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How this ex-Apple executive keeps his employees happy

June 8, 2015, 3:10 PM UTC
Dolby Lab executive in San Francisco, California, Monday, February 23, 2015. (Paul Sakuma Photography)
Dolby Lab executive in San Francisco, California, Monday, February 23, 2015. (Paul Sakuma Photography)
Photograph by Paul Sakuma

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How do you keep your best employees?” is by Bob Borchers, senior vice president and CMO at Dolby Laboratories.

Imagine this work scenario for a minute: Your boss demands the new product you’ve been working on do something that has never been done before—in other words, something that seems nearly impossible. The internal and external expectations for your project are astronomical, and the only chance your team has to pull it off is by working long hours and weekends for the foreseeable future.

Does that sound like a recipe for employee turnover? Some people may say so, but I’d argue that for your most innovative workers, it’s actually an incentive to stay. Hear me out. What drives away innovative people isn’t a challenge, it’s mindless routines–the sense that they’re stuck in a career cul-de-sac. True innovators thrive on challenges. And keeping these employees engaged is vital because their work can directly impact the success of your company.

Throughout my career at Nokia, Nike, Apple, and now Dolby, I’ve had a chance to see what actually motivates innovative people. While at Apple, I worked on the team that helped develop the original iPhone, and we faced the exact scenario I outlined above. Steve Jobs wanted a phone that did more than any other, but had only one button. Tech blogs at the time referred to our project as “the Jesus phone” because of its over-the-top expectations. We knew that success would require an enormous amount of hard work, but we never thought of giving up. Because we knew our work would not only transform Apple, but the world of mobile computing.


Another more recent example took place at CinemaCon, an annual gathering of movie studio and exhibitor executives where we unveiled our new Dolby Vision imaging technology. Many of us were anxious going into this conference because we had almost no time to test and calibrate the laser projectors in a new environment. However, our cinema team discovered a way we could prevent any potential hiccups: rent out and live in a Las Vegas warehouse for several weeks and pre-build 80% the setup–testing and refining as needed. Needless to say, the screening went better than we could have imagined.

Of course, no one wants a diet of only stressful challenges. It’s also important to provide opportunities for your employees to think in different, more expansive ways. Every year, at Dolby’s annual IdeaQuest, hundreds of employees from throughout the company come together to propose and prototype new products and technologies, which they demonstrate to fellow employees and Dolby’s leadership team. IdeaQuest gives employees a chance to break out of their normal boundaries by working with new people and thinking about projects outside their typical niche.

I realize that many factors contribute to job satisfaction, some of which you can control and some of which you can’t. In my experience, however, I’ve come to realize that the best employees want to feel like they’re part of a shared mission and company where they can grow. And providing this environment isn’t just good for your employees, it’s great for your company as well—after all, who doesn’t want employees who are constantly producing challenging and innovative work?

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Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: How do you keep your best employees?

9 ways to recruit extraordinary employees by Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow Group.

Why this CEO encourages failure in the workplace by Amy Errett, CEO and co-founder of Madison Reed.

Sarah Kauss: Why a pay bump isn’t the answer to employee happiness by Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well.

The one perk that will guarantee employee happiness by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

The secret to holding on to your best employees by Amit Srivastav, president of Infinite.

3 ways to prevent your employees from quitting by Niraj Shah, CEO of Wayfair.