Here’s a quick “What’s wrong with this picture?” exercise. Look over the statement made last month about the departure of Steve Jobs by the new CEO at Apple and see if you find anything out-of-place:
“I want you to be confident that Apple is not going to change. I cherish and celebrate Apple’s unique principles and values. Steve built a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that.”
— Tim Cook, Apple CEO
We are all in the “select the right words” business — and never are we more in that business than when we are in our first day on the job. Can I just suggest one of the ways to DEFINE Apple over the decades has been “change.” So, as one of your first acts as CEO to then suggest to employees that “Apple is not going change,” seems beyond belief. Change happens no matter how much we want to stop it — and it can be especially cruel to those who don’t want to see it coming.
Consider the fate of another high profile creative company after its undisputed leader was no longer in the picture. The Walt Disney Company languished for years after Disney’s death, with company leaders NOT leading but instead asking each other, “What would Walt do in this situation?” The parallels in the Apple world are worth considering. Steve Jobs is one of the most gifted CEOs in recent times, but one of the worst things the firm can do is to get distracted by that fact.
We’ll let time and the business experts sort out the Apple ups and downs over the coming months and years, but there is an important lesson for people who are in the communication business. When a beloved member of your team steps down or somehow is no longer in the picture, let everyone know you remain a strong entity without them. It is essential you communicate the long-term picture, and one of the best ways to do it is to say that’s exactly how the leaving executive planned it! (It really helps when there is a clear succession plan, of course — and therein seems to be more of the problem with Apple. As a company it seemed very reluctant to acknowledge there ever would be a time when Jobs was not in the picture!)
Any organization with a strong leader often faces a good news/bad news situation. Good news? You have a strong leader. Bad news? What is the company’s identity when that leader is no longer around?
As the Apple example shows us, the time to plan for that day is long before the strong leader steps down. And when that days comes, whatever you say, make sure you don’t say “we’re not going to change.” Change is coming — whether you like it or not.