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Talent Management Lessons From Apple: A Case

Study of the Worlds Most Valuable Firm (Part 1 of


4)
Posted by: Dr John Sullivan

This past August Apple became the most valuable corporation in the world based on
market capitalization, surpassing every firm in the technology industry and every other
industry! As a consumer products company, its prolonged growth spurt is even more
amazing because it has continued through economic times when consumers are
reluctant to spend what little they have. Considering that Apple was near bankruptcy in
1997, its story is both extraordinary and noteworthy.
The extraordinary valuation is not a result of 30+ years of stellar performance. Apple
has failed at many things. Its success isnt the result of access to special equipment,
manufacturing capability, or a great location, but rather superior leadership, access to
great talent, and unusual talent management approaches.
Almost everyone in business is aware of Apples amazing product success and the
extraordinary leadership of Steve Jobs. Some authors have described the firms
approach to HR, but few have analyzed the firm close enough to identify why the
approaches work. Visits to the headquarters and interviews with HR leaders convinced
me that there are lessons to be learned from this company. After two decades of
researching and analyzing Apples approach to talent management, I have compiled a
list of the key differentiators.

Apple Talent Management Approaches to Emulate


This three-part case study covers the many talent management factors that contributed
to Apples extraordinary success in workforce productivity and innovation. It does not
focus on the many important things that Steve Jobs did at Apple, because such things
are not easily copied by others. It also focuses primarily on the approaches used within
Apples corporate facilities versus those of Apples retail operations.

Agility Allows for Innovation into Completely New Areas


Many firms develop the capability to dominate their industry. Procter & Gamble, Intel,
and Toyota are excellent examples. Apple is in a different league, however, because it
has demonstrated the ability to shift into and dominate completely new industries every
few years. For most of its history, Apple was a computer company (and its name used to
be Apple Computer), but in the last decade Apple tackled the music industry with the

iPod device and iTunes distribution channel. Next Apple conquered and dominated the
smartphone industry with the iPhone and App Store. Most recently Apple challenged
the PC as we know it and is in the process of disrupting the publishing industry. This
ability to successfully shift from one industry to another in a few short years is known as
agility. In my book, even wildly successful firms like Google, Facebook, Toyota, or
Procter & Gamble cant come close to matching Apples agility track record.
A great deal of Apples agility comes from the direction and vision of its senior
leadership and its corporate culture, which reinforces the need to get ready for the next
big thing. While Apple looks for agility in talent, the real key to Apples agility occurs
post onboarding. At Apple, there is a cultural expectation that after succeeding in one
task, you will immediately move on to something completely different. You know that
you will have to retool and learn quickly. The expectation of radical change eliminates
resistance and sends a message that employees cant rest on their laurels. That means
that they must mentally prepare for (and even look forward to) the next extraordinary
challenge, even though you will get almost no career path help in determining which is
the next best challenge for you. Apple employees work in numerous disconnected team
silos, competing against one another with little or no foresight into the purpose or
intended use date of their work.
The rapidly shifting work load means than an employee bored with their work wont be
for long because the work and the focus will change, a major attraction factor that brings
in recruits desiring the challenge of radical change. Looking at the big picture, Apples
ability to move into and dominate completely unrelated industries is only possible
because of its extraordinary talent, the way that it manages it, and its approach to
building an image that attracts the new skills needed to successfully move into
completely new product areas.

A Lean Talent Management Approach Contributes to


Extraordinary Productivity
Most firms strive to have a productive workforce. One of the best ways to measure
workforce productivity is revenue per employee. Apple produces what can only be
considered extraordinary revenue per employee; $2 million. A second measure of
workforce productivity is profit per employee: nearly $478,000 for Apple (unbelievable
considering it has a retail workforce).
If you are familiar with the concept of lean management, then youll understand the
prime drivers for Apples extraordinary employee productivity. For years, the leadership
of Apple has followed the philosophy that having less is more, meaning that by
purposely understaffing and operating with reduced funding, you can make the team
more productive and innovative.

