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How to motivate employees - 11 protips from Steve Jobs

Learn how to motivate employees using eleven tips from Steve Jobs

Jawad Khan
June 1, 2022
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Looking for new ways to motivate your team? We’ve put together this guide so you can learn from a motivational legend and the famous creator of Apple - Steve Jobs. His methods of motivation may have been controversial, but the success it created is without a doubt aspirational.

Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, but his unique management practices, product development insights, and creativity still inspire millions worldwide. Beyond being a product genius, Job’s ability to build excellent teams and encourage his employees to achieve greatness was perhaps the biggest factor in establishing Apple’s high brand value. 

His management style was unique, and often considered harsh. However, he was able to get the best out of people and inspire them to challenge their limits every time.

So, how do you motivate employees the Steve Jobs way?

How to Motivate Your Employees - Protips from Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs knew how to motivate employees.

His methods weren’t always popular, but they were always effective. While it’s difficult to discuss everything Jobs did in one article, we’ve summarized some of his most effective employee motivation strategies for you.

1. Share Your Vision and Show Them the Bigger Picture

The purpose gap between employees and upper management

Nothing motivates employees more than a worthy vision. It makes people feel they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, which impacts people’s lives. A significant part of why Steve Jobs was good at motivating people was his vision for Apple, and how strongly he believed in it. Steve Jobs’ mantra was “a computer for the rest of us”.

He wanted to use the most complex and advanced technology to create the simplest and most user-friendly products that become a natural part of people’s daily lives. And he made sure his employees knew what he was after. 

Jobs constantly reminded everyone why Apple existed and what it wanted to contribute to the world. As a result, every Apple employee under Jobs knew their bigger purpose.

And that’s the most critical lesson here.

According to a study by Mckinsey & Company, employees who do purposeful work are more satisfied in their professional and personal lives than those who work for a paycheck only.

How did Steve Jobs inspire people with his vision? By making it the central part of his leadership and reciting it repeatedly until everyone in the company knew the vision was the only thing he cared about.

Key takeaway:  If you want to motivate your employees, give them a bigger reason to come to work than a paycheck.

2. Give Them The Formula for Success

Introducing Apple Macintosh advertisement

Steve Jobs was an inspirational leader and fascinating to hear on stage. But more than that, he was a tech expert who knew the ins and outs of his product and had a firmer grasp of technology than most of his employees, as was evident whenever he introduced a new product.

This allowed Jobs to lead the way in everything Apple did. For example, he led the teams of engineers and designers who developed the iPod and iPhone and had them create multiple prototypes. These products were revolutionary steps forward in the global communications industry.

Key takeaway: When team members respect their leaders for their skills and see them leading from the front, they feel more motivated to contribute. They know their managers or business owners have done it before and can do it again.

3. Offer Financial Security and Planning Assistance

Man working on Apple laptop

Apple hires the best technical experts, marketing leaders, and team players aligned with its vision. The company takes care of their employees’ financial wellness so they can stay focused on work and produce their best results.

Steve Jobs was among the first tech executives to advocate shareholding privileges for all employees and treated his female employees equally to men. He also prioritized employee financial wellness by creating retirement saving programs and multiple income protection layers. This helped create a culture where employees felt financially secure and motivated to work without fearing for their future. 

If you want to prioritize employee financial wellness, like Steve Jobs, consider investing in the right software to financially educate your employees, help them plan for their future, and measure progress. We’ve reviewed and rated the best financial wellness programs already, so finding the ideal software solution for your company should be no hassle at all.

Key takeaway: Employees can focus on their job and are invested in the success of the company when their financial wellbeing is taken care of. 

4. Show Employees that You Care

Apple’s company policy regarding donations and volunteer work

Steve Jobs, and later Tim Cook, introduced several policies to show employees that Apple cared about them. For example, Apple has a flexible paid leave policy that allows employees to take time off to relax, welcome a new child, embark on an adventure, or just spend time with family.

Similarly, Apple matches your donation to all eligible organizations one-for-one. So, if you donate $100 to a qualified charity, Apple will donate $100 as well, making the total donation $200. In addition, if you invest time in a charitable cause, Apple donates $25 per hour to show that they care.

Similarly, Apple employees get special discounts on Apple products and thousands of products from other brands. These benefits play a vital role in keeping employees motivated and ensuring that the right people stay with the company for years to come.

Key takeaway: Your workforce is what keeps your company alive. Show employees that you care about them, and what they care about. 

5. Openly Demonstrate Belief in Your Employees

Manager motivating employees with positive feedback

Steve Jobs wasn’t the most polite and soft-spoken, but he knew how to get the best out of people he believed in. Naz Beheshti, an entrepreneur, started her career as Jobs’ personal assistant.

