I first met leadership consultant and best-selling author John Mattone about a year ago when we were both invited to be keynote speakers at a corporate event in Mexico. The topic was talent development. Both John and I have similar experience and background in talent leadership, and I thought, Well, I wonder what John is going to say and what I’m going to say that will be different!
We soon discovered how totally complementary we were in terms of our thinking and our work. And also that we have a common mentor — Marshall Goldsmith, whom I interviewed on my radio show, iLead: The Leadership Connection, last April.
John and I share a passion for talent, leadership, and business culture. His upcoming book, Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention, deals with a topic near and dear to my heart. So I was thrilled to be able to chat with him on another recent broadcast of iLead.
Transforming today’s corporate culture
“My book is built around interviews with some of the top CEOs in the world,” John told me. “I asked them specifically what they’re doing as senior executives to drive cultural transformation in their companies. Given how quickly things are changing, how do you stay out in front?”
From these conversations, John identified six critical factors common to leaders who were successful in creating strong, vibrant corporate cultures.
1. It all starts with the CEO. “A lot of the CEOs I talked to are not very well known,” John said. “They may not be the kind of rock stars that we read about, yet they’re doing magical things in their businesses to create compelling cultures that are driving their organizations to incredible success.
2. The vulnerability decision. “It’s the willingness and, really, the guts of that CEO and the senior executive team to raise their hands and say, you know, we’re good in certain areas, but we do have gaps as an organization and also individually. That vulnerability decisions enables leaders to be open to feedback, so they can recognize what’s going on and do a necessary course correction.”
3. Create the incentive to change. “People aren’t going to change until they actually feel pain, so CEOs need to present scenarios to the organization, to the leaders and to the individual contributors, to show how if they continue on this course it’s going to create a painful situation. At the same time, it’s important to create a compelling image around where the organization could go.”
4. Use psychology. Transforming results means changing people’s behavior — “but ultimately you’re not going to transform behavior until you transform mindsets,” John told me.
5. Recognize and reward talent. “Your systems around how you select and promote leaders, how you measure and calibrate skills and capabilities, how you develop and unleash and reward talent, those systems have got to be very well-oiled and then optimized.”
6. Measure, measure, and measure again. “And don’t forget to course-correct.”
When is it time for a company to transform?
John’s answer to my question was simple. “Companies need to transform all the time. The reason is that there’s so much disruption coming from all angles, both externally and internally. And unless that C-suite team is on top of this every single day, they’re going to lose their focus. We’ve seen many companies and many leaders derail because they’ve made the decision not to stay on top and keep their finger on the pulse.”
The majority of companies — some 75 percent, research shows — aren’t being proactive enough. They’re not looking toward the future. And when companies get distracted, John said, is when they die.
“It’s very enticing for an organization and a leader who’s all of a sudden experiencing some success and being presented with new opportunities that look very alluring,” John said. “Okay, let’s acquire this company over here. Let’s get bigger.”
But in the process, companies can lose sight of their essential gifts and what they bring to the world. “Companies that are incredible, people who are incredible, are the ones that are laser-focused on their strengths,” John said.
People are the future of corporations
While John was interviewing CEOs for the book, what kept coming up in conversations was the importance of people. “They were all saying the same stuff,” he said. “You know, they’re proud of their technology, they’re proud of their branding, but ultimately it’s about people.”
Companies that fail to recognize the changing needs of their people, John believes, will be the ones to lose out. For instance, one of the biggest drivers of corporate transformation is the coming generational shift. “How younger people engage with work, what their expectations are, has forced organizations — in a positive way, I think — to meet those needs.”
“Ultimately, people still want to come to work. They want to enjoy the fruits of their labor. They want to enjoy the essence of what they do. They want to connect with others. They want to grow. That hasn’t changed. It’s still the same.”
For that reason alone, leaders need to look past analytics and big data and lead with their hearts as well as their heads, John said. “People are looking for people who are people. That’s what we need.”
But there are even more reasons for leaders to show their human side. “We need leaders who are ‘character people.’ Who show everybody they’re willing to work hard and work smart, who are honest and show gratitude to others. They go up to people and say thank you very much, I wouldn’t be successful without you.”
For that reason, John feels, the typical competency measurements for leadership potential leave much to be desired. When leaders place too much emphasis on power and money and not enough on their inner core values, they’re hobbling their company’s chances for success.
“I believe in altruism, in the value of being other-oriented,” John said. “When I see it in a younger executive, I get really excited. As you know, we have a lot of leaders who are very selfish. You’re not going to engage anybody if your self-concept is in overdrive.”
Want to learn more about creating a strong corporate culture and keeping up with the changing business landscape? John’s new book Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention will be on bookshelves in January 2016.