inspired Development (iD) was a structured and inspiration-oriented training and development program for retail employees, designed to give them both motivation and concrete steps in advancing in their careers.
As an Apple Store Leader Program Associate, I was essentially a local, homegrown intrapreneur. I spent two years rotating through cycles within multiple stores, conducting a dozen case studies on the business’s various microcosms. One case study, during the People Leader rotation, centered on enhancing the employee experience.
Apple Retail had just started a new company-wide initiative. They wanted to increase the retention levels of their employees, because they knew that experienced employees contributed significant value to the customer experience. Apple’s technical and cultural ecosystem is a complicated beast, and can take over a year to internalize. They wanted the average tenure of Apple retail employees to be four years. At that point it was a little less than two. Most retail employees are highly temporary, often seasonal. Apple only wanted long-term distance runners.
Believing that enhancing employee experience and improving retention went hand in hand, we started observational, interview-oriented studies with employees on the floor. We also took advantage of Apple’s official channel for employee feedback, anonymous surveys submitted quarterly by team members. As we reviewed the results from surveys and our own interviews for major complaints, we discovered that ultimately a lot of people felt they had little else to learn in their role.
Our leaders, with a TED talk as inspiration, invited my group of leadership associates to develop a curriculum, a program, to help our employees recognize the value and potential variety of the work that they could be doing so that they would love to stay longer. Four of us in the San Francisco North Market set out on a months-long effort to design a new way for employees to learn. Through our on-the-floor conversations, we had discovered that employees felt training and development at Apple Retail beyond the first few months was unpredictable, mysterious, and unintentional.
Without any budget whatsoever, and with very limited time, we came up with a program that involved study, observation, objectives, and mentorship. Called Inspired Development (iD), the program consisted of a four-step learning process: Ignite, Experience, Reflect, and Impact.
The first step, Ignite, invites employees to get inspired by exposing themselves to something new, or looking at something familiar from a different perspective. The second step, Experience, asks them to engage in a hands-on, in-person, pre-planned event that connects with something they learned earlier, whether that’s a new skill, a new approach, or a temporary new role. The third step, Reflect, invites them to take time to contemplate or write out what insights they gained so far in the process. The fourth step, Impact, is about finding some small measurable way they can move the needle, then owning it, and sharing it. These four steps aid their journey in mastering nine different disciplines, ranging from business acumen to visual merchandising.
As employees would carry out this four-step process over and over again, rotating between the disciplines, they would be able to progress more quickly, more intentionally, and more meaningfully. Much of the program entailed rebranding and reworking familiar scenarios with new challenges, new focal points, or new goals. Every part of our work would become even more nuanced, more intentional, more empathetic, and more skilled. As employees would interface more with their mentors, they became more motivated and accountable to their own goals and the goals of the greater team, balancing the two.
Our team of four traveled to all four stores in our region to present our training program. We asked each store to invest and demarcate one hour a week for employees to focus on this development cycle. Following the rollout process*, our team was invited to present our curriculum to the retail training and development team at Corporate, which afterwards launched a similar program to 40,000 full-time employees worldwide.
*I supplemented the rollout by giving inspirational speeches to help our employees recognize that even if Apple was not where they imagined their lives in the coming years (a sensitive topic to leadership), they could take steps right now within their work at Apple to get where they wanted to go after Apple. I told them that we needed to talk about what transferable skills they wanted to develop to land the internships or jobs that they wanted after Apple. And we could then place them in certain roles, events, or situations that would build their skills and experience, to bring into their future interviews and resumes.
With this new counterintuitive approach at retention (speaking of retention in terms of what’s next), employees began taking their jobs more seriously and identifying the things they wanted to take away from their jobs. A few team members in particular had come to me, years later, to thank me for this approach. They have since started their own businesses or gone onto internships in their dream fields, and attributed their initiative to the words I shared before I left. As a result, they stayed for longer and were more engaged in their work as they invested in their future.