The Apple Way: The Legacy of Steve Jobs’ Culture-Driven Organization
by Denny Strigl
Steve Jobs was not only a brilliant technologist; he was also a brilliant manager. On October 6, 2011 Geoffrey A. Fowler and Jessica E. Vascellaro in their Wall Street Journal article titled With Jobs Gone, a New Test for Apple ‘Army‘ they wrote, “The corporate culture that Mr. Jobs worked to instill, and now leaves behind, encourages creativity within a formal structure of product development and launches, according to a former employee.” They write of the importance he placed on grooming Apple’s senior leadership team to carry on Apple’s remarkable culture. They further report that senior leaders “were told they were the cultural keepers of Apple, and were responsible for propagating that culture to other employees.”
I didn’t know Steve Jobs well enough to tell you exactly how he thought about corporate culture, but I can tell you whenever I visited him in Cupertino, Apple’s product innovation and results-driven culture was obvious to me. I know he created, lived and drove Apple’s culture. When he and his managers talked about their products, I could see and feel their excitement. I knew it was extremely important to them to build excellent products which would not only excite Apple’s customers, but would improve their customers’ lives in significant ways. It was also obviously important to them to be the best and to win in the marketplace.
It’s my guess that Steve Jobs and his senior managers didn’t spend a lot of time putting signs and slogans up around the organization, proclaiming how they wanted things done. Rather, I believe, starting with Steve Jobs, and now Tim Cook, every senior manager “lives” Apple’s culture. I’ll bet culture is demonstrated every day by Apple’s managers.
As I wrote in Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? simply stating what your culture is doesn’t mean people are going to follow it. Rather an organization’s culture is determined by how you, as a manger, behave. Culture can’t start from the bottom of a company, and it certainly can’t be sustained that way. Culture reflects the “shadow of the leader.” Apple’s strong corporate culture starts with its top leader, and the same is true for all companies that demonstrate sustained success. Culture is the values you not only talk about, but actually live.
With the death of Steve Jobs much has been reported this week about Apple. A question asked over and over again is whether Apple can sustain its remarkable success without Job’s genius. Of course, only time will tell, but I believe the culture he built, nurtured and embedded in his management will drive continued success, but only if Apple’s leaders are indeed its “cultural keepers.” (A culture will atrophy if it isn’t demonstrated every day.)
For more on what corporate culture is, isn’t and how managers can build a winning culture within their organizations, please see chapter 9 of Managers Can You Hear Me Now?
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