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Apple and Blackberry Crumble

Optimize Blog - October 14, 2011 - 0 comments

Well, it’s been a pretty awful couple of weeks for both Apple and Research in Motion.
Without doubt the most tragic event was the untimely death of Apple’s talisman Steve Jobs and, no doubt, his passing puts their recent issues with the poorly executed roll-out of the new iOS 5 Software Update into context.  That said, Apple’s leadership will still be working very hard to divert the attention of both the media and their loyal customers towards the launch of the ‘new’ iPhone 4S instead of the ongoing glitches and concerns with iOS 5.
At almost the same time RIM, who until now were known as ‘the safe, secure and stable’ choice, experienced the worst system failure in the history of their Blackberry Smartphones – causing tens of millions of customers to experience service outages for three days.
What is interesting about these events is the very different approaches the two companies have taken with respect to communicating with their customers and the media.
Apple have long been the masters of ‘good news’ – almost without exception concentrating their considerable resources towards building up the positives (often communicated by the dynamic Mr. Jobs), rolling out endless teaser messages and reinforcing consumer expectations with carefully scripted ‘expert’ analysis as a central cog in their ‘scarcity marketing’ strategy.
Once again, despite a lukewarm reception to the launch of the iPhone 4S and the failed roll-out of iOS 5, Apple has decided to focus on the long line-ups of customers desperate to claim one of their new smartphones before (inevitably) initial demand outstrips initial supply – and scarcity leads to increased desire for the product and increased demand.
Conversely, RIM has regularly failed to achieve the same slickness or impact in its’ marketing and has relied on the differentiated strengths of its products, particularly in the corporate sector, to maintain demand. However, this recent system failure, layered on top of declining sales and eroded share value has perhaps forced RIM to change its’ style.
For example, this week saw an extremely rare joint appearance of RIM co-CEO’s Mike Lazardis and Jim Balsillie at a press conference on Thursday morning where they personally apologized for the technical failings.  Until then, the company had been criticized by customers for not giving out sufficient information about the problem and even as late as Wednesday evening, neither CEO had even spoken about the problem.
Is this the start of a new communication strategy for RIM?  Recent research has shown that companies that communicate effectively have a 19.4% higher net market premium than companies that do not.  Furthermore that effective communication is a leading indicator of future financial performance.  Could it be that Mike and Jim have realised they need to take a very different approach if RIM is to survive, let alone excel?
Improving Communication in Practice
In reality improving communication is far more challenging than simply having your joint CEO’s rock up to a press conference to eat a slice of humble pie. However, all organization leaders and managers have a critical role to play in communication and especially so if it is internal to the organization.
Here are the top 8 areas for any leader to consider if they want to improve communication in their organization:
Purpose :  Be clear before you start of what you wish to achieve.  Is this an internal or external message? If you are seeking to motivate, re-engage or educate your team, the focus and content of the message will be very different from an external piece intended to shift market value.
Predictability :  Give as much information as you can about what will happen and when.  If difficult decisions are preceded by fair warnings, the impact is greatly lessened.  But keep the information focused and relevant to those on your team – the high level statements will take care of themselves.
Understanding & Context :   Explain why any changes being made are necessary.  Provide some context in terms of the bigger picture.  If you don’t know yourself, then make sure you find out before you start explaining to your team.
Control :  Take the complex scenario and break it down into bite sized and manageable steps. Get some early wins.  If you can’t control what is going to happen, at least provide the option for your people to have input into how it’s going to happen.  Change being done with you is much more preferable than being done to you.
Perspective :  Understand what is being communicated from the other person’s perspective not just your own.  What is the message saying and how will they feel about it… Work hard to demonstrate empathy.
Accountability : Communication within the team is the manager’s responsibility.  If the change is potentially unpleasant, the temptation is to blame it all on the senior managers but accountability rests with you.  Translate the corporate goals into tangible, real world messages for your team.
Frequency :  In calm waters you can let the boat drift but in stormy seas you need a firm hand on the tiller.  Raise the frequency of formal communication events such as team meetings, one to ones and regular updates.
The Grape Vine :  Finally you need to influence the grape vine.  Keep your ear to the ground; organize some social occasions; go for a beer after work.  Test the mood within the team and catch up on the gossip.  These informal events are good for taking the temperature but they work both ways.  Items discussed informally in a social environment often find their way back into the workplace so you can use the grapevine to reinforce critical understanding.
The reality is that communication is often talked about but rarely done effectively.  The corporate communication strategy is important but, internally, the real communication goes on at the team and manager level and it is here that the real value of effective communication can be found.

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