Innovation at most firms is expensive because you must pay for a lot of trial and error.
The lean approach, however, can improve innovation because with everything being
tried, there simply isnt enough time or money for major misses and re-dos. Unrealistic
deadlines at Apple mean that you have to get project problems solved early on,
because there isnt time to redo things over and over. Being lean forces the team to be
more cohesive. Even providing a lean schedule forces everyone to be productive
because they know there is no room for slippage. At Apple, the lean approach means
that even with its huge cash resources, every employee must adopt the mentality of
leanness. If you understand the lean concept and its advantages, you shouldnt be
surprised that numerous innovations have been developed in garages, the ultimate
lean environment.

Build and Reinforce a Performance Culture


Any business analysis of Apple will reveal its laser focus on producing industry-leading
results. While some feel the performance emphasis comes solely from Steve Jobs, the
performance culture is continually reinforced by operational processes and practices.
For example, having stock as a primary motivator forces employees to focus on the
performance of the company and its stock. The rewards and recognition programs at
Apple dont include a component for effort or trying only final results. Rather than
celebrating numerous product milestones, only the final product unveiling is worthy of a
major celebration.
A performance culture requires significant differentiation based on performance, and its
clear that in this culture, the top performers and those who are working on missioncritical products are treated significantly differently. In fact, current and former
employees frequently complained about the special treatment given to those designated
as the top 100 most important employees.
Treating top performers differently may cause some employees to be disgruntled, but
treating all employees exactly the same will frustrate your high-impact top performers
and cause them to leave. Functions receive different funding also, based on their
potential impact. Overhead functions that dont directly produce product (i.e. HR) are
often underfunded compared to product producing functions like engineering and
product design.
Although there is certainly politics at Apple (where marketing seems to rule), having a
degree from a prestigious school or past success on other products wont get you far in
the highly competitive culture at Apple. Jobs has no degree at all. The internal
competition is fierce (even though they dont know what other teams are doing) to
develop or contribute to the most-talked about feature for the next WOW product.

Rather Than a Work/Life Balance, Emphasize the Work


Numerous HR functions proudly and prominently push work/life balance. Like them,
Apple is proud of its long-established culture. You wont find the term balance
anywhere on the career site; instead, Apple makes it clear it is looking for extremely
hard-working and committed individuals. On the website, for example, it proudly states:
This isnt your cushy corporate nine-to-fiver. It reinforces the hard work message
several times, including Making it all happen can be hard work. And you could probably
find an easier job someplace else. But thats not the point, is it?
And: We also have a shared obsession with getting every last detail right. So leave
your neckties, bring your ideas.
If you dont care about getting every precise detail perfect, great work, and a lot of it,
Apple makes it crystal clear that this is not the place for you.

Talent Management Lessons From Apple A


Case Study of the Worlds Most Valuable Firm
(Part 2 of 4)
Posted by: Dr John Sullivan

In Part 2 of this case study on Apples talent management practices, I look at its
approach to innovation, compensation, and benefits, careerpathing, and online
recruitment (its career site). Some approaches discussed are unique to sub-factions
within Apple, as would be expected in any organization of significant size. Its also quite
rare for organizations that design, manufacture, and sell through direct retail to have
consistent approaches across all units.

Talent Management Lessons To Learn and Copy


(continued)
You should not be surprised to learn that the firm that made the term think different a
brand uses talent management approaches that are well outside the norm. In addition
to the lessons presented in Part 1, some approaches other firms can learn from Apple
include:

Career paths reduce self-reliance and crosspollination in most organizations, HR helps to speed
up employee career progression. The underlying premise
is that retention rates will increase if career progression is
made easy. The Apple approach is quite different; it wants
employees to take full responsibility for their career
movement. The concept of having employees own their
career began years ago when Kevin Sullivan was the VP
of HR. Apple doesnt fully support career path help
because it doesnt want its employees to develop a sense
of entitlement and think that they have a right to
continuous promotion.
Apple believes career paths weaken employee self-reliance and indirectly decrease
cross-departmental collaboration and learning. Absent a career path, employees
actively seek out information about jobs in other functions and business units. In a
company where creativity and innovation are king, you dont want anything reducing
your employees curiosity and the cross-pollination between diverse functions and units.
Automatically moving employees up to the next functional job may also severely narrow
the range of internal movement within the organization, which could reduce the level of
diverse thinking in some groups.
Create and manage a culture of innovation most firms have a culture with a
singular focus on one attribute like performance, quality, customer service, or costcontainment. Apple is unique in that it has two dominant cultural attributes that exist
side-by-side. The first (discussed in part one) is performance, with the second being
innovation; the latter may actually be the strongest of the two. The dual emphasis
works at Apple because the firm operates in the consumer technology field, where there
is a universal expectation for disruptive performance.
Producing $2 million-plus in revenue per employee certainly establishes Apple as a
performer, but it is its industry-dominating product innovation that differentiates it from
competitors like HP, Sony, Microsoft, and IBM. Three factors drive the innovation
attribute, including the expectation of continuous innovation, extreme secrecy within the
product development process, and continuous brainstorming/challenge meetings (even
at play just days before a product launch).

I expect a pony
Apples culture of innovation is unique because the goal is to produce a pony, not a real
horse but instead something so desirable that everyone wants it and considers it
gorgeous. Simple evolution doesnt cut it only extraordinary industry-leading
innovation that results in WOW products does. To accomplish that, Apple doesnt do
what most consumers assume it does. Instead of developing completely new industry
technologies, Apple takes existing technologies and then bundles numerous small
developments on top to produce what appears to the public as giant step forward. It
takes a powerful culture and group of managers to delay taking great work public faster,
but Apple knows that numerous small releases dont produce the same media and
consumer buzz.
The expectation of innovation permeates the culture
The expectation of innovation is driven by Apples history of innovation, its leaders (who
forbid the use of thats not possible), and the peer pressure among employees to be
among the contributors to the final product that the customer sees. In order to generate
this expectation of innovation, it doesnt rely on posters or motivational slogans
(although they have those too around here, changing the world just comes with the
job description). Instead, every communication, process, product launch event, and
even advertising slogans (Think Different, Imagine the Possibilities, Heres to the crazy
ones. The misfits. The rebels. Etc.) make it crystal-clear that innovation is at the heart of
Apples success. Innovation has driven Apples past and current successes, and it will
continue to drive future success. After walking in the door of the corporate offices in
Cupertino, California, you can literally feel the expectation to innovate.
Secrecy drives internal competition
The second critical driver of innovation is the product development process. This
innovation process is unique in that it doesnt rely on a formal ideation type model;
instead, it has been described as an iteration process energized by peer competition
and Apples famous siloed/secret approach to teams. Apple does many things using
small development teams, as many firms do, but doesnt rely on a single team to design
each product element. Multiple teams may be assigned to the same area (or they may
accidentally wander into the same area). The approach has been called 10 to 3 to 1
because 10 teams may work on a product area independently. When work is ready for
review a formal peer review, it will whittle 10 mockups to three and eventually down to
one. It is an approach that is unique to Apple. Outsiders may consider it expensive and
slow, but they cant argue it isnt effective.
Apple is well known for its obsession with secrecy in order to heighten the impact during
a product release. Secrecy is also the most unique element in its innovation process. In
order to maintain secrecy, development and design teams are intentionally siloed. As a
result of these communication barriers, team leaders may not be initially aware of how
many teams theyre competing against and what those other teams are working on. The

