Sachin Agarwal, a former Apple engineer who worked at the company for six years before leaving to start the blogging platform Posterous in 2008, credits the company with teaching him valuable management skills. Here are the eight key lessons this young CEO learned from the iEverything company:
- A tech company should be run by engineers, not managers
- Build a culture of respect between managers and employees
- Give employees the freedom to own and improve the products
- Challenge your employees to grow
- Deadlines are crucial
- Don't play the "feature game" with your competition
- Hire people who are insanely passionate about your product
- Its' important to emphasize work/life balance
It's not that any one lesson listed above is so unique, what makes the above list so instructional is that the company practiced all of them. Let's face it, it's easy for companies to say they value their employees and support an atmosphere of innovation. What's hard is to foster that culture, while also creating an environment for people to grow in.
Now it certainly helps that most of Apple's managers have strong engineering backgrounds and that project teams are small and closely knit. That camaraderie is a lot harder to accomplish in companies that are not tech companies. But given that technology plays such an important role in most industries today-think finance, manufacturing, energy, healthcare to name a few-it's important that all companies find ways to build a culture of respect between its non-tech managers and its high-tech developers who are creating platforms and products that can make the difference between business success and failure.
The CIO can be critical in making this happen by forming small, tight-knit project teams--made up of business and IT employees--to work on key initiatives for their organization. Those teams need to be supported and given the autonomy to make things happen. And when they succeed, the results must be rewarded and broadcast throughout the organization. If they fail, the lessons must be learned so that the next effort doesn't include the same mistakes.
Of course, it's not enough to value these small, hand-picked teams. Companies must place a high value on all their employees and consistently look for ways to challenge and develop them. Agarwal, for example, was getting to manage projects within six months of starting to work at Apple and was frequently pushed to tackle things that were a little beyond his capabilities.
Giving employees the freedom to use their own initiative to fix a problem without having to go through layers of bureaucracy also helped the company to come up with better solutions. Says Agarwal, "All projects are driven by long-term goals, but the best stuff comes from the engineers personally." Having a personal stake in the success or failure of a project is a terrific motivator.
How many companies can say they encourage that kind of initiative? How many companies still rely on top-down management and are afraid to trust their employees, especially their young ones who haven't earned their stripes yet? Seems to me there are still plenty of companies that manage people as if they were still in the Industrial Age. In our tech-heavy culture companies in all sectors need to take a lesson or two from the high tech firms that tend to reward young talent.
And when it comes to taking lessons from Apple, there's yet another list compiled by Carmine Gallo in a new book titled "The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs." You can read eight of those secrets here . They align quite well with Agarwal's management lessons from Apple.