Why Tim Cook’s Rating by Employees Plummeted in 2017

2 minute read
| Editorial

In Glassdoor’s CEO ratings system, derived from employee input, Apple’s Tim Cook fell from number 8 last year to 53 this year. Why?

WWDC 2017 keynote. Tim Cook was pleased. We were pleased.

Here’s the list from Glassdoor for 2017, the ratings of CEOs.

Tim Cook’s rating was 93 percent. First place went to Benno Dorer of The Clorox Company (99 percent).

Right away, my statistics intuition kicked in. By that I mean that when the spread from number 53 in a list to the top is 6 percent, small statistical fluctuations can make a huge difference in the position on the list. For example, if in this rating system, Tim Cook’s number had been a 95 percent instead of 93 percent approval, he would have climbed 24 slots to rival Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (in place number 29). That’s a mathematical rating system very sensitive to small input changes.

And so, when the approval ratings are this closely bunched, being far down on the list is more symptomatic of a large, sensitive-to-input list than any obvious failure on the part of the CEO. However….

Long Work Hours

I read through some of the employee comments, and one of the common threads was that, while Apple is a great place to work, there isn’t much in the way of work-life balance. I can attest to that.

Typically, we work so that we can live life. Family. Personal pursuits. Hobbies. Sports. Vacations. However, Apple has a reputation for devouring one’s life. The employee is either fully dedicated to Apple and its mission, or she/he will be miserable. Apple employment is all-consuming. World changing.

Some employees thrive in that environment and some wilt.

It’s All About Product

Over the last year or so, Apple came under considerable fire for not shipping many new products. Our Bryan Chaffin punctuated that issue in March. “iPhone SE 2017 Another Example of Apple Doing Less and Less with More and More.” Notably, the Mac community was in an uproar.

It took some time, but Apple pulled itself out of the malaise and swept us away during the WWDC keynote with new, exciting, shipping products and a promise of the iMac Pro (and indirectly the Mac Pro) yet to come.

One might surmise that many employees had to work very hard and in total commitment to that glorious effort in preparation for WWDC. If just a few percent of Apple’s employees started to grumble about what was asked of them this last year, Tim Cook’s Glassdoor rating would surely suffer the mathematical effect I noted above.

Measuring the Man

Aside from asking a lot from his employees, it’s hard to point to anything negative regarding Tim Cook as a CEO. He sets the example. He is steadfast in his commitment to our privacy and security—to the point of crossing swords with the FBI. He’s committed to the Earth’s environment and respectful treatment of all his diverse employees. Indeed people everywhere. He shows us a sense of fairness and reward for work well done. He communicates well with the media and does his level best to preserve the amazing legacy of Steve Jobs and his vision.

I’m not particularly concerned about Mr. Cook’s drop in the Glassdoor rating by employees. The nuances of the mathematics of the rating system combined with an almost imperceptible change in employee feelings, as Mr. Cook has likely asked for a very high level of achievement, make the descent in 2017 a non-issue in my book.

Instead, look at what Apple is achieving as a company. That’s the measure of a CEO.

4 Comments Add a comment

  1. skywatcher

    Fantastic post and insights!

    Particularly appreciated this:

    “And so, when the approval ratings are this closely bunched, being far down on the list is more symptomatic of a large, sensitive-to-input list than any obvious failure on the part of the CEO.”

    That’s key. The same needs to apply to virtually ALL ranked lists– whether of students, countries, voting records, consumer ratings, etc. In a ranked list, someone or some company will always be #1, while some other person or organization will be last. The question is HOW BIG A DIFFERENCE IS THERE?!

    Your highlighting “sensitive to input” captures that and more (response rates, samplng biases, question wording, etc.).

    Of course, even had he garnered *two* percentage points more, and gotten into the 20s, it would still represent a LARGE drop in his ranking from the previous year! But how *big* a drop?! Do you know what his % favorability was last year?!

    93% is an A-! Now, let’s be fair here, too. The work-life balance issue af Apple is not a new one, so that is unlikely to explain the drop. What did make the difference?!

    Maybe Apple employees were hoping for new, more, and better products shipping sooner — just like Apple’s customers were!

  2. pjs_boston

    If you drill down into the ratings on Glassdoor.com, a large number of the low marks for Tim Cook are coming from folks in Apple retail. I would wager that If you left out the ratings from Apple retail, Tim Cook’s rating would be in the top 10…

  3. aardman

    You just illustrated how innumeracy can severely distort perception and comprehension. We would have a lot less fear and loathing in this country if people weren’t so gullible to numerical and statistical manipulation.

  4. John Scott

    If you look up Google you would find similar comments or experiences. The tech world is basically a single persons commitment to excellence and your married to your work. It’s why places like Google offer so many perks at work, wonderful food courts, places to let off stress, even places to take naps. It’s all to entice you to spend as much time at work. Apple’s new corporate headquarters will no doubt expand on this goal to provide its people with a friendly atmosphere to stay at work. Steve Jobs was also the subject of being a Ahole to work for. A man obsessed with putting time in,meeting timelines and making products perfect. It’s why many people get burned out and leave a Apple or Google. Microsoft does appear to have somewhat less burden on its employee’s which many work at home, or at office but still must meet deadlines and attend meeting. But still, it involves a lot of personal commitment and as people marry and have kids. That commitment takes a back seat to the rest of their life.

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