level of open collaboration that you might find at other firms like Google is not possible
under this process, but neither is early-stage groupthink. Once possible feature
solutions move forward to peer review, the organization benefits from broader scope
best-practice sharing and collaboration. While it may seem counterintuitive, Apple has
turned team silos that would be a negative factor at most firms into a positive force.
Paired design meetings force free-thinking to continue until the end of the design
Another element of the design and innovation process is the holding of weekly paired
design meetings. Every design team is expected to hold two meetings each week. The
first is a traditional production meeting where small refinements are discussed and
made. The second is a go crazy meeting, in which everyone brainstorms and uses
free-thinking to scope out parameters. Most organizations stop these brainstorming
meetings once the design parameters are clear, but Apple continues them long into the
development cycle to guarantee that completely new ideas will constantly raise the
innovation bar.
The talent management lessons to learn in the area of innovation include the concept
that intense competition may produce innovation faster than any formal ideation
process. In addition, peer vetting of ideas, delaying collaboration until toward the end of
the development process, and requiring the continuous use of brainstorming processes
may result in bolder innovations and higher levels of risk-taking.
Tying economic rewards to overall company success can reduce selfish
behavior You wont find anyone who will publicly argue that Apple pays well with
regard to base compensation. Economic rewards at Apple are significant, but largely
tied to the companys valuation. The primary monetary motivator at Apple is the
opportunity for wealth creation as a result of stock ownership. Most employees at Apple
get periodic stock grants to reward their contribution. By putting the focus on the stock,
they send every employee a clear message that individual accomplishments are
important only if they directly contribute to the overall success of the company. This
approach, coupled with the firms famous product focus, keeps everyone focused on
product success rather than individual results and individual rewards. Individual rewards
are provided based on performance and consist of stock grants and cash bonuses up to
30% of base salary. Apples retail employees also have stock opportunities. They are
paid on an hourly basis and do not receive a sales commission.
Benefits and even pay play a secondary role in recruiting and retention at Apple,
the primary long-term attraction and retention factors are stock growth and exciting
work. Because of the importance of these two factors, its message on benefits is clear.
If youre doing the best work of your life and having a major impact on the world, do you
really need sushi in the cafeteria? (It has that also.) Although most talent competitors to
Apple spend huge amounts of money on benefits, Apples offerings are spartan when
compared to Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. While Apples health plan is well-funded,
and it has good food and an on-campus gym, neither the food nor the gym is free. One
perk that does excite potential applicants (especially in retail) is the employee discount

on Apple products which is given to every employee. These discounts further support
and reinforce Apples companywide emphasis on the product.
Your corporate jobs website should boldly inspire because the primary goal of
most corporate career/jobs websites is simply to provide company and job information
to potential candidates, most corporate job pages are chock-full full of information.
Apples website is lean on information but strong on inspiration. As a result, after
exploring the site, the potential applicant comes away inspired rather than with a pile of
information about the company.
There are two categories of inspirational messages on the site, and each one is bold.
The first group of corporate messages makes it clear that Apple is anti-corporate. In
fact, the first bold headline you see is corporate jobs, without the corporate part. They
also highlight what they are proud not to have including endless meetings, being
bureaucratic, having executive perks and managers wearing suits. Instead they boldly
tell you dont expect business as usual.
The second category of inspiration on the website concentrates on openness,
innovation, and changing the world. Key phrases include open minds, collaboration,
and of course innovation. You will also find the phrase theres plenty of open space
and open minds (obviously perfect sentence structure isnt a high priority either).
Finally, they promise to give you a license to change the world and be inspired.
Its focus on inspiration is so strong that for a tech firm, there is a surprising lack of
technology-speak on the page. You will not find blogs, videos, or any mention of Apples
availability on Twitter or Facebook easily. When it comes to mobile access, the site will
render fine on the latest smartphones, but receives a 1.51/5.0 with regard to meeting
mobile standards. If you visit the site, you might even find links that dont work and
features that load very slowly. What you will find is inspiration loads of it.
Ill leave you with this introductory statement from its career site:
Theres the typical job. Punch in, push paper, punch out, repeat. Then theres a career
at Apple. Where youre encouraged to defy routine. To explore the far reaches of the
possible. To travel uncharted paths. And to be a part of something far bigger than
yourself. Because around here, changing the world just comes with the job description.

Talent Management Lessons From Apple A


Case Study of the Worlds Most Valuable Firm
(Part 3 of 4)
Posted by: Dr John Sullivan

Want to impress your CEO? Few CEOs wouldnt mind having the innovation track
record of Apple, so there is probably no quicker way to become an instant hero then
by learning how Apples talent management practices have contributed to its success
and applying those practices relevant to your organization. In this installment of the
case study, well look at internal branding, employer branding, and recruiting.

Internal Brand Encourages Fighting the Status Quo


Steve Jobs and the management team at Apple have worked tirelessly to build a unique
internal brand image at Apple that positions employees (at least mentally) as
revolutionaries and rebels. Many years ago the organization influenced this internal
brand by challenging employees to think how much more exciting it would be to be a
pirate, rather than someone who followed the formal protocol of the regular Navy. It
even flew a pirate flag over its corporate headquarters. The tradition of being
revolutionaries is upheld even today with many supportive slogans including Part
career, part revolution.
Apple is well known for using T-shirts, parties, and celebrations to build cohesion and to
reinforce the internal brand as a ragtag group of revolutionaries. By getting employees
to view their role as attacking the status quo, it helps to spur continuous and disruptive
innovation. It has been successful in maintaining that internal brand image despite the
fact that the top-down approach and intense secrecy run counter to its hatred of
bureaucracy and all things too corporate. The external image further supports the
internal brand.

You Can Have a Strong External Employer Brand Without


an Employer Branding Program
Many among us dream of working at Apple, but unlike Google and Facebook, its pretty
difficult to find out what its actually like to work there. A quick search on the Internet
reveals that apart from a few alumni, most who have roamed the halls are pretty tightlipped about their experience. While that silence is probably largely driven by Apples
widespread use and vigilantly enforced non-disclosure agreements, even the
corporation itself is relatively mum. You wont find a great deal of employment
advertising or find the Apple name on any one of a dozen or more best-company-towork-for lists covering the technology sector, even though competitors like Google,
Microsoft, and Intel are regularly listed.
Despite the silence, most would agree that Apple has a great employer brand image;
Universum ranks Apple No. 10 among global engineering companies. The lesson to be
learned is simple: use management practices that support your desired brand and
elaborate brand management work will be unnecessary. Get your potential applicants to
admire your firm for who and what the firm does by being the admirable firm.

Your Product Brand Should Serve Double-duty as Your


Employer Brand
Instead of spending millions on building an employer brand, Apple lets its product brand
do all the talking. Apple works hard on building and maintaining its product brand, which
is ranked as the #1 global brand according to BrandZ ranking. Although product brand
messages are intended primarily for customers, the messaging which emphasizes
innovation and thinking differently also hasa major impact on potential applicants and
employees. The logic is that if your organization lives up to its product promises, then it
is natural to expect that the companys jobs would also live up to the firms brand
promise. In their minds, potential applicants make the connection between great
products and a great place to work. In addition, because Apples products are talked
about by everyone, there is a lot of brand association power lauded on those who work
at Apple.
This public awareness and admiration can, coupled with a strong employee referral
program, make generating a high volume of quality applicants easy. That same attention
and curiosity will also enhance a firms retention rates because your employees will
realize that the public sees them as collectively changing the world. Having employees
believe that they are likely doing the best work of their lives is a powerful situation that
most companies cant easily mimic.

Being a Most-admired Firm May Be Enough


Apple does receive some notoriety in the press as the worlds most admired firm.In
fact, Apple has been No. 1 for four years running on the list. That is an amazing feat.
Apple dominates this list by being ranked first in eight out of the nine possible ranking
factors. Those eight categories include factors that impress potential applicants,
including people management, quality of management team, innovativeness, and social
responsibility. The most admired list is based on the perceptions of business people and
executives, something that Apple excels at managing. Having your firm admired garners
enormous publicity in addition to increasing employee pride, engagement, and
retention. The lesson to be learned by other firms is that if you dont offer great benefits
(which Apple doesnt) you can get the same or even larger impact if you manage the
perceptions of executives at other firms.
We want our people to be on the leading edge, so that everyone wants them and
then we must treat them right so they will stay, no matter what offers come along!
Apple Senior Manager

