A screenshot of the communication leadership class with Steve Clayton, Microsoft Vice President

Topics in Emergent Technologies and Media: In Conversation Steve Clayton, Microsoft’s First Chief Storytelling Officer

The title is a lie. A white lie. But in the post-truth world, doesn’t every story have the kernel of a lie in it? Okay, I am being facetious. It’s usually the latter, with most stories only having the kernel of a truth in them. But my lie is a white lie. A lie which used to be the truth. The conversation wasn’t with the Chief Storytelling Officer – it was with Microsoft’s Vice-President of Global Public Affairs. Steve Clayton has ascended once again – but as our conversation showed, the man is pure empathy and compassion at his core.

But what else could you expect from a Liverpool fan? (Though it pains me to accept as a Gooner, I’ve always had a soft spot for the club which banned the Sun and whose fans wear their politics on their sleeves).

Steve’s journey from London to Seattle, from sales to the Chief of Storytelling (a title which piqued my interest when I first heard it), and now to Vice-President was interesting, but what was even more interesting was his empathy and his conviction towards building a better future, his candour around technological developments while not ignoring the challenges they present, and his ability to say ‘I don’t know’ when he did not have an answer available. Isn’t that always the first step towards learning?

Over the course of the conversation, as the Keeper of the Company’s Stories, Steve’s candour provided refreshing insight into one of the world’s biggest tech giants.

The key takeaways for me were:

Under Satya’s leadership, seven years ago, the organization asked itself the big, existential question:

  • Why does Microsoft exist?
  • What would a world without Microsoft look like?

You can’t just exist to return shareholder value and profits. For a company of our size, the responsibility is more than just selling Xboxes and the bottom line – even though they love selling Xboxes.

When they talk about sustainability, they actually care. It isn’t just green washing – as their recent investment in Atlanta showed.

Today, they believe that their job is to ruthlessly remove the barriers to innovation. To be a company that stands for its core tenets and does what is right. Be an organization which stands for the Dreamers. Protect their rights. Protects civil rights which are being trampled upon. Protects rights to data sovereignty.

Be True to your Tenets

Of course, working across global borders has challenges, especially when you have to deal with a spectrum of political alignments different from your own. You will face pushback. But every time, you have to take a stance based on the core ethics and tenets of your company, and such situations can only be faced by having a strong foundation.

It’s something we’ve been practicing in class, as we’ve written Declarations for our organizations, and its interesting to see it implemented in the world at large.

Humanize the Organization

Treat your company as if it were a human being and ask – what would you do?

This was something I had discussed with my professors during my Bachelors in Mass Media. It’s something I’ve always believed in, alongside the fact that storytelling and emotion marks the core of any strong Marketing strategy. It was nice t0 have those views reinforced by a global leader in the field. And sometimes, it’s a good idea to treat internal changes as a marketing campaign, as Steve did to create cool ID cards for the 120,000 employees at Microsoft, to infuse a sense of belonging in everyone.

Finally, it’s heartening to see ethical leadership in the world of Big Tech. At the end of the day, it’s all about principles, as our core tenets steer us towards course correction and guide us to a hopeful future.