How Steve Jobs got employees to tell him what sucked about his companies

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Steve Jobs had ways of making you talk!
Photo: Ben Stanfield/Flickr CC

Would you have liked to be the person to tell Steve Jobs that something about his company sucks? If not, you may not have enjoyed the experience of working with him.

In a recent Medium post, San Francisco-based marketing pro Andy Raskin relates a story overheard from a well-known (but unnamed) CEO. The CEO described the somewhat unorthodox, but effective, way that Jobs rooted out problems at Pixar, the company he ran alongside Apple. Here’s what he did.

Apparently, Jobs would would arrange meetings at Pixar with a dozen or so employees. Knowing that asking generic questions like, “Does anyone have any suggestions for improvement?” would elicit non-answers, Jobs would single out one person and ask them to tell him one thing that wasn’t working at the company.

After waiting until he got a response, Jobs would then ask if the rest of the team agreed. After that, he’d move on to another person in the meeting and ask them to name something that was working well at Pixar. Jobs would keep alternating these two questions until he had a good sense of what employees felt about the company.

Steve Jobs’ tough questions

It’s a neat anecdote, and one more bit of insight into the way Jobs ran his companies. Putting people on the spot with unexpected questions is something he did from the very start of his career, as showcased by the below Pirates of Silicon Valley movie clip — which was based on at least one real-life instance.

Best Steve Jobs stories

One of my favorite Steve Jobs stories, which I’ve heard from people who worked with him at Apple, are those involving elevator rides. Particularly during his first days back at Apple in the late 1990s, Jobs set about clearing out a lot of the dead wood at the company.

One way of doing this was to ask whoever was in the elevator with him what they had done recently for Apple or to explain what was so good about the project they were working on. According to legend, quite a few folks lost their jobs due to having bad answers to those questions.

Have you ever heard any stories about unorthodox — but effective — management technique Jobs used? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: Medium