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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Apple Discovers Appeal of Employee Engagement

There's an interesting transition going on at Apple, America's largest and most successful company: It is becoming a brand more concerned about employee engagement.

At least that's how we interpret an article in this morning's Wall Street Journal that explains how Apple is making a significant transition from an almost military-like company where employees were largely motivated by a cult of personality around Steve Jobs.

In its place, new CEO Tim Cook is remaking the enterprise around some of the same kinds of employee-focused innovations that long have been staples at Apple's Silicon Valley competitors.

Earlier this year, for example, Apple launched a new initiative called "Blue Sky" that allows a small group of staffers to spend a few weeks on a pet engineering project, the newspaper said. That's similar to programs such as Google's "20% Time" that allows employees to spend up to one-fifth of their time on projects outside their normal responsibilties.

Apple under Cook also has introduced small corporate benefits such as discounts on Apple products and a charitable matching program, which the late Jobs hadn't bothered to institute.

What's going on here? A few things, we think.

First, Apple employees indeed are adjusting to an era that is new for them in the very simple fact that Jobs, a godlike figure who co-founded the company and then came back years later to revive it, is gone, and a "mere human" has succeeded him. Their expectations and demands for a tenure led by Cook, however successful it may be, naturally are going to be higher.

Second, with all of its tremendous successes as a product and as a brand over the last 20 years, Apple inevitably has entered a more competitive era in consumer electronics in which the mere fact of being an Apple product will mean less and less in the marketplace. So Cook must seek ways to motivate the Apple workforce for what promise to be more challenging times.

Third, Apple's stock prices has been easing, and it has been the prospect of the company's ever-rising stock price that has served as a huge incentive for many employees to stay.

It's not surprising that Cook has answered these challenges in part by trying to create a more engaged employee. In terms of employee retention, the Journal reports, some of the moves -- and the indications of a new culture -- already are working.

Give this new approach a fighting chance over the long term, we'd wager, and Cook will be able to continue to build his own successful legacy at the helm of the Company that Jobs Built.

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