Apple is opening up to employee perks, a seismic shift compared to the rigid system in place during the reign of the late Steve Jobs. The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is allowing some employees to work on side projects, is making stronger counter-offers when employees are recruited, and is working on making its compensation packages appear more attractive.
The biggest change covered by The Journal's sources is about an initiative called "Blue Sky" that allows a "small group of staffers" to work on pet engineering projects. This is the sort of thing that may not make sense to those outside of Silicon Valley, but several tech companies use this sort of flexibility as a way of allowing new products, services, or technology bubble up from its employees.
Google, for instance, is well known for its "20-Percent Time," a policy that allows its employees to spend up to 20-percent of their time on whatever pet project they want. In comparison, Apple hands down new projects from on high, and employees are expected to execute the vision as directed by top executives.
Blue Sky is a first step towards changing that and giving the company's amazingly talented staff some flexibility. The Journal noted, however, that the recently-ousted Scott Forstall was a big proponent of this initiative, and the newspaper's sources couldn't offer an update on the current status of Blue Sky.
The initiative is limited in scope and certainly isn't the Apple equivalent of Google's 20-Percent Time policy, but it's a step towards a more open atmosphere.
Apple is also becoming more aggressive in making counter offers to keep employees from being recruited away from the company. Counter-offers are common in the tech world, as big companies and startups seek to hire from each other all the time.
While at least one Silicon Valley headhunter said that Apple employees now take his phone calls—itself a change that has manifested in the last 6-9 months—he also said that he hasn't yet successfully lured anyone away from Apple, perhaps because of these more aggressive counter offers.
Another monetary change has come in the way Apple presents its compensation packages. Starting in the last month, annual reviews list stock options by their cash value at the time of the review, rather than in the number of options.
Apple's stock price, which closed at $542.83, down $4.23 (-0.77 percent) on Monday, is high on a per-share basis, even for Silicon Valley. 100 options is the equivalent of 2,717 options at a company with a stock price of $20, and Apple has apparently decided that listing its options with a dollar amount makes sure to hammer home the value of those options.
When Tim Cook ascended the throne in Cupertino in August of 2011, he wrote a letter to Apple employees where he said, "Apple is not going to change." Almost immediately, however, things did just that, they began changing.
Mr. Cook quickly started an employee charity-matching program, a huge change from the Steve Jobs era. More recently, Apple has become more open to sabbaticals, something that was big at Apple before Mr. Jobs returned in 1997.
The reality is that with Mr. Cook being a different person than Mr. Jobs, many things are likely to change. Some (if not most) of those things will be for the better, and taking even better care of its employees is likely to be one of them.
We do feel the need to correct one thing that The Journal reported. From the report:
Mr. Cook, who cuts a humbler figure than Mr. Jobs, has also gone out of his way to praise employees at Apple's media events.
He has gushed about them far more than Mr. Jobs did, saying "they are doing the best work of their lives."
Mr. Jobs frequently praised Apple employees during keynote events. At several, he asked employees in the audience to stand up, and then thanked them for their hard work, inviting the audience to cheer and applaud.
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