Photographer: Krzysztof Puszczyński

Boy, Apple’s getting some bad press these days, and I’m not sure it’s deserved. From time to time, I hear the occasional snarky comment at Silicon Valley events. Now the media’s picked up on it, questioning whether their recent decline in stock price has anything to do with their culture. Yes, culture ultimately has an influence on business performance — for better or worse. I sure wish that culture got more credit when things go well. Alas, there’s more attention on cautionary tales than there are on inspiring exemplars. Whether these criticisms of Apple are fair or not, I think this is an opportunity to clarify some things.

Culturally speaking, there is a minimum standard for all workplaces when it comes to professionalism. Some examples: Everyone should feel safe at work, physically and mentally. Barring inherent and agreed-upon risks countered with safety measures that come with dangerous jobs, there is never room for anything that treads on this basic right. Offensive behaviors, such as threatening or yelling at people, is never ok. Discrimination or harassment is illegal.

Beyond basic expectations such as those mentioned above, culture is unique to every organization and dependent on context. Context includes business factors such as competitive landscape, regulatory issues, economic and industry pressures, missions, strategies and goals, etc. People (leadership and all other employees alike), in combination with all their interactions and the environment they create, are also part of the context.

The key for organizations is to align their vision, mission, values, strategies, culture, and their people under constantly changing conditions for the best business results. One way to do that is to be very purposeful and overt, so there is no question around what fits and doesn’t fit. Design of Work Experience (DOWE) enables organizations to articulate and transform into their aspirational cultures. With this degree of clarity, individuals involved are empowered to decide what works for them (or not). So it isn’t a matter of “good” or “bad” culture, but rather a match/no match between the company and its talent.

I’ve never worked for Apple as an employee and can’t speak directly to their lived culture and experiences. It’s clear how they want to operate, however. And that works for the type of talent that thrives in the Apple environment at this point in time, and the subsequent long-term business results. This includes their notoriously secretive nature to the outside world, as long as they are transparent to the employees that need to know. Like any organization, Apple needs to purposefully cultivate their culture for consistent, desired, outcomes from their people on a continuous basis. It’s easy to judge from the peanut gallery, but you can’t really shake a stick at what Apple’s been able to accomplish overall. There’s so much complexity to pick apart here, but consider this a starting point to think beyond the headlines.

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