Thursday, May 13, 2010

3 Relationships Woes That Led To iPhone 4G Leaks at Apple

Something is up with the human relationships at Apple Corporation.

Perhaps, that is overstated. Maybe there is just an issue with relationships in the product development group.

How else can you explain the recent happenings over the last 30 days with the leaked iPhone 4G prototypes showing up places? Left in bar in Redwood City? In a Vietnamese video showing all the ins and outs that is a YouTube and media sensation?

Maybe I'm just naive but I do remember a time when secret was, well it was SECRET.  One blogger on PC World stated that "Apple is a company known to keep secrets better than the CIA."

To have to clear confidentiality breaches so close to one another on the same product - you have to ask yourself  - How does that happen?

I'll tell you. There is a breakdown in human relationships. There are many many angles to look at this debacle but I am looking squarely at the human factor. People play the most important role in any company's future.  And there are some people at Apple who have had some relational breakdowns and that led to the confidentiality surrounding the iPhone 4G being blown - not once but twice.

Here are 3 likely relationship issues that led to Apple's current prototype woes:

1.  Communication breakdown

My guess is that in the past  - product development people had clear communication from management on what was expected in the way of confidentiality.  It was crystal clear what was OK and what was considered a huge risk. I can imagine the statement went something like this: "Please use the said prototype just as you would your regular phone. Take it with you wherever you go. However, do not take it into a potentially compromising situation such as taking it with you when you're going to have a bunch of beers at your favorite pub."

Communication is the usually a root cause when there are issues in a relationship. One party feels misunderstood and clams up. Or another, more dominating party may pounce and bark orders and not notice that the other parties are not participating fully. Regardless the situation - it is clear that communication has broken down in area where iPhone 4Gs are being developed.

2.  Lack of ownership

Another clear sign that something is awry is the fact that not once but twice now there have been breaches in confidentially surrounding the same product. It is clear that we do not know the exact timing on the breaches and if they happened for sure in the order reported. Even so,  the fact of the matter is this - more than one person on that team does not feel part of the process and therefore  - be it by accident (bar) or on purpose (Vietnamese video) - somebody is not feeling the love from their managers.

When people do not believe that they "own" or "control" their future in a relationship, they do careless things. They forget important facts that they otherwise would keep sacred in their minds. That feeling of hopeless can sometimes morph itself into out-and-out disrespect or contempt which will lead to one of two things. A slow but steady burn at the relationship or a quick blowout. Either way, it is destructive and causes damage that can lead to costly mistakes that are sometimes hard to repair. This whole mess caught Apple by surprise but I am certain had been brewing in this area of the company long before we (and the whole world) have witnessed these lapses in judgement.

3.  Broken trust

You may think I'm referring to the company's trust in these employees. Not at all. I would assert that these employees no longer trust Apple. Perhaps the transparency that they enjoyed in years past is no longer there and as much as we in the public are all kept in the dark on plans - maybe the employees are keep in the dark, too.  It could also be compensation related. I can't imagine that people in the product development area at Apple being undervalued but who knows? Another thought could be that maybe these people have given their lives to Apple and believed in its culture that is most likely changing as it grows and matures and they are acting out in some way to express their discontent.

I could go on and on but the bottom line is trust between these individuals involved in the breaches and Apple is poor. Why? When there is mutual trust and confidence in a relationship - you work together toward your goals. There is a clear understanding of how reaching those goals is beneficial to all parties involved. Of course, mistakes are sometimes made but they are not repeated. And thinking purely of the order in which the two incidences were reported - you can be sure that as soon as everyone knew of the April mishap in the bar - there would have been monumental efforts to secure the rest of the prototypes in the marketplace and any previous breaches disclosed and a new plan of attack created, together - management and everyone. We would have heard about the Vietnamese video from Apple rather than other sources. Why? Because whomever was involved would have come clean because they trusted that their best interest which when aligned with the best interests of the company would have been to put their team, their company on the offensive rather than the defensive as they are today.

This is unprecedented for Apple and I know they are scrambling to figure it out. Might I boldly offer a suggestion - stop and take a look at the relationships involved and seek out help to repair them. This is not a "deal breaker" and can be solved if given careful consideration.

In fact - with grace (a verb that needs to make a comeback in Corporate America) and thoughtful training, Apple can move into the future even stronger than before with the employees who broke their trust. As long as the relationships involved are repaired and given new life.

I know a hungry little company looking to make its mark. Call me Steve Jobs.

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