On Mar. 31, 1999, three team members and I took part in a Microsoft meeting about the company’s gaming strategy. In this meeting, we suggested Microsoft enter the console space–and we were promptly laughed off. After a lot of convincing, the first Xbox launched over two years later, becoming a landmark innovation in both gaming and digital media.
Our success didn’t happen by accident. It took months of collaboration, testing, grassroots organizing, and a little bit of luck to pull it off. And most importantly, it took effective people management. Looking back, I can identify three main contributors to the success of the Xbox project that people leaders should keep in mind in 2023 and beyond.
Recruiting for passion
From its initial conception, Xbox was not a widely supported initiative within Microsoft. My three co-founders and I had to develop prototypes, go through countless rounds of pitching, and overcome widespread skepticism to get our idea approved. It often felt like we were pushing a boulder up a hill that kept growing taller.
When the support we needed wasn’t there, belief and passion sustained us. We trusted in the idea that Microsoft had an opportunity to disrupt the console space by creating a truly distinctive offering. This conviction drove us to risk our careers and work long hours to realize our vision.
While you shouldn’t expect your employees to pull all-nighters, it’s fair to expect some level of buy-in. Employees should feel excited by the organization’s mission and their ability to take ownership in its direction. Passion is a difficult thing to fake. People leaders must work to create environments that foster excitement and enthusiasm for the company’s mission–and that starts with getting the right people on board.
Finding the right talent with potential for growth
With only a handful of volunteers on our team working on the Xbox concept in addition to our day jobs, each of us played an important role in seeing the project through to completion. It took a mix of engineering expertise, video game development experience, developer relations, and much more. I feel confident in saying that without the right talent in place, Xbox wouldn’t exist.
While the right mix of skills and experience was undoubtedly important, there’s another quality that drove Microsoft’s success in the 1990s: potential. Rather than relying solely on a checklist of qualifications, Microsoft also prioritized the soft skills and development of each candidate. With many young professionals today embracing non-linear career paths, a growth philosophy is more relevant in the hiring world than ever.
When searching for talent, it’s important to not only consider where the candidate has been but also where they want to go. By understanding a new hire’s current qualifications and future aspirations, you can choose the right people for today’s roles as well as where you hope to take the company tomorrow.
Making data-backed decisions
During the pitch process, our team couldn’t show up with just a hunch about what might work. We needed data that was compelling, easily digestible, and actionable to gain support for our vision. For example, there was widespread skepticism in the gaming world that a Windows-based operating system could work for a console, given how long it took the O.S. to boot up on a PC at the time. In response, one of my engineers modified the Windows codebase to create a prototype that could boot up a game in only a few seconds.
These data-backed insights aren’t just important for product development–they’re also invaluable for people management. Microsoft’s metrics-centric approach to talent management meant that Xbox could rapidly staff the new project with people who were the right fit. Historically, people management decisions have been made based on intuition and experience. However, the rise of workforce analytics can allow leaders to make more informed decisions. By measuring employee sentiment and other metrics like employee engagement, turnover rates, and performance, people leaders gain a better understanding of their workforce’s preferences and any gaps, allowing them to identify opportunities to build a better organization.
Collecting data is just one part of the process. The real value comes from turning that data into actionable insights. In today’s fast-paced business environment, time is of the essence, and people leaders need the ability to quickly analyze and transform data into tangible insights that can inform their decision-making.
People are foundational to success
Back in 1999, the idea of Microsoft entering the console space was written off by many, but with the right people and the right insights, the Xbox project became a global phenomenon. And it’s still here today.
In part, our success came down to having passionate, growth-oriented people and the data to back up our claims and proposed strategy. These takeaways hold true in 2023 and are things I still carry with me as CEO of HireRoad, a growth-oriented company aimed at helping organizations succeed with their people talent.
As you work to grow your own company and create innovative offerings, the lessons from how Xbox came to be should serve as a reminder of the importance of effective, data-backed people management.
Otto Berkes is the CEO of HireRoad.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.
More must-read commentary published by Fortune:
Read the full article here