An Informal Discussion with Kalin Dimtchev, Country Manager Lead in CEE Multi-country Region and Country Manager Bulgaria, Microsoft

An Informal Discussion with Kalin Dimtchev, about the importance of the curiosity and desire to learn new things, the trends and priorities in the “new” normal and what the successful companies do

How does Microsoft perform in SEE markets? Which are the key industries or sectors you have focused so far?

In the context of the numerous and difficult circumstances brought on by these thriving times, two things came clearer – that our focus and devotion towards empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more is the right path for coming out of this situation and enabling digital transformation is crucial in these challenging times.

Microsoft is bringing innovation and value to the customers and partners and helps in enabling their own digital transformation nevertheless their industries and sectors. Our goal is to assist them by providing more personal computing – opportunities to collaborate and share with colleagues and teams, reinventing productivity, and business processes, and building the intelligent cloud.

Digitizing is now mandatory, and as WEF the Global Risks Report 2020 states – more than half of the world’s population is now online and 2/3 of the people own a mobile device. While digital technology is bringing tremendous benefits to some people around the world, but not for all, issues like closing the skill gap in leveraging technology are our priority.

That is why we brought together every part of our company, combining existing and new resources from LinkedIn, GitHub, and Microsoft, and launched an initiative to help 25 million people worldwide acquire the digital skills needed in the new economy. This was announced last July. Now we topped this – only a few months later we helped 30 million people worldwide in this endeavor.

In CEE Multi Country, we have more than 280,000 engaged learners. In Bulgaria alone, more than 27,000 people benefited from the opportunity.

These results encouraged us to extend Microsoft’s commitment to help 250,000 companies make a skills-based hire in 2021. That is the way to create a societal impact that will lead to sustainability in the post COVID-19 era, while many are still wondering what recovery could look like.

How does the people of Microsoft cope with the pandemic? How do you motivate and engage your colleagues in various levels of the organization?

At Microsoft, our top priority with the start of the pandemic was to ensure health and well-being for our people. Monitoring closely local health situation and working with government and authorities help us keep crucial standards about the safety of the employees onsite. But physical health was not our only concern.

One of our core principles to take care of the mental and emotional well-being of the employees. We use our resources to help them to connect, work, learn, and collaborate.

To assist employees, customers, and businesses in their everyday work we create innovative and much needed new features in a powerful tool such as Microsoft Teams. With its multiple collaboration instruments, it enables teamwork and especially remote teamwork—a critically important for so many of us, now when personal communications are very limited or restricted.

So, today, more than ever, an environment that ensures continuous teamwork and an experience that most closely resembles real physical communication needs to be established in every organization. At Microsoft, we are focused on growing and evolving hybrid workplace to support our employees, clients, partners.

In your view, how can leaders support and mentor best their employees in pandemic?

There is a quote from Lao Tzu that comes to my mind every time I have been asked about the effective leadership – “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

At Microsoft, we depend on our team to be innovative, full of potential, and to move forward – in the way to drive impactful and positive change in the society. It is critical for managers to help their people thrive in these times, assisting connection between team members and boosting productivity, without being too pushy. And at the same time being able to understand the hardships of the situation – a man is a social creature, as they say, and we need to be in contact with one another. But when personal contacts are limited – that is where the leader steps in – to help his team prioritize, be productive, and maintain work-life balance.

More than 25,000 employees joined Microsoft during the pandemic and a recent survey among them shows that reliance on managers over peers had increased substantially compared with before the pandemic.

One of the most valuable things that the pandemic gave to leaders is time to reflect how our teams work. Do we have clear and specific goals for our team to accomplish? Do we have the right resources and deployment? Do we know our teams’ constraints? All these questions should inspire us, the leaders of the future, to rethink and establish new purpose, norms and processes for our teams to be agile and successful in challenging times.

How will the working place of the future look like? Is working from home become the new reality for your company?

Times of uncertainty are also times of opportunity. Digitization is a must – as the situation showed clearly. In the previous years, it sounded vague for some businesses, but now the value of digital transformation is proved. COVID-19 massively accelerated the pace on going digital, as many of our activities, from shopping to “going to work”, moved online.

There is no way back – for many people working environment now sounds and looks different. We understand that these expectations require employees to have the right to choose where and how they feel most safe and most productive.

Our Work Trend Index showed that hybrid work is here to stay -73% of employees stated that they want flexible remote work options after the pandemic. LinkedIn search requests for remote job opportunities increased more than five times over the last year.

We have to adapt and create a new operating model and strategy that encompasses flexible work policy and put an accent on equipment, office, and personal space.

What does it take to be a successful leader in your perspective?

Empathy and trust are defining values in our company. Every day, we strive to earn the trust of our customers, employees, the communities we serve, and to support them being their best. I think that is the most successful way to lead – through others, giving them the freedom to make decisions on how to best achieve results in their own way and helping them become the enablers of Microsoft’s growth.

Being optimistic and balancing with hard truths is also critical for the successful leader of today. Not avoiding the problems but instead taking leadership and responsibility for the actions is critical to drive team’s optimism and heathy culture for motivation and development in the constantly changing environment.

What is your personal key take-aways from your WfH as a leader and team member?

One of the lessons is how important technology is for everyone. Privacy, security, digital safety, and the responsible application of artificial intelligence emerged as priorities for the people and organizations, no matter the size.

There are some basic rules that our company shares regarding meetings, even online, and I, as a leader and team member, embrace them.

  • To listen to others and what they have to share – often it’s something new, meaningful, something that can be learned.
  • Not to talk too much – we prefer being “doers”, not talkers.
  • To be prompt on your answers and decisions. If you hesitate – how can others trust your judgement?
  • Be your authentic self – all diverse thinking and viewpoints can only enrich a discussion or contribute to more effective problem solving process
What kind of skills a worker should develop to adapt to the “new normality”?

I think that each one of us should be curious and with a desire to upgrade his/her skills. The working environment is changing constantly and the days that you take a degree in university and work your whole life within your studies are no more. Over the next five years, we estimate that the global workforce can absorb around 149 million new technology-oriented jobs. It is of crucial importance if the person wants to be taught, wants to grow and to achieve more.

Can you describe “success” in your words?

There is a famous quote that I like, it is Bill Gates quote: “Success is a lousy teacher; it seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” In my mind work and efforts are never-ending engagements.

At Microsoft, we devote ourselves to foster a sustainable future where everyone can benefit and has access to technology.

It’s not only a job for us but also a commitment to society.

So far, we are proud of:

  • Over 30 million learners reached as of March 2021 as part of our global skills initiative
  • Globally, nonprofits received USD 1.9 billion in donated or discounted technology and services
  • 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) reduced by our top suppliers
  • Over 470 billion emails analyzed by Microsoft each month for malware and phishing attempts

Is this success – you may call it that way.

Can we do better – for sure.

Your five sources of information? Favorite books and websites?

Living in a world full of digital content from differnet sources it is hard to assess what to trust and what is fake, what is valuable and what is now. Therefore we should not forget the good old sources of knowledge and wisdom – the book. One of my latest enjoyable reads was the Art of Talking to Anyone by Rosalie Maggio.