Donna Dubinsky and Apple Computer, Inc. Case
Dubinsky’s primary mistake was relying on her position and reputation rather than mounting an effective, persuasive, and fact-based argument. As noted by Jay Conger in The Necessary Art of Persuasion, today’s employees are not content to accept a decree from above and seek to understand the reasons behind a decision. She should have taken Jobs’ JIT proposal seriously from the beginning and, as soon as she heard of it, worked to make her case affirmatively using comparative data. Additionally, she should have engaged Coleman as soon as she heard the rumors of the proposal. While it was wrong for Dubinsky to have been left out of the initial distribution discussion, she should not have sat back and waited to be pulled in but should have made her expertise available and convictions known from the beginning. There are other instances where Dubinsky could have managed corporate politics better and worked to gain allies rather than antagonizing management by acting churlish in the task force and then reversing herself, embarrassing Scully at the Leadership Retreat, and embarrassing Campbell by giving him slapdash, unimpressive work to present at the Executive Retreat. Dubinsky was certainly not the only party who contributed to the unfortunate situation. Jobs, Scully, Coleman, Campbell, and Weaver could all have handled themselves differently. Like Dubinsky, Jobs also should have exercised his persuasive skills to sell the JIT proposal to Campbell, Weaver, and Dubinsky rather than trying to force a top-down decision. Jobs recruited Scully specifically to organize the company, but simultaneously undermined him. Putting distribution back under each product group would undo the combined corporate structure Scully established when he was hired. Jobs should allow Scully to do his job and rationally consider the evidence for the JIT proposal.
Scully also could have improved the situation by acting forcefully to assert his organizational structure and independence from Jobs. Scully choice to hear Coleman’s presentation without involving Campbell was a surrender to Jobs and his disdain for middle managers and Scully’s own organizational structure. Most specifically, Scully should not have given Dubinsky an extension to make her proposal in December 1985 and then heard Coleman’s proposal without warning Dubinsky. This contributed significantly to the resentment within Campbell’s group that ultimately led to Dubinsky’s outburst at the leadership retreat and subsequent ultimatum.
Coleman’s role in the tension was obvious but possibly less easy to avoid. Although she couldn’t control the fact that she was tasked with the distribution proposal instead of Dubinsky, she should have involved Dubinsky early on and, over the course of the project, focused on finding the best solution to Apple’s distribution needs rather than working to prove Jobs’ preconceived conclusion. The fact that she never sought data from Campbell’s group shows that her analysis was incomplete and her argument overly dependent on salesmanship at the expense of data.
Campbell himself missed several opportunities to ameliorate the distribution situation. He should have acted on his recognition that Dubinsky lacked persuasive skills and assumed the role of advancing her ideas to upper management. Similarly, he should have managed her more closely to ensure that her original proposal contained the necessary rigor and analysis. Although he had personally granted Dubinsky’s request for an extension, he didn’t prevent Scully from hearing Coleman’s presentation at the Executive Retreat.
Although Weaver is very passive in the debate, his passivity itself was a contributing factor to the escalation of tension. Weaver should not have let Campbell dissuade him from objecting to the JIT proposal to Scully, since that early intervention could have helped properly frame the issue. He should have pushed Campbell to fight...
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