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Thursday, 6 October 2011

The power of culture and engagement: an apple and its amazing story

Take a look at a company logo. What do you see? An image? A story? A brand? A way of living?

A logo is a powerful thing. Today, after hearing about the sad news of Steve Jobs’ passing I took my iPhone, turned it around and just stared at the apple logo. For the first time, I saw much more than a simple design, an image, or just a brand: I saw an incredible story.

I saw the creation of a visionary leader, decades of hard work, passion, drive, struggles and victories. In essence, I saw entrepreneurialism for what I always intended it to be: bold, courageous, inspiring, innovative, driven by the desire of making the world a better place, without ever losing sight of the end user – our clients. And I also saw a wonderful reminder of the kind of impact that a single human being is capable of achieving within his/her lifetime.


Jobs demonstrated that power and conformity were not necessary to becoming the number 1 company in the world. The almost flat, untraditional organisational culture that he shaped as a leader was so strong and consistent that it became perceptible in every aspect of the business. I found myself often surprised as to how he would introduce the most incredible and awaited products in front of a world audience wearing a humble pair of jeans and a jumper. But it did not end at a board level: go to any Apple store today and you will find an amazing diversity in the workforce, whether this concerns style, age or backgrounds. You will also see the “artefacts” that embody Steve’s vision, style and impeccable standards.

“Impossible” was a word that clearly did not exist in Jobs’ dictionary – he would simply use his influence, drive and determination to make the “impossible”, well, “possible”. Accounts of “working with Jobs”, narrated by colleagues old and new, describe a tough, nit-picking and often temperamental leader – but also a leader who consistently (and unconditionally) lived and worked by his business values.

In this unconditional culture, some may argue, you were either in or out. But clearly he possessed the ability to build and maintain a high performing team, to “drag” people into his vision without compromising on the quality of his work.

But how did he achieve that?

He did not act without integrity. Yes, Jobs pursued near-impossible standards – and never ever attempted to cut corners. But the more he demanded of others, the more he demanded of himself. When projects or products were axed, he shared his reasoning with his colleagues. When saying: “This is the most amazing product we ever made”, he genuinely believed that. Authenticity in leadership is exhilarating, contagious and can be felt across the organisation. Though tough and intimidating at times, he surely “talked the talk and walked the walk”, leading by example.

The Apple story also reminded me why I love the Motives, Values and Preferences Inventory so much. This amazing assessment allows us to identify the key motivational drivers and values of an organisation, a leader, or a team, giving us an accurate, timely and comprehensive picture that helps us (and our clients) work together towards achieving alignment, cohesion and true engagement.

When employees experience the level of engagement described by those who have worked with Jobs, they happily walk the extra mile and put the extra hour in not because they have to – but because they want to. They will go back to the drawing board when their ideas get axed instead of leaving the organisation. When employees work towards a greater, collective purpose individual differences are more easily understood rather than rejected.

To quote a previous Apple employee: “ The quest to make the world a better place doesn't happen by coddling egos or releasing mediocre products. The culture of excellence and attention to detail was rooted at the top”.

So thank you Steve for reminding us that the road to excellence is not an easy one, but one that is so rewarding once we reach our destination. And thank you for reminding us that, while imperfection is a part of leadership, authenticity is much more of a rare find.

But when found, it can really make the “impossible”, well, “possible”.

Andrea Facchini, MSc.
Business Psychologist
Facchini Consulting Limited

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