In case you haven't been following the news on Apple iPhone 4, there has been a ton of negative press lately. Shortly after it's release, blogs and news sources started to disparage the phone and Apple. The reports stated that with the new design (the antenna is the metal band around the outside of the phone) caused calls to be dropped at a much higher rate if held in a certain way. In fact, listening to some bloggers, you would think that the new iPhone didn't make any calls at all. The whole mess became known as Antenna-gate.
Yesterday, Steve Jobs held a press conference to address the rumors and issues. Apple did a lot of things right in my book following Antenna-gate. I could not help but think there are some really good lessons to be learned for finance and accounting leaders.
Whether Apple knew that there was an issue prior to the release of their phone is a non-issue. Apple is a products company and it knows the importance of getting products to market. However, when it became obvious that there was an issue, Apple didn’t over-react. They took their time, collected facts and developed their message. The wrong thing for them to do would have been to anything with haste. This would have added fuel to the fire of bloggers: “See, Apple knew there was an issue” (even if they really did know there was an issue prior to shipment).
The first thing Steve Jobs did in his press conference was to say that Apple was not perfect. This was the right, first thing to do. It deflects all the criticism that Apple has received without being self-deprecating. Steve also went on to say that the industry is not perfect. Again, that's the right message. Finally, Steve admitted to the things that Apple got wrong (they used an incorrect algorithm to show signal strength). People (and this includes your employees also) often have unreasonable expectations. They will complain when a $0.44US letter gets lost in the mail, but when their $30,000US new car has to go to the shop, they just expect that. That is not to say that you can tell your employees, as a leader, that their expectations are unreasonable. A leader will identify and demonstrate correct expectations and call employees attention to it in an indirect way. Steve did just that in the press conference.
Lead With Facts
If you haven’t watched the press release, Steve covered four facts that showed how Antenna-gate had been blown out of proportion: 1) smartphones have inherent weaknesses (and Steve demonstrated how other phones suffer the same issues as the iPhone does); 2) data from Apple’s support center showing <1% of support calls are related to iPhone 4.0 antenna issues; 3) at&t return rates of the phones (better than iPhone 3GS which was considered one of the best smartphone launches in history); and 4) dropped calls as compared to the iPhone 3GS (less than 1 more call than 100 compared to 3GS). While one can argue if the figures are 100% accurate, no one can argue that these are the right figures to show if you want to make a convincing argument that Antenna-gate is blown out of proportion. They key take-away here is that Apple chose four, very powerful data point to get their message across. They didn’t over or undersell their position.
Outline A Clear Plan Of Action
After Steve outlined the issues with data, he outlined a clear plan of action on what Apple is doing to address the issue. What is most interesting is that he didn’t talk about what Apple is doing behind the curtains. Most people (again, this includes your employees) listen to one radio station: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). Steve demonstrated an understanding of this by focusing on the tasks that affect the user. There is a new operating system update, free bumper case (even shipping it to you to make it easier for the end user) and full refund within 30 days of purchase.
Provide A Clear And Simple Message
Apple, more than most companies, understands the power of simplicity. While an operating system of a modern computer is complex, Apple understands that most folks don’t want or need to deal with the complexity. So their user interfaces are very simple and easy to navigate. Accounting and finance are complex topics. While you may relish in reading the latest FASB pronouncement, your peers most assuredly do not. Make your messages clear and simple.