Steve Jobs saw her talent and openly demonstrated belief in her abilities during team meetings. She credits his encouragement and high expectations for her transformation from an office assistant to a successful CEO.

This phenomenon is well documented and known as the Pygmalion effect. It states that high expectations often lead to an increase in performance. Managers can use this psychological effect to their advantage by backing their employees, showing belief in their abilities, and setting high expectations.

Give them challenging assignments, encourage them to delegate, and offer constructive feedback when needed.

To formalize employee recognition, consider using an employee recognition platform to measure employee performance and celebrate even their smallest wins. We recently put together a list of the best employee recognition software solutions to help you choose the right one for your business.

Key takeaway: Set high expectations for your employees to get the best out of them, but then also give the encouragement they need to meet those expectations, and recognize their efforts. 

6. Bypass Hierarchies to Engage the Best Man for the Job

Manager assigning tasks to team

Steve Jobs was never a fan of corporate hierarchies and wanted Apple to operate as a startup. When he believed someone could do the job for him, he didn’t hold back from bypassing formal channels and directly engaging with them.

Naturally, being handpicked by the CEO is a morale booster for any young professional.

Apple is still considered the world’s biggest startup, so its culture encourages such dynamic moves. In a more formal corporate setup, picking up employees without their immediate manager’s consent might offend people. But, if you think someone in your company can do the job for you, never hesitate to get them under your wing. This skyrockets their motivation levels and helps them achieve great things.

Key takeaway: Assign tasks and projects based on the right person and their skillset, not the corporate hierarchy. 

7. Look For Small Wins and Incremental Growth

Colleagues celebrating a win with a fist bump

Steve Jobs believed in incremental growth. He encouraged his teams to execute quickly and refine their product on the go. He believed in perfection but never waited for the perfect moment to do something. Instead, he focused on the small wins and milestones.

This approach has a direct impact on employee motivation.

According to Teresa Amabile, an academic associated with Harvard University, our brains are programmed for small wins, allowing us to stay motivated and retain our drive for success. In comparison, running after a major goal without achieving anything in between can quickly drain people’s energy and make them lose interest.

Key takeaway: Encourage employees to execute more instead of aiming for perfection at the first attempt. Celebrate their small wins and incentivize execution to build a culture of incremental growth where everyone strives to be better than they were yesterday.

8. Provide Timely and Transparent Feedback

Employee feedback meeting with manager

Steve Jobs was known for his direct and sometimes even confrontational approach to conversation. He even humiliated people in front of their co-workers with his blunt feedback. So while you don’t want to create a toxic culture in your company, where everyone is constantly under pressure and shouting at each other, there are still lessons to be learned here.

To Jobs, clear communication was the solution to most problems. He believed in transparency and provided swift feedback, even when it offended people. 

This approach helped him build a culture where gray areas weren’t tolerated, and transparency was advocated. For example, when someone wasn’t needed in a meeting, Jobs would directly ask them to leave since they had nothing to contribute. This improved productivity and made employees question the value of everything they did. Most importantly, his approach meant employees always knew what they were working on and the value they were adding. All these things directly fuel motivation.

On the other hand, in organizations where transparency and feedback aren’t a priority, employees often feel lost and eventually lose interest in their work.  

Key takeaway: Encourage regular feedback sessions between managers and their teams with the framework for transparent communication so that employees know how to present their perspective in a constructive manner.

9. Prioritize Consumer Experience in Everything

Employees testing user experience

Steve Jobs believed customer experience was the most critical aspect of any product. This is why he took charge of managing the customer experience of all Apple products. He wanted to create products any human could use naturally, irrespective of their intelligence level. 

As a result, he wanted everyone in Apple to not just create products, but “manufacture delight”. For example, Jobs once famously said, “The only button a microwave oven needs is Plus 30 Seconds”.

This gave his team the creative freedom they needed to build remarkable products. More than the product’s features, they focused on customer experience, what it added to the user’s personality, and how it made them feel.

This became the guiding principle in everything Apple did and motivated employees to build products that delighted their customers.

Key takeaway: Encourage your employees to consider customer experience in every part of product development. Doing so enables them to shift their primary focus from the features and technicalities of your product to its benefits and long-term impact.

10. Empower Employees to Make Tough Decisions

Motivated employees making decisions about project

Employees, generally speaking, can’t make tough product decisions without their management’s backing. This is why Steve Jobs ensured that he backed his employees to take unconventional routes, try new things, and fail frequently. To him, failure was just another step toward perfection.

This philosophy empowered his team to develop product ideas and features that went against the mainstream. For example, he once famously said, “Customer research is overrated, customers don’t know what they want, we tell them what they want”.

