Tim Cook was a 14-year veteran of Apple when Steve Jobs passed away and Cook took over the company for good. From the beginning, Cook let it be known that he would continue in Jobs’ footsteps. At the February Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, he said “Apple is this unique company, unique culture, that you can’t replicate. I’m not going to witness or permit the slow undoing of it, because I believe in it so deeply.”
So far, Cook has made good on that promise, prompting Adam Lashinsky, author of Inside Apple, to comment to Matt Nesto, “What stands out is how little he stands out.” According to Lashinsky, Cook has been a good steward of Apple's culture, a corporate climate that is famous for being very product focused, intensely secretive and unapologetic about doing things its own way.
As one example of many, Cook recently presided over Apple’s CIA-like “Top 100” meeting at the Carmel Valley Ranch, and he followed tradition to the letter. The managers who were selected as the most important contributors this year were whisked away from Apple headquarters and sequestered at the resort for the meeting’s duration.
But Cook isn’t a clone of Jobs. Despite his goal of preserving Apple’s culture overall, he has made some changes. Fortune has reported that Apple has become slightly more open and considerably more corporate, and that Cook is working his way through a to-do list of long-overdue repairs. And right now, everyone seems happy.
Not all successors are as capable. As a leader in a new organization with an established culture, due diligence is important if you want to fit in, be taken seriously, and inspire confidence. Here are some tips for a successful transition.
Become a student of the company. In A Practical Guide to CEO Succession Planning, Russell Reynolds Associates recommends that the outgoing and incoming CEO meet frequently for in-depth discussions regarding the operating styles and histories of board members, senior managers and other stakeholders including investors, creditors, customers, analysts and regulators.
Successors should carefully read all briefing documents, and if possible, request materials that spell out the organizational culture, language, terminology and back-door channels for getting things done.
Talk to everyone. Walking around your new office(s) and chatting informally with staff in different departments offers a perspective that will enrich the one you received from the former CEO, board and senior managers. Be open and approachable, and aim to assure employees that you intend to stick around for a while and that you’ll do what’s in the best interest of the company.
Prioritize a vision. Presumably, the board has brought in a new CEO who is on the same page regarding the direction of the company, but constant communication will ensure that you are meeting expectations. During your first year, it will be tempting to try to focus on a thousand different things, but you will be much more impactful if you choose one or two important issues to address and close out all other distractions.
Be measured with changes. Exploding onto the scene and immediately turning the organization on its head will not end well. Even if there are some aspects of your new culture that you can do without, minimize conflict by establishing trust first, and then gaining gradual buy-in for your ideas.
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Alexandra Levit is a former nationally-syndicated business and workplace columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Money magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year, she regularly speaks at organizations and conferences on issues facing modern employees.