By Pat Shea and Al Emerick
Business Insider (BI) recently published an article detailing Apple CEO, Tim Cook’s announcement of the departure of Apple’s head of retail, Angela Ahrendts and the installation of her replacement, long time Apple leader, Deirdre O’Brien. BI obtained an internal email from Cook to employees in which he announced that O’brien’s new role will include People and Retail and include responsibility for over 70,000 employees in more than 500 retail stores. Within the email there is a treasure chest of language which speaks to the value Ahrendts and O’Brien have brought, and O’Brien will bring to Apple in the future. What was missing from the communique was any mention of revenue, stock price or shareholder value. Instead, Cook spoke of “love,” “inspiration,” “people,” “collaboration,” and “relationships.” Was this fluff designed to smooth the rails of transition, or was it a reflection of the other side of value we typically pay less attention to; why people care and how they feel?
Connecting The Head and Heart: Words Matter
Regardless of whether you are CEO of a company like Apple or own a small business, it stands to reason that amidst change, others will read your words with greater attention and focus in search of meaning, connection and clues; especially those invested in your future. Here, we want to focus on some of the words, themes and language Cook uses to “hail” Deirdre and “farewell” Angela. Below are quoted excerpts from his email communication obtained by BI.
“I’m writing to let you know about an important leadership change. Today we’re announcing the promotion of one of Apple’s most passionate and experienced advocates for our customers and employees — and the departure of a much-loved and accomplished leader who has played a transformative role in shaping Apple’s retail experiences.”
What’s Here: Immediate connection to the human and core aspects of the two leaders.
What’s Missing (with good reason): Distant language that sterilizes the transition.
“After five years leading Apple’s retail and online stores, Angela Ahrendts is planning to leave Apple in April for new personal and professional pursuits. Angela has inspired and energized our retail teams with the vision of stores as a place where the best of Apple comes together to serve customers and communities. During her tenure, the in-store experience has been redefined with programs like Today at Apple, and our relationship with customers is stronger than ever.
This transition gives us an opportunity to reinforce and carry forward the values that make our retail and online stores the best in the world — and our mission to enrich the lives of others. As I’ve said many times, Apple’s greatest asset is its people. And with that in mind, the best choice to lead our team became clear very quickly.”
What’s Here: Impact is led by the emotional outcomes. Business outcomes are still addressed but are identified as related to the emotional leadership drivers. Cook also ties Ahrendts’ outcomes to mission and vision. Lastly, he defines loud and clear what Apple’s greatest asset is, not just one person.
What’s Missing (with good reason): Data, facts and figures that will distract employees (the target audience for this memo) and that they likely don’t care about, understand or view as important yet.
“I am thrilled to announce that Deirdre O’Brien will be taking responsibility for our retail teams in a new role as senior vice president of Retail + People. Deirdre brings insight and experience gained over 30 years at Apple — decades spent focusing on the connection between customers and the people and processes that serve them. Working collaboratively across Apple, Deirdre and her teams empower people to lead with purpose and humanity.
Deirdre was part of the team that planned and launched Apple’s very first online and retail stores. She has been a part of Retail’s exciting expansion and every product launch since. She knows the value of the deep human connections that retail experiences make possible — and she knows this is where Apple shows its heart and soul.”
What’s Here: Clarification of O’Briens’ position and scope of responsibility validated by her impact and connection to people.
What’s Missing (with good reason): Fiscal and operational performance statistics, benchmarks and numbers; in other words, distractions from Cook’s most important message, humanity and people.
“In her capacity as vice president of People, Deirdre and her team have brought elevated focus to how Apple inspires, connects, develops and cares for its employees — essential efforts that she will continue companywide through the People team in her new and expanded role.
As we look forward, finding new ways to elevate our in-store and online experiences, forging deeper relationships with the customers who love our products, I believe that our team, at every level, is the best in the business. I am grateful to Angela for all she’s done for Apple, and I’m looking forward to what Deirdre will bring to her new role. To everyone in Retail, and our employees worldwide, thanks for all you do to help dreamers become doers, to expand human potential and to do the best work of our lives.”
What’s Here: Cook identifies a clear connection between Apple’s success and their commitment to caring for employees. He further acknowledges and promotes O’Brien’s leadership both influencing and maintaining that commitment. Lastly, he closes with a clear connection back to Apple’s core values and the belief in human potential and discovery.
What’s Missing (with good reason): A laundry list of adjectives which could come across as contrived. Overstating wild goals, unrealistic expectations. Any mention of revenue, stock price or shareholder value.
Change Is About People First
In a May 2018 article, Successfully Transitioning To New Leadership Roles, McKinsey senior partners Scott Keller and Mary Meaney outline five dimensions for leaders to strategize and manage transition: function, culture, team, yourself, and other stakeholders. The common theme throughout each of these is people, human beings. According to Keller and Meany, leaders rank organizational politics as the main challenge within leadership transition.
“68 percent of transitions founder on issues related to politics, culture, and people, and 67 percent of leaders wish they had moved faster to change the culture.”
Employees look to leaders as guides to the organization’s value, especially in times of change. In business, we tend to view change as an absolute; it will either bring pleasure or it will bring pain. It is a leader’s responsibility to shape, define, communicate, and execute the change to arrive at the desired impact. Whereas many leaders focus more on the cognitive aspects of impact, ValueMapping™ defines impact as a sum balance of both emotional (“heart” – care and feelings) and cognitive (“head” – problem, solution and outcome) impact. Viewed through this lens, Cook makes a very clear statement about what this transition means for Apple and the impact he expects. No doubt, revenue is always top of mind and on the line; but guiding this change are the people and culture. These are what Cook sees as the drivers that create the output of increased revenue, stock price and shareholder value.
About Pat: Pat excels at constructing and developing high performing teams and has a gift of seeing the “Value theory” in action in both individuals and teams. He has dedicated a professional lifetime of leadership as a former US Navy officer and non-profit executive to help individuals and teams aspire to and meet “big hairy audacious goals.” Pat is a Master Training Specialist with graduate degrees in business administration and international relations.
About Al: Human connectivity is the foundation for Al whose career has remained rooted in communication, leadership and messaging. Al, who holds an Executive MBA in leadership, founded ValueMapping to help society more deeply understand and be able to authentically communicate value through impact. Today, ValueMapping lifts private industry, non-profit, small business, and individuals through consulting, workshops and online training.