In 1997 Apples success of the last 19 years was all in the future. It was far from inevitable, in fact it’s future as an independent business hung very much in the balance. Apple was a company in crisis, lacking direction or leadership.
Through the acquisition of his company, NeXT, Steve Jobs returned with a determination to return Apple to greatness. What happened next is the most remarkable story of leadership in corporate history. Amazingly this video exists of Steve Jobs doing it.
Jobs was well aware that the most critical factor in turning Apple around was it’s culture. The target culture was one of commitment, simplification, hard work, innovation and inspiration. If we deconstruct his talk in the video we can see how he approaches it.
At Holos we work with four key elements required to “fix” a team or organisational culture, Steve hits all of them.
1 – Cause – Cause is the essential inspiring reason why we exist, what ties us together, what are we hear to contribute to the greater good, it combines both vision and purpose. In the case of Apple it is somewhat associative rather than direct. What Steve says is “People with passion can change the world for the better”. This is their cause, he is saying both we have passion and what we do makes the world better – and he extends this by implying that those who do change the world use Apple Computers. The message is clear we are here to do something bigger than all of us, that is important for our collective futures, something to be proud of and something worth making some sacrifices to achieve.
2 – Code – code is the high level articulation of the target culture that we will need to have in order to deliver on our cause. It incorporates values and as well as fundamental precepts about priorities that will guide our decision making. Steve says the product, distribution and marketing are all to complex to be effective. We have to simplify and get the basics right. He puts the focus on: simpler, better products; efficient distribution and tribal marketing – based on the cause.
3 – Reasons to believe – teams or organisations that are stressed and bogged down in transactional detail will have lost confidence in their ability to be transformational. To break free of this mindset they need reasons to believe. Steve starts by emphasising his personal commitment saying that he was up till 3am the night before working on this. He also looks unshaven and is wearing shorts – which is communication in itself. Interestingly although he is clear about his current commitment, he kept his future commitment somewhat conditional by calling himself “interim CEO” until success was more assured. He talks about working hard and his own and the engineers excitement about the innovative new product line up and the strategy. He also talks about Apple still being one of the best brands and invokes the endorsement of global heroes like John Lennon and Albert Einstein.
4 – Significant, Symbolic Action – So far it is all words, we need to see and feel commitment to change not just to hear it, before we believe it. We need to see it embodied before we will embody it ourselves. Steve explains that he has cut through an advertising agency hiring process to reappoint Chait Day, the agency that helped make Apple famous in the first place, that they have created a campaign that he is moved by and then to show the adverts and give details of the campaign to assure people that this is already happening. Interestingly the campaign he outlines has nothing to do with products, it is a purely tribal campaign which says if you want to do something amazing you need to do it with an Apple computer. Even more importantly it says if you want to work at Apple and be part of the amazingness that we are going to create you will need to “Think Different” it was an ad campaign that was primarily aimed at an internal audience.
At Holos we believe there are three preconditions for sustained success in organisations and while it is perfectly possible to be profitable before achieving adaptability this usually involves stealing from the future. These pre conditions also work at all scales – organisational, departmental, team and even individual.
Pre condition1 is fix – this is about the level of stress in the organisation, both cultural and systemic, if there is currently a high level of stress this has to be resolved before getting to pre condition 2. This is what Steve Jobs was doing in this 1997 meeting.
Pre condition 2 is reliability – for most organisations reliability is the big shift, the ability for leaders at all levels to know that commitments they make and actions their team members take will be reliably delivered on. The certainty among all stakeholders that promises will be met is an outcome of team and individual level reliability. This is what Tim Cook lead as COO of Apple.
Precondition 3 is ensurance – this is de-risking the organisation from potential crises both internal and external which could sabotage success. It involves understanding the cultural and system risks as well as political and market risks and developing solutions and mitigations.
Once all of these preconditions are met the leadership and the organisation as a whole has the mental and emotional bandwidth to be adaptive, to strategically manage costs and to be ahead of multiple curves to deliver long term sustained success.
At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.
Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.
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