Again, this gave his team the freedom to think outside the box and experiment without fearing repercussions from their bosses. This doesn’t mean companies should give employees a free hand to do anything!

Instead, you can define a percentage of projects where your team members have full authority and ownership. In addition, organizations should look to empower the right team members by providing them the necessary input on a project’s goals and leaving the execution up to them.

However, high-level supervision (without micromanagement) through periodic status updates is still crucial to ensure projects stay on track.

Key takeaway: Give your employees permission to make decisions, try new things, and fail. 

11. Get Rid of Unnecessary Formalities and Simplify Everything

Man reviewing process on whiteboard

Steve Jobs was a strong advocate of keeping things simple. He hated formalities and believed they only slowed down progress. This is reflected in the way Apple worked. It’s not like Apple didn’t have hierarchies or reporting lines. But its culture was, and still is, such that these structures can’t hinder the creative process.

Jobs had agendaless meetings with his management leaders where they would update him on different projects and exchange ideas in no set order. Similarly, he would directly interact with the execution teams or call them up to discuss something important. For him, the processes were there to facilitate, not to be followed like holy scripture.

When it came to product development, his motto was to keep things simple and focus on one thing at a time.

He famously said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other things that are there. You have to pick carefully.”

Apple first introduced the concept of product owners, which allowed employees to avoid confusion, cut off noise, and focus on the product they’re responsible for. This led to better performance and higher motivation, since employees knew they were investing their energies in the right direction and weren’t being slowed down by priority changes or unnecessary processes.

Key takeaway: An employee's focus must not be hindered by structure or formalities set by the company. Get rid of, or simplify, whatever is getting in their way. 

Why Motivating Employees is HIGHLY Important

Let’s forget Steve Jobs and his management style for a moment. Why is it important to motivate your employees in the first place? Why should a manager or a business owner even care about employee motivation?

The value of a highly motivated employee

Here are a few compelling reasons why:

Motivated Employees Perform Better

When an employee is motivated, it reflects on their performance and energy levels at work. In fact, according to Gallup, motivated employees are 20% more productive and take greater ownership of their work. 

As a result, they’re three times more creative and more likely to find solutions to workplace problems, instead of complaining or leaving unfinished work for someone else. 

Motivated Employees Rarely Resign

Motivated employees own their organization’s long-term vision and are less likely to defect to a competitor.

A survey of more than 50,000 professionals revealed that highly motivated employees are 87% less likely to resign than their unmotivated colleagues. On the other hand, 81% of unmotivated employees are one job offer away from quitting.

This staggering statistic shows how employee motivation can directly improve employee retention rates and help organizations find reliable professionals for their teams.

Motivated Employees Come to Work

Nothing is more frustrating for a business owner than team members who regularly skip work for petty reasons. Unfortunately, this happens more frequently in companies where employee motivation is not prioritized.

A Gallup survey found that motivated employees are highly driven and passionate about work and reduce an organization’s absenteeism by 41%.

Naturally, teams that show up every day gel better, enjoy work, and are more productive than ones with a culture of absenteeism. This is why 54% of employees say they’d work longer at a company with a strong team culture.

Motivated employees celebrating with a high five

Unmotivated Employees Cost Billions

Organizations that fail to prioritize employee motivation and engagement are 27% less profitable than their competitors. But that’s not all.

Every time an employee resigns, it costs the employer $5000 on average. In the US alone, unmotivated employees cost organizations $550 billion every year.

In short, managing employee motivation and finding ways to keep them engaged should be a top priority for organizations. Because, without a driven workforce, even the most innovative companies cannot prosper.

To optimize their recruitment spend, organizations are actively investing in employee engagement tools. This lets them measure and build engagement strategies to ensure their team members stay motivated, and stick around. 

There is a multitude of these tools on the market, and some are honestly better than others. After weeks of research and testing, we’ve put together a list of the world’s best employee engagement tools to help you choose the right solution for your company.

What Are You Doing to Motivate Your Employees?

Modern-day businesses in every industry can learn a lot from how Steve Jobs managed his work, employees, and products.

Like any other human being, he wasn’t perfect. But, his strategies made Apple one of the biggest brands in the world and developed a team of highly motivated professionals who revolutionized the communications industry.

So, what lessons have you learned from Steve Jobs' employee motivation tactics? What are you doing to motivate your employees and get the best out of them?

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Jawad Khan

Jawad is a B2B SaaS expert who has worked with HubSpot, CrazyEgg, Shopify, Loom, and many other leading tech companies. He also writes frequently about finding success in one's career and gives advice to other entrepreneurs.

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