A Bite Out of the Apple: The Jobs Transition

September 14, 2011 – Oro Valley, AZ – For most, working for a perfectionist is no picnic. Now, Apple employees will find out what it’s like to work without one.

Of course, with Steve Jobs still functioning as Chairman of the Board, his presence and influence aren’t going to evaporate overnight. Still, it will be Tim Cook interacting with staff day-to-day and not Jobs. And that will be a change.

The challenge for Tim Cook is going to be how to maintain the Steve Jobs show inside Apple as Tim Cook. It won’t be simple. The contrasts between the two couldn’t be starker. Steve Jobs is described as passionate, emotional, and sometimes brash. Tim Cook is said to be soft-spoken, even-keeled, and always polite. Even the best can struggle with a change that dramatic.

So how are they going to make it work? Not ones to leave results to chance, it’s hard to imagine either Jobs or Cook without a comprehensive plan for a flawless handoff. Whatever the plan, in characteristic Apple fashion, it will be kept under wraps until it’s no longer relevant. Nevertheless, here are a few transition activities we would expect from the best. And, no doubt they’re doing it well.

Steve Jobs and Tim Cook are certainly holding employee meetings to give employees the scoop. They’re probably discussing their style differences and how those differences will play out while keeping everyone focused on what makes Apple tick. Knowing the formula for Apple’s success, they’ll reinforce it to keep the culture, systems, and perspectives on target. Jobs is probably reassuring everyone with details of how his actual role as Chairman of the Board will differ from Cook’s role as CEO. Of course, they’re fielding questions from employees and probably even raising issues employees are hesitant to delve into.

We can safely assume that Jobs and Cook have met with each member of the executive team and other senior leaders to get leader concerns on the table and hashed out. Hopefully, the two are diving into some details about their differences and how those may affect how Cook and senior team members work together.

Next, Cook will be dealing with people used to working with Jobs’ style. When interacting with Jobs and Cook, employees have read each of their responses and adjusted their approach. In many cases, Cook and Jobs likely respond differently to the same problem. When dealing with an emotional Steve Jobs, employees may have held their tongues a time or two. With Cook, they may feel safe to open up. That distinction will create some challenges for Cook and employees that could become a big deal. It helps that one of Cook’s strengths is his approachability that will give employees the courage to wave the warning flag when they need to work through a problem with Cook.

What can we learn from this about leader transitions that don’t involve an iconic leader passing the torch to a well-groomed successor? Well, in every organization supervisors and managers get promoted, transfer to other departments, or leave the company. It will be a rare case when there won’t be some sort of transition regardless of who steps into the vacancy, and the issues will be pretty much the same. Different leaders have different personalities and styles. They have different backgrounds, knowledge and strengths. And the solution is the same. Rather than fumbling through the transition, things can go a whole lot better when those differences are acknowledged and leaders work with team members early on to figure out how to deal with them, whether the leader is an icon or just another supervisor.

Trying it on for fit:
One of the simplest ways to create change in a work group is to disrupt relationships by interacting differently. When an individual, new or not, provides new and unfamiliar interactions and conversations, others can find themselves facing new choices. Without being manipulative, decide what you want your team or business unit to do more or less of and consider how you might change your conversations, interactions, and practices to disrupt the relationship so people think differently.

For example, if you want people to think more about the big picture, instead of assigning work, hand over the broader responsibility and ask the individual or team to come up with the best way to get things done. When team members bring you a problem, hand it back to them and provide support instead of answers. Work at it frequently and consistently and watch what happens.

Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!

About Kevin Herring

As a performance turnaround expert, consultant, and speaker, Kevin Herring has developed a reputation for optimizing the performance of the most difficult work units. Kevin Herring has radically boosted the performance of many struggling managers and work units through his results-focused consulting methods.

Questions about Kevin Herring, Ascent Management Consulting, speaking engagements, or consulting can be directed to 520-742-7300 and the contact page at www.ascentmgt.com.