What Motivates Employees

Apple has made a bunch of high profile hires recently, most notably:

(1) Paul Deneve, former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent

(2) Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry

(3) Marc Newson, designer

Ahrendts and Newson are almost iconic figures. Deneve and Ahrendts were prominent, well-respected CEO's of their respective companies. It seems unusual for two CEO's to give up positions of great power, pay, and prominence to accept vice president roles with Apple where they report to someone and where they operate in the background.

So what motivated these people to accept positions with Apple?

In One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?, by Frederick Herzberg (Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2008; article originally published in the Harvard Business Review in January, 2003), Herzberg talks about intrinsic motivators like growth and learning, responsibility and personal achievement, and recognition and advancement, versus extrinsic incentives like pay, perks, and promotions.

Herzberg says the problem with extrinsic incentives is that employees must be regularly placated with promotions and pay to keep them performing and on the job. Id.

The more a company utilizes intrinsic motivators, the less it has to rely on extrinsic incentives to keep people performing. With intrinsic motivators, people perform and stay on the job because they're growing, learning, getting more authority and responsibility, and developing new and deeper expertise. Id.

Companies can proactively create an environment with robust intrinsic motivators by:

(1)  removing some controls while giving employees more accountability, responsibility, and authority for complete, natural units of  work;

(2)  making information directly available to employees, rather than indirectly providing this information through management;

(3)  giving employees new and more difficult types of work; and

(4)  giving employees specific or specialized work, allowing them to develop expertise and advance in a particular area. Id.

When Scott Forstall left Apple, Tim Cook noted the importance of greater collaboration within Apple. As noted by Ed Catmull in Creativity, Inc., candid, team-based, problem-focused collaboration is critical in generating the thousands of good ideas needed to create an innovative new product. Because great new products require lots of good ideas, good people and good teams are more important than any single great idea. See post titled "The Rational Management Checklist."

When you see Apple making hires like Newson, Ahrendts, and Deneve, it suggests these people see a work environment with rich intrinsic motivators, rich enough to make it worthwhile to leave prominent, challenging positions. Something about Apple's present state and future prospects must have really excited them. Was it a highly collaborative work environment, the challenge of working on great new products and services, the opportunity to develop new expertise?

This points to what may be a significant competitive advantage for Apple over the long term. Because Apple is so end user focused, and doesn't have to compromise its "great product" mission by trying to generate ad revenues (Google) or e-commerce (Amazon), it may have a real advantage in recruiting talent like Newson, Ahrendts, and Deneve. People who join Apple get the intrinsic motivation that comes from a tight focus on end users and on creating the best products in the world.

The author owns stock shares of Apple.