How to Transform Your Culture To Stay Ahead

How to Transform Your Culture

In all of the organizations I have had the privilege to lead, I am always thinking and focusing on culture. Culture, to me, is important both at home and at work. It is the engine that either limits potential or sustains success.


“Transforming culture is the real leadership work.” –John Mattone


Cultural Transformations BookcoverToday it seems every forward-thinking company is focused on cultural reinvention. John Mattone and Nick Vaidya’s new book, Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention was one that I read with great interