Samsung was determined to retain its prime position as the world’s leader as smartphone manufacturing company. It had rolled out a number of products which had made a great hit with consumers. Following the huge success recorded by Galaxy Note 5, Samsung wasted no time coming up with a new phone in that series. But instead of christening it Samsung Note 6, it decided to brand it Samsung Note 7. It was meant to be an all time winner, given its unique features. The phone’s hardware was an improvement on Galaxy Note 5. It was kitted with expandable storage capacity. It had a dual-sided curved display with support for high-dynamic-range video and was coated in Gorilla Glass 5. It had a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera with a “Dual Pixel” image sensor and f/1.7 aperture lens. It also had an iris recognition system which could be used for unlocking, and as authentication for other features of the device. It also came with a fingerprint reader and a USB Type-C port.
Given the hype that heralded its unveiling, pre-orders in South Korea broke records with 200,000 plus units pre-ordered within two days. In Canada, the pre-orders were outstanding. The pattern was the same in many other countries. Without any doubt, with the unveiling of its latest brand, Samsung was poised to consign Apple to a distant second in the global smartphone market.
The unveiling was done on August 2, 2016. The product was released to the market on August 19. But by September 2, Samsung was forced to suspend its sale and had to announce a recall of the exotic android phone. This was sequel to a defect in the phones’ batteries which precipitated the generation of excessive heat, resulting in fires and explosions. Determined not to let down its customers, Samsung exchanged the recalled phones for new ones which made use of batteries from another supplier. But the replacement phones fared no better as some of them also caught fire, forcing the company to announce a worldwide recall of Galaxy Note 7 on October 10, 2016.
It is estimated that the company lost about $5billion to the recall and stoppage of production of the phone. This is aside the image issue it has had to contend with. Battery, which constitutes less than five per cent of the components of the phone, brought Samsung into this sorry pass.
Samsung’s investigations revealed that two factors from the same source resulted in the fiasco. First was oversized battery which didn’t quite fit into the phone’s casing. This is what caused the heat generated by the phone. Then the deadline set by the company for the unveiling of the new product resulted in a ramp-up in production which precipitated process flaws that went unnoticed until customers began to complain.
Little things matter
Most leaders are fixated on getting the big things right. They spend quality time on planning and strategy. They are gung-ho about innovations and inventions. Most leaders spend their time in meetings with other leaders as well as their subordinates. They pay serious attention to mergers and acquisitions, their minds are always on how to increase the bottom line, they work hard on growing the business, they want the right image for their organizations and they spare no effort to ensure that all these are achieved.
While the big things take individuals and organizations to the limelight, it is the little things that keep them on the platform. In spite of the great efforts devoted to great things, ignoring the little things can bring a big conglomerate down to its knees. Little things matter because they make a world of difference. Little things matter because they sustain the big things. As observed by John Wooden, legendary basketball coach, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” So, great leaders mind the little things even when their eyes are on the big things.
How leaders mind little things
Outstanding leaders subject themselves to a process which protects them from falling into the pit of small mistakes. Here are some of the steps in the process.
Don’t expect what you don’t inspect
- Clement Stone, in the book, The Success System That Never Fails, published in 1962, counsels thus: “Herein lies a secret of success: Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.” According to him, it is incumbent on leaders to check on a daily basis with their team members on what is being done with respect to specific assignments. This is not through micromanagement or by standing in the way of the subordinates, but by getting daily updates on the progress of the task. This enables them to be abreast of development in each section of the organization and positions them to raise questions before any issue gets to a head. At the end of the day, the buck stops on the table of the leader. Irrespective of who caused the Samsung’s battery fiasco, it is Jay Y. Lee, Samsung chairman, who has to deal with the government, the public as well as the shareholders on why that happened.
Why leaders delegate tasks, they are still the ones responsible for whatever happens under their watch. So, the onus is on them to ensure that they never cease to inspect what is being done so that their people can deliver on agreed terms.
Pay attention to details
Leaders should be interested in details. A leader probes and keeps probing until he gets to the root of a matter. One of the characteristics of outstanding leadership is having an eye for details. Leaders are not supposed to be perfunctory; they must pay attention to details especially when such have to do with their primary assignment. Leaders must pay attention to details because a little slip could cause untold damage and loss of lives.
An Air France aircraft crashed in Year 2000 shortly after takeoff with all on board killed. Investigations later revealed that a 17-inch long by 1-inch wide strip of metal on the runway punctured the fuel tank which resulted in a fire outbreak that consumed the aircraft. Investigation also revealed that the piece of metal fell from the aircraft which took off just before the Air France Flight 4590. It was discovered that the metal was not properly installed in the aircraft. One hundred and thirteen people paid with their lives for the negligence of a maintenance crew. Imagine an improperly screwed metal resulting in the killing of 113 people and the destruction of an aircraft valued at $107million. Being negligent with details not only destroys reputation, it has propensity to destroy lives.
Remember that whatever can go wrong will go wrong
Great leaders never lose sight of Murphy’s Law which states that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. They are guided by their understanding that the natural way for everything to go is south, knowing very well that it takes unflagging resilience to make anything go and stay north. With this, they never take chances with whatever they do. They realize that unless they do what is required, disaster will happen. So, they never get tired of checking and rechecking to ensure that everything works according to their plans. They know that oversights that are permitted in individuals are not excused in organizations because while individuals may have weaknesses, organizations are not expected to have any. That is why organizations work as teams. In a team, an individual’s weakness is made up for by others’ strength. So, when leaders discover a weakness in any team member who they are not willing to ease out, they put people around him who to make up for his weakness. This is one way they try to ensure that what can go wrong never goes wrong.
This speaks to the fact that leaders must know quite well those who work with them. They must be able to identify their weaknesses and strengths and ensure that while team members’ strength is optimized, organizational interest is protected by putting structure in place to make up for their weaknesses.
Never skip any stage in a process
Great leaders understand that processes are put in place to ensure that a system brings out its best. So, they never subscribe to anyone skipping any of the stages in a process. Faithfulness to process is what ensures quality control. Faithfulness to process is what guarantees safety of both human and material resources. When deadline is close and progress seems to be slow, the temptation to circumvent some stages in a process is high. This usually ends in a disaster because quality is compromised. When quality is compromised something is bound to go wrong if not immediately, then eventually. When this happens, it is usually at a price too high for something seemingly insignificant. It is better to miss a deadline that to risk the lives of people or jeopardize a reputation built over the years.
Had someone insisted on checking the batteries before being installed in Samsung 7 Note, it could have been discovered that it was oversized. Though the unveiling could have been delayed, the disaster that followed would have been averted. Skipping stages in an instituted process is an invitation to calamity.