose in an Age Defined by It session. 

"We’ve always been a mission-driven company," said Dominic Carr, GM of global public affairs at Microsoft. "But the last five years, we’ve been purpose-driven. It really has become ingrained in the DNA, and it’s been a powerful decision-making tool that lets us make choices in difficult situations. I think those things come together, and this purpose-driven mission has really been a key part of this company's renaissance."

Asked about criticism of the technology industry, Carr said that adopting purpose has helped Microsoft respond positively rather than playing defense. 

"For too long, the tech sector just said, ‘Don’t worry about it," Carr said. "I think it is important for tech companies to take more responsibility and to look at the negative consequences of tech and step up. If you’re changing the world, you’d better be prepared to help the world deal with that change. And again, our purpose-driven mission brings us back what we should be doing."

Carr and Melissa Waggener Zorkin, global CEO and founder of Microsoft’s longtime PR agency, WE Communications, agreed that comms is central to how brands manage issues around having a strong and well-defined purpose.

"Comms is so powerful at [Microsoft]. The way [Carr’s] team and our team is listened to is amazing," Waggener Zorkin said. "As for us, I think our company did start clearly with purpose in mind. We’re independent, and we are that way so we can make decisions with a lens that looks at what is the right thing to do. For us, purpose and people are first and profits come later."

However, purpose can also have consequences, as one audience member pointed out, asking how Microsoft decides what issues to address and how it deals with potential fallout. 

"We’ve tried to be consistent in our approach in few ways," Carr said. "One is we try to solve problems, not avoiding them, but acknowledging they exist, and when people bring us criticisms of tech to us, we try to take them seriously."

Carr added that the company uses a "three-part test." 

"First, does it affect our customers or employees in a significant way? Second, do we have special skills or abilities that in some way speak to problem? And finally, are we prepared to do something as opposed to just saying something?," he said. "That is sort of how we’ve navigated it."

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