Engaging Employees the Steve Jobs Way

Research has shown that once employees are paid "enough" to meet their needs (defined as "money is no longer a pressing concern") that further financial rewards will have only a limited motivating effect.

This applies especially if the tasks being performed are non-mechanical, engaging the employees’ intellectual faculties and requiring them to be conceptually creative. This is not to suggest that your workforce employees cannot be motivated, it is just that money isn’t the answer.

When building Apple, Steve Jobs did not attract the brightest and the best to work for him by offering huge financial rewards – he didn’t have any money to pay them in the early days! Rather, he promised the opportunity to work on exciting "idealistic" projects that had the potential to transform the world of personal computing. While he was not the easiest person to work for, his team bought into his vision of the future – attractively designed personal computers, which were intuitively easy for the non-tech-savvy consumer to use.

Breaking this high level of employee engagement down into its component parts, you could say that Jobs offered:

  1. Purpose – an inspiring vision that makes the world a better place
  2. Challenge – demanding, intellectually stimulating work and ambitious goals
  3. Autonomy – freedom for employees to organize their own work and take risks
  4. Professional growth – opportunity to be acknowledged as an expert
  5. Belonging – personal security from being part of a like-minded team
  6. Respect – knowing that employees’ ideas will be listened to, and solutions implemented if workable

Performance related financial rewards might well arise for a committed workforce, but the pursuit of such rewards will not be the key motivator. High performance and discretionary effort will arise from creating the right environment, with the elements above. If you rely for results on a financial incentive scheme, you are likely to be disappointed.

Remember – you don’t have to be a start up with an exciting vision to instill in your workforce the enthusiasm of a pioneer.