Aggressively Recruit the Best From Other Firms


The pirate-raiding mentality at Apple certainly carries over into recruiting. Apple has a
long history of recruiting away top talent from other firms. In fact, the development of its
iPod probably wouldnt have occurred if it wasnt for importing external talent from firms
that didnt appreciate the value of this new technology. Steve Jobs himself has been
known to get directly involved in recruiting top talent. Apple has a top-grading type
philosophy in that it targets top performers. Jay Elliot, its former VP of HR, cites one of
Apples core principles as: Always hire the best A people. As soon as you hire a B,
they start bringing in Bs and Cs.
Apples recruiting approach is evolving because it has recently imported a team of
recruiting leaders from Electronic Arts, but historically, despite the aggressive
philosophy, its recruiting methods were pedestrian. It uses job boards and has an
employee referral program that has paid up to $5,000, but its candidate experience is
far from perfect. Glassdoor users rate Apple interviews 3.0/5.0 with regard to difficulty.
Its college recruiting effort isnt exceptional, with the exception of using recent college
hires to help recruit the new crop. The key lesson for other firms to learn is that you can
generate huge volumes of high-quality applicants if your firm is highly admired and if
potential employees believe that they will be working on leading-edge products that
everyone will be talking about.
In the retail group, there are two notable recruiting practices. The first has been the
naming of the Genius Bar, where technical support is provided. Many applicants and
employees in the retail area seem to be willing to put up with the relative drudgery of
retail work simply for the opportunity to someday work their way up to becoming
certified as a genius. The second is the use of employee referral cards that are welldesigned and powerful. They reinforce the companywide focus that originated with
Steve Jobs on recruiting the best from other firms. Recruiters and employees who
witness great customer service at other retail and customer service outlets hand the
card to those few individuals who provide impressive service. The front of the referral
cards say Youre amazing. We should talk.
The back praises the individual and their work with a near perfect narrative Your
customer service just now was exceptional. I work for the Apple store and youre exactly
the kind of person wed like to talk to. If youre happy where you are, Id never ask you
to leave. But if youre thinking about a change, give me a call. This could be the start of
something great.

Talent Management Lessons From Apple A


Case Study of the Worlds Most Valuable Firm
(Part 4 of 4)
Posted by: Dr John Sullivan

The purpose of this case study was not to say that you should copy everything Apple
does, but rather to point out that with relentless execution and focus on key factors even
a firm near bankruptcy can fight its way back to the top. In 13 years Apple has
transformed itself from an organization of the verge of collapse to the worlds most
valuable firm, amassing a phenomenal innovation record in the process. While Apples
approach wouldnt work for every firm, there are lessons to be learned that can
influence program design regardless of industry, firm size, or location.
In part 4 of this case study (heres parts 1, 2, and 3) on talent management lessons, the
attention is on development practices, role of management, and inspirational leadership.
Make your employees own their learning, training and development because
Apple frequently produces new products requiring expertise in completely different
industries (i.e. computers, music devices, media sales, and telephony), its employee
skill set requirements change faster than at almost any other tech firm. While there is
plenty of training available, there is no formal attempt to give every employee a learning
plan. Just as with career progression, employee training and learning are primarily
owned by employees. The firm expects employees to be self-reliant. Its retail
salesforce for example receives no training on how to sell, a practice that is certainly
unconventional in the retail environment. The lesson is simple: providing target
competencies and prescribing training can weaken employee self-reliance, an attribute
problematic in a fast-changing environment. Employee ownership of development
encourages employees to continuously learn in order to develop the skills that will be
required for new opportunities.
Make managers undisputed kings Apple is not a democracy. Most direction and
major decisions are made by senior management. Twenty percent time like that found
at Google doesnt exist. While in some organizations HR is powerful when it comes to
people management issues, at Apple, Steve Jobs has a well-earned reputation for
deemphasizing the power of HR. Although Apple was the first firm to develop an HR 411
line, I have concluded that most of the talent management innovations at Apple
emanate from outside of the HR function. There is a concerted effort to avoid having
decisions made by committees. Putting the above factors together, it is clear that at
Apple, managers are the undisputed kings. The resulting decrease in overhead function
interference, coupled with the increased authority and accountability, helps to attract
and retain managers that prefer control. Unfortunately, concentrating the authority has
resulted in having some managers being accused of micromanagement and abusing
team members.

Having a product focus drives focus, cooperation, and integration Apple is


notably famous in the business press for its product-focused approach (versus a
functional or regional focus). Everything from strategy to budgets to organizational
design and talent management functions are designed around the product. One of the
primary goals of talent management is to ensure that the workforce is focused on the
strategic elements that drive company success. That focus can be distracted with
selfish or self-serving behavior that instead shifts the emphasis to the individual, a
business function, a particular business unit or even a region. Although deciding to have
a product focus is normally a business decision, it turns out that Apples strong product
focus also has significant positive impacts on talent management.
This laser focus on producing a product makes it easy for everyone to prioritize and
focus their efforts. A product focus is so powerful because its easy for employees to
understand that final products can never be produced without everyone being on the
same page. A product focus increases coordination, cooperation, and integration
between the different functions and teams because everyone knows that you cant
produce a best-selling product without smooth handoffs and a lack of silos and
roadblocks. With a singular focus on producing product, there is simply less confusion
about what is important, what should be measured, what should be rewarded, and what
precisely is defined as success. A product focus increases the feeling of were all in this
together for a single clear purpose: the product.
Apple purposely offers only a relative handful of products, so employee focus isnt
dispersed among hundreds of products as it is at other firms. By releasing products only
when it can have a major market impact, Apple essentially guarantees that every
employee can brag that they contributed to an industry-dominating product that
everyone is aware of. This focus on product helps to contribute to employees feeling
that they are changing the world. This focus may also reduce the chance that
employees will notice that the day-to-day work environment with its politics and the
required secrecy may be less than perfect. And because Apple is no longer a small firm,
with nearly 50,000 employees, a unifying and inspiring theme is required to maintain
cohesion and a single sense of purpose.
Find a passionate and inspirational leader although Steve Jobs is no longer the
CEO, no analysis of Apple would be complete without mentioning his importance in the
firms success and the design of its talent management approach. He influenced nearly
every aspect of the talent management approach. Not only is he one of the highestrated CEOs by the public (he is ranked number three on the glassdoor.com list) but as a
role model, he has had a huge impact on innovation, productivity, retention, and
recruiting. His value is indisputable. The day after he resigned, Apples stock value fell
by as much as $17.7 billion. It is too early to tell whether the new CEO, Tim Cook, who
is markedly less inspirational, will be able to maintain the momentum that Jobs created.
He has already shifted some executives and changed the companys philanthropy
approach by instituting a matching gift program for charitable donations.

Other miscellaneous talent management issues Apple executives are certainly in


high demand at other firms that seek to be equally as innovative (for example, the head
of the retail operation recently left to become CEO at JCPenney). Despite this demand,
Apple certainly doesnt have any significant turnover problems. You can, however,
find plenty of negative comments about Apple on sites like glassdoor.com. Some
describe Apples approach toward employees as a bit arrogant, and employees are
certainly pushed to their limits. If you dont bleed six colors, you simply wont enjoy
your experience at Apple for long. Although originally the firm emphasized employee
recognition, it is not easy for those outside the firm to connect recent product successes
to a single individual or team.
Apple is a team environment. Although many teams are forced to operate in isolation,
that actually helps to build team cohesion. The competition between the different
development teams is also intense, but that also helps to further strengthen cohesion.
Like most engineering organizations, its decision-making model is certainly focused on
data. Apple management likes to control all aspects of its products, but despite that, it is
one of the best at using outsourcing to cover areas like manufacturing, which it has
determined is not a core corporate competency.

Final Thoughts
Although Apple clearly produces extraordinary results, its approach to talent
management is totally different than that of Google and Facebook, which also produce
industry-dominating results. As Apple has grown larger, its rigor around sustainable
innovation has grown as well, a feat that proves impossible for most organizations
including the likes of HP, Microsoft, and Yahoo.
The three big picture learnings I hope you walk away from this case study with include:
1.

Focus on the work it is managements responsibilty to do whatever is


necessary to keep work exciting and compelling.
2.
Strive for continuous innovation Apples emphasis on being different is so
strong that it cant be overlooked by any employee or applicant. It delivers industrydominating innovation levels because everyone is expected to.
3.
Deliver on your brand Apple works hard to make sure that potential applicants,
employees, and even competitors admire its products, the firm, and how it operates.
These three factors are not easy to copy, but they are certainly worth emulating. If you
can bring them and the results that they produce to your firm, there is no doubt that you
will be a hero.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who
specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to
large corporations.