Have you ever stopped to look at your iPhone and really thought about the story behind such an incredible device? One day I did. I found a success story about a man who was adopted, raised by working class parents and was a college dropout. Despite any challenges he faced, Steve Jobs was driven by a passion greater than himself. That passion drew people to his vision to change the way we learn and see the world through personal computing.
How did somebody like Steve Jobs create such revolutionary products in a field that constantly demands great innovations to stay ahead? How was he able to find the most exceptional people, create well-managed teams and then unite his company to execute his vision? A vision that exceeded our expectations and pushed the limits of what technology can do. There is no doubt that Steve Jobs can be considered a genius. Yet when he speaks about his journey in creating and managing Apple before he resigned, he declares some amazingly simple truths that every CEO, manager and employee needs to hear.
There is a famous saying that goes something like, “Your company is only as good as it’s people.” But who are “good people” and how do you find them? Most companies have a very standard, unoriginal idea of who that perfect employee is.
Usually, a great candidate has a good amount of work experience, went to a decent school and gets along well with others. The executive management of a company knows the key traits that employees must have to support their vision. However, are they hiring people with those traits?
Sometimes the best person for the job doesn’t have the typical profile, but has some special qualities that helps him or her stand out. In addition, the standard hiring process for employees involves minimum interaction with candidates. Companies don’t really know who they’re hiring. They’re just gambling on a person that may be a good employee. When you gamble, you get a mix of employees. A few are great…and the rest are just getting the work done.
In his earlier days at Apple, Jobs described the characteristics of his ideal job applicant. He states, “We wanted people who were insanely great at what they did, but were not necessarily those seasoned professionals, but who had at the tips of their fingers…the latest understanding of where technology was and what we could do with it.” Jobs was mostly interested in new, innovative ideas and he wanted skilled employees who knew more about the latest technology. That was the most important thing to him and as long as a candidate had these traits he believed the rest would work itself out.
If a company can identify what their ideal employee’s traits should be, what would be the hiring process to select these candidates? Apple, in its initial stage, came up with a rigorous hiring process to find the right people to take their company to the next level.
When describing the hiring process during Apple’s initial growth as a company, an employee states, “We agonized over hiring. They would start at 9 or 10 in the morning and go through dinner. A new interviewee would talk to everyone in the building at least once, maybe a couple of times and then come back for another round of interviews and then we’d all get together to talk about it. When we finally decided we liked them enough to show them the Macintosh prototype and then we sat them down in front of it and if they were just kind of bored or said this is a nice computer, we did not want them. We wanted their eyes to light up and them to get really excited. Then we knew they were one of us.”
Apple clearly demonstrates that finding smart, passionate, like-minded professionals was not something that was based on luck. It was a requirement. Apple worked just as hard in hiring new employees as it did in any other part of their company, maybe even harder. Unfortunately, this kind of work is perceived as outdated and unnecessary in these current times.
If a company has worked so hard to find such talented individuals, the immediate assumption is a manager’s job is not going to be so challenging. Such talented employees will manage themselves. Yet the thing about intelligent people is that they always want to learn more, so you need an even more knowledgeable manager. When talking about how to pick the right manager, Jobs states, “If you are a great person, why would you work for someone you can’t learn anything from?…You know who the best managers are, they are the great, individual contributors who never ever want to be a manager, but decide they have to be a manager because no one is going to do as good a job as them.”
I think that Steve Job’s hard work in recruiting and finding the right people for his company basically created this amazing talent pool that he could constantly pull from. Hiring a manager within the company was the safest and smartest move. In the initial stages of Apple’s growth, the right manager would be the best of the best in Apple.
Employees reporting to these managers would be satisfied because they would continue to learn more about their job, and the selected manager who already knew so much would continue to learn about new, different aspects of the company to broaden their skills. To Jobs, hiring managers outside the company was a waste of time because all they would do is “manage.” They had nothing to contribute in terms of knowledge.
A CEO’s role is very limited in their daily interactions with their various departments. Yet their role is immensely difficult because they have to unify and lead so many people. So how do you lead to make sure your company stays on track? When Jobs discusses leadership he says, “The greatest people are self-managing. They don’t need to be managed. Once they know what to do, they will go figure out how to do it. What they need is a common vision, that’s what leadership is. What leadership is is having a vision, being able to articulate that so that the people around can understand and getting a consensus on a common vision.” Creating agreement and keeping such talented people on track can be challenging. The ability to prioritize and convince people to agree on one thing becomes essential for good leadership.
Unfortunately, Steve Jobs is no longer with us, but anyone who owns an Apple product (and that’s a lot of people) has a piece of him. Jobs had a passion for personal computing. He translated this passion into creating products that were complex in their mechanics, yet elegant and attractive in their design.
Jobs understood the power of finding the right people to bring his vision to life. The search to find such skilled employees was extremely time-consuming and challenging. Yet Jobs knew never to settle or compromise. In an age where everyone wants things done faster, cheaper and easier we all need to take a page from Steve Job’s book and learn that if you have to do something, do it right, otherwise there is really no point in doing it at all.
How demanding is your company in defining the exact requirements for employees? How diligent are they in discovering if they fit your culture? What else could they be doing to build an effective team the Steve Jobs way?
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