The APPLE Leadership Principle Creates Conditions for Safe Workplace High Productivity

The APPLE leadership principle shows key traits leaders need to create a safe workplace for people to flourish and produce sustained value; but many leaders lack them. Take the results of a 2017 study by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge.  A mere thirteen percent of the U.S. workforce declared passion for their jobs. Yet research shows employees who love their jobs do better! Companies owe it to their employees and shareholders to develop a caring workplace. Everybody will benefit. The average worker spends 90,000 hours over her life, working. Any wonder preventable stress-related illnesses permeate society?

The APPLE leadership principle stresses the need for leaders to ask questions of people of integrity as they develop and refine the entity and division’s purpose; then leaders listen and empower these people to carry out the mission.

Ask

Onward We Go with the APPLE Leadership Principle
Onward We Go with the APPLE Leadership Principle

CEO and executives must master asking pertinent questions.They must learn to frame issues, withhold decisions, and consider information they know (more likely think they know). They mustn’t avoid tough issues, but take time to reflect and ask the right questions. Better decisions and fewer mistakes will result. 

A CEO of a $9 billion company, I will call Bellco, told me his experience on the first day on the job. When he entered his New York office that first morning, two vice presidents, operations and marketing, came to see him: “Bob, sorry for this introduction, but we have a major crisis in one of our plants and we need your decision.” Stunned, Bob said, neither you nor I have a crisis, and I don’t know whether one exists! He did not ask about the crisis, instead, he asked, why weren’t they talking with the people involved. The potential cost to fix the problem is enormous; it’s above their level, they replied. Bob told them the team involved must solve the matter with the plant manager. That’s it? The VPs exclaimed! Yes, Bob said, that’s it.

Next day Bob met with his startled direct reports. “Bob, how could you allow the plant people to handle such a major matter?” Listen guys, Bob replied, if we can’t trust the plant to handle this matter, we have an enormous problem—not the so-called plant crisis, but an acute lack of trust. That meeting started a major culture shift from an authoritarian management to one where leaders learned their role was to learn to ask questions of people, provide resources, and let them do their jobs. It was not to provide answers, issue orders, and solve problems.

Three years later the plant’s output doubled with the same workforce, fewer management levels, and a happier workplace.

People

Author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek, says it well: “Leaders need empathy and perspective. The real job of the leader is not about being in charge, it is about taking care of those in our charge.” Apple’s Tim Cook states the same message like this: “When you care about people’s happiness and productivity, you give them what brings out the best in them and their creativity.”

The good news is when firms focus on their employees first, and customers next, excellent results follow. Yet few firms do it. Here is author and researcher Jim Collins: 

The people on the bus must be the right people. The leader is the bus driver. Spend a significant portion of time on people decisions: get the right people on the bus, get the right people in the right seats, get the wrong people off the bus, develop people into bigger seats, plan for succession.

Bellco had the wrong people on the bus, and workers did not trust them. Bob reminded his leaders of the vital impact frontline workers have on customers. He worked with his leaders and apart from two who believed in the old style and left, others embraced the culture change and realized their jobs were all about people. They needed compassion to follow the Golden Rule, and confidence to do what’s right in every situation, especially when they were in the minority.

Bob introduced a notable protocol for succession planning. Before Bellco promoted anyone to management, they needed training. Bob was passionate about this and started a training department. He did not want the best engineer, accountant or other technical specialist to become managers without formal training. Every potential management candidate needed customized training based on a career path the employee developed. This was expensive, but Bob did not justify it on financial grounds because of the huge intangible benefits. Bellco tracked morale by regular employee feedback, and by shop talks Bob held during the year in person and by video.

Purpose

The influential leader hires people of integrity to focus on the overall health of the business, and let them develop, refine and advise on the firm’s or group’s purpose.  The purpose (why the team, group, entity exists) must never be unmanageable metrics such as profit. Those results follow when leaders create a safe climate for people and provide them with needed resources to do the mission. So why do many businesses lose their way and get trapped in the hire, layoff, rehire, cycle?

There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.

Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

That approach created the mess we have today. Businesses chase wrong purposes, ignore their people and elevate profits. In the process, leaders ruin companies, such as GE, Enron, Worldcom, Countrywide, and many lives. Wall Street demands and firms provide quarterly earnings. Firms buyback their shares, sometimes destroying shareholder value while enhancing CEO’s bonus. As a professional accountant who had stints as a CFO, I marvel at businesses that always meet their quarterly guidance. It’s impossible to do this without creativity and stretching latitude in Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Any wonder some CEOs lie, cheat, and fudge the numbers?

Today, many firms realize the primary purpose of the firm cannot be maximizing shareholders’ value. It must involve making a happier and healthier workplace. It must entail enriching the workforce’s lives. Lest you identify me with an “-ism,” let me add, I am passionate about business as the only wealth creator in society. Business should pay no taxes, get no government welfare, but focus on creating sustainable high quality goods and delivering excellent services while paying fair wages to employees. This is pragmatic capitalism; it is responsible free enterprise that benefits individuals, firms, and the environment.

Although coming late, in September 2019, the Business Round Table (BRT) had a revelation and decided maximizing shareholder value is not a corporation’s sole purpose. That metrics from the 1980s is wrong, it said. One of its members, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, recognized this earlier. In May 2013, soon after elevation to CEO, Cook hired a high profile vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives to reflect Apple’s responsibilities beyond the numbers.

A business might be 50 or 100 years old, still, leaders must ask people of integrity in the organization to examine its purpose and help ratify or refine it in today’s context.

Listen

CEOs should learn to frame issues directly and withhold decisions long enough to examine information besides what they know, or think they know. They must master asking appropriate questions. Leaders should encourage silence and take a few extra minutes to ask the right questions. Better decisions and fewer mistakes will follow.

How many firms miss opportunities because the CEO didn’t listen to a proposal that wasn’t his or hers? Effective leaders listen, learn, and reflect before responding. They know they don’t have answers; often they don’t have the right questions. They know frontline workers understand customers’ needs and wants. Influential leaders realize putting together a diverse team with needed resources is the way to tackle challenges and overcome difficulties. But leaders must understand the team’s processes and listen to its results.

Empower

Listening is the start of the journey to effective decisions. Leaders must empower the workforce. They have answers and can effect needed change when they get necessary resources. Empowerment entails giving people responsible authority in a safe environment where they know leaders won’t crucify them for honest mistakes. It involves accountability, but not blame for honest mistakes.

When I lived and worked in Japan, I saw Toyota’s excellent example of empowerment in action. Toyota “… would never blame the individual. If something goes wrong, it is the process that has gone wrong.”  Most surprising to me was Jidoka, a key pillar of the Toyota system. Any team member can pull a cord to stop production to help eliminate a problem. And no one must criticize a member for pulling the cord. Toyota wants them to pull the cord when they see something wrong.

APPLE Leadership Principle: Conclusion

The APPLE (ask, people, produce, listen, empower) leadership principle will produce solid results for an entity. I continue to believe business is simple, but poor, myopic, misinformed leadership disrespects people, chase money, and ruin companies and people’s lives. Profit is the logical result of putting people first, treating them with dignity and giving them responsible authority with needed resources.

Several successful companies put people first: Southwest Airlines, Virgin, LL BeanPEOPLE 2019 Companies that Care contains a sample of fifty. Notice the high percent of employees who think their workplace is a great place to work versus 59% of employees at a typical U.S.-based company.

Companies% Of Employees Say Great Place To Work
Salesforce95%
Intuit Inc.93%
Hyatt Hotels Corporation94%
Bank of America92%

© 2020 Michel A. Bell

SEE ALSO:

Brief Video: APPLE Leadership Principle

Managers are Leaders But Leaders aren’t Always Managers

Layoffs Not Long-Term Answer for Firms Facing Tough Times

Michel A. Bell

Michel A. Bell is a former senior business executive, author of six books (including Business Simplified released in 2018), speaker, and adjunct professor of business administration at Briercrest College and Seminary. Michel is a Fellow of the Chartered Certified Accountants (UK), holds a Masters of Science in management degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Doctor of Business Administration honoris causa from Briercrest College and Seminary. He is founder and president of Managing God's Money.

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