It's a massive waste of an employee's talent to have him spend time doing things that aren't his forte. That's the lesson to be learned from Apple CEO Tim Cook's recent promotion of his design chief, Jony Ive.
Ive has been with Apple since 1996, and he's contributed in some way to every major product the company has released—from the iPhone to the iMac, and much more. He has his name on nearly 5,000 patents, and, according to a recent article in The Telegraph, Ive even designed the picnic tables sitting outside Apple's Caffé Macs cafeteria in Cupertino.
He has been integral in the building of a number of Apple's gorgeous Retail Stores, plus the new spaceship campus that will open in a year or two. He's a massively talented individual, but much of his day-to-day work was taken away from him by his boss, Tim Cook.
This is a great thing for Ive, fans of Apple, and for those looking to learn from the company's actions. See, Ive was promoted a few years ago in a management shakeup. He was given oversight of two huge parts of the company, Industrial Design (basically all the hardware made by Apple) and the Human Interface team (software look and feel).
With this newfound power, Ive has better integrated Apple's hardware and software with OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, getting rid of the old skeuomorphic look championed by Scott Forstall (who was ousted in the management shuffle).
The problem was that he had lots of boring managerial and administrative duties to perform, important tasks that nonetheless took him away from designing. So, Cook made him Chief Design Officer—a newly created position—and promoted two deputies to lead the Human Interface and Industrial Design teams in his stead. Ive is still in charge, but he can spend his time overseeing designers (and doing what he loves) rather than filling out yearly reviews and approving raises.
According to an article written by actor (and Apple enthusiast) Stephen Fry in The Telegraph, the new position will allow Ive to focus on what he was "put on this planet to do," writes Fry, and allow him to "think more freely."
This is the lesson to be learned here: allow your people to focus on their strengths, and free them of so much pointless busywork that keeps them from being productive. Ive's massive talents were wasted on performance reviews and management meetings, so Cook freed him from the mundane and let him do what he really wanted to be doing (and it likely made Ive much happier at the same time).
I can think of lots of times in my career when I've been forced to do boring tasks that made me miserable, rather than allowing me to focus on what I was really good at. Finding your employees strengths and allowing them to focus on those will make them more productive, happier, and might keep them from fleeing for greener pastures.
It's especially important with those few employees who are truly brilliant. Let them do what they're best at and get the hell out of the way. Stay flexible, and it might work out really well for everyone.
What do you think about Ive's new position? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.