Look what Slack hath wrought at Apple

From Mark Di Stefano and Wayne Ma’s “Apple Was the Most Secretive Company in Tech. Then…” ($) posted Thursday by The Information:

There was a time when employees at Apple—long one of Silicon Valley’s most secretive companies—wouldn’t dare to speak openly about their employer in public without permission. Often they were too spooked to talk to colleagues in other parts of the company, if they could even figure out who they were.

But in the past few weeks the doors to the Apple kingdom have been partially cracked open with the help of an unlikely tool: Slack.

The popular messaging tool became a hit at the 160,000-person company during the pandemic, when many employees were forced to work from home. And in recent months, Slack has become a virtual town square…

Apple’s notoriously secretive culture limited such opportunities for grassroots organization. Employees are forced to sign multiple agreements pledging they won’t tell anyone about their work, including spouses and even other Apple colleagues. The company is heavily siloed, with physical access to different departments restricted to people authorized to be there. One former Apple procurement manager said the company’s internal employee directory was so difficult to navigate that he was unable to use its functions to, for example, learn who was in charge of iPad marketing in Latin America.

“Historically, Apple’s employment culture was like being part of a fiercely loyal, secretive club,” said Margaret O’Mara, a professor of history at the University of Washington who has extensively studied the tech industry. “It’s always cultivated this idea that ‘If you work here, you’re cool, you’re thinking different…you’re both a capitalist and a rebel.’

“It’s hard to hold on to that cohesive culture when you’re no longer a few thousand employees,” she said.

My take: Unpredictable things happen when employees are free to talk among themselves. On second thought, the things that happen are quite predictable.

8 Comments

  1. Jerry Doyle said:
    Internal company communication platforms which can become no less than internal company communication social platforms for workers congregating at the company town square are subject to exploiting inaccurate information leading to confusion among the company ranks, disruption of the organizational chain of command and a potential public relations nightmare. I am skeptical of this evolving inevitable public forum for airing employee grievances and would like to see it banned. Organizations long have had proper communication channels and employee internal forums to interact personally with management on workers grievances. Workers should follow these appropriate linkages for use as a network in airing their concerns. I would like to see Apple senior management reinforce this process so internal communication platforms (such as Slack) are use to fulfill work assignment tasks.

    2
    August 26, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      Jerry, I guess your experience with Corporate HR is different from mine. In all but one case, I found Corporate HR to be staffed with incompetents whose primary focus was keeping management out of court. (The one exception was the guy who got a boss placed over him for being -too helpful to employees-.) Taking a problem to HR was pretty much a great way to bury it. (What worked for me on a couple occasions was ‘cashing in some credibility chips’ with a back-channel to a middle or higher level manager. Usually, but not always, I lost those chips in the process.)

      2
      August 26, 2021
  2. Fred Stein said:
    Despite Apple’s strict policies on communications, and the impediments due to Covid-19, Apple operates at peak performance.

    Margaret’s comment on cohesive culture is another of Apple, the rule breaker. Apple defies these simplistic meme’s thrown at it. Remember LOLN, communization of hardware, etc.

    1
    August 26, 2021
  3. Rodney Avilla said:
    The larger the company, the more varied the opinions are gonna be. That’s to be expected. And good. But it is not Apple’s job to survey those opinions in order to figure out how to manage the company. They should listen to those opinions and consider their value. But managers are picked based on their expertise and experience in getting a company from A to B, and to help determine what B should be (although I believe that’s primarily the board’s job). They need to utilize all sources of info, including employee input, but that input is not determinative. If it was, then Tim Cook’s job just got easier. Whenever a decision needed to be made, all he has to do is take a survey. Count up the votes, and there’s your answer.

    0
    August 26, 2021
  4. Gregg Thurman said:
    Bending a corporation to your will is a dangerous proposition.

    The larger an institution gets the more rules are required to maintain order. This is true whether the institution be public or private.

    Obviously Apple’s rules are working, given its successes. Making a big deal about returning to the office public, in my opinion, is a no no. The matter should be taken up with HR, then if not satisfied with the outcome – LEAVE. That a person doesn’t leave means that their earnings are more important than their complaint.

    Leadership, no matter how humanistic they may try to be, their first responsibility is to the firm.

    If those promulgating these public complaints don’t stop I’d see to it that they worked elsewhere.

    4
    August 26, 2021
    • Fred Stein said:
      I upvoted, Gregg.

      Let’s consider that there’s no real issue here. Rather a couple of bloggers weaving a story with anecdotes about some folks venting. Shakespeare said it. “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

      The real story is that Apple’s employees are getting it done, and getting well paid, and making us investors happy, and making customers happy, and ecosystem.

      0
      August 26, 2021

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