Cultural Transformations: A book review by Bob Morris

Cultural TransformnationsCultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention
John Mattone and Nick Vaidya
John Wiley & Sons (2016)

How and why organizations that thrive have launched preemptive transformation to dominate their competition

Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (usually unrealistic) expectations. Not all of what Jim Collins characterizes as BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) are attainable. Resistance to changing the given status quo is often cultural in nature, the result of what Jim O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” I agree. In fact, my own rather extensive experience with change initiatives suggests that the greatest resistance is by those who replaced the previous status quo and now stoutly defend what they have established in its place.

In this volume, John Mattone and Nick Vaidya suggest two other reason why few change initiatives achieve their given objectives: poor leadership and obsolete business models. As they explain, within a volatile global marketplace, “operating models are coming obsolete and the once dominant players are increasingly being overtaken by more agile, entrepreneurial companies with business models that are built on changed…The most forward-thinking companies are launching [begin italics] preemptive [end italics] transformations, retooling themselves to stay [begin italics] ahead [end italics] of their competitors.”

I agree with Mattone and Vaidya that culture and leadership are the keys to organizational transformation. (I also agree with Thomas Edison that vision without execution is “hallucination.”) They share what they have learned thus far from wide and deep experience working with all manner of organizations and their C-level executives. They also share insights and counsel obtained during attire’s interviews of 14 CEOs who have each, in their own way, exemplified the transformational leadership within their companies.

“There’s the story of Kathy Mazzarella, who started working for Graybar without a degree and rose through the ranks to become the first female CEO in the company’s history. You’ll hear from Kris Canekeratne, a Sri Lankan native who instilled a commitment to perpetual improvement into the core business culture of Virtusa from the beginning, allowing the company to survive several evolutions in the tech sector and remain one of the top companies in the world for two decades. There’s a conversation with Hap Klopp, who started his company with a group of fellow outdoor enthusiasts and, thanks to an uncompromising commitment to creating products that they love, grew The North Face into the world’s most respected outdoor equipment company. And you’ll learn how Eddie Machaalani built Bigcommerce on a foundation of hard-working family values that he learned growing up in the Lebanese immigrant community in Sydney, Australia.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Mattone and Vaidya’s coverage:

o What’s the Problem? (Pages 6-8)
o Understanding the Culture of Leadership (8-10)
o Match the Culture to the Need, and, Taking Time to Reflect Is Critical (10-15)
o The Secrets to Changing Mindsets and Behavior, and, The Nuts and Bolts of Getting Your Team on Board (30-34)

Mattone’s Interviews

o Kathy Mazzarella (39-46)
o Kris Canekeratne (49-60)
o Eddie Machaalani (63-70)
o Harib Al Kitani (73-83)
o Kenneth (“Happy”) Klopp (87-97)
o Russ Klein (99-114)
o Rohit Mehrotra (119-127)
o Irv Rothman (131-145)
o Juan Carlos Archila Cabal (149-154)
o Nabil Al Alawi (158-165)
o Cathy Benko (170-179)
o Deva Bharathi (183-193)
o NV (“Tiger”) Tyagarajuan (197-205)
o Anthony Wedo (209-217)

o Appendix A: John Mattone’s 20 Laws of Intelligent Leadership (223-224)
o Appendix B: John Mattone’s Cultural Transformation Readiness Assessment-40 (227-233)

I presume to add that human beings achieve organizational transformations. Each of them must be both willing and able to transform (i.e. give new shape, substance, and priority) with regard to what they do and how they do it. New business models must guide and inform their preemptive efforts. When talking about transforming culture, Mattone and Vaidya mean “shifting the key values and principles that define corporate cultures into ones that embrace rather than resist change…By leadership we mean finding and developing the right leaders at all levels of the organization who are able to embody and instill these cultural values so they cab successfully guider their employees, teams, and organizations through the transformation process.”

Obviously, John Mattone and Nick Vaidya do not know what the nature and extent will be of the cultural transformation that each reader’s organization must initiate. However, and this is a key point, they have provided in this book just about all the information, insights, and counsel that business leaders in all organizations now need, whatever their size and circumstances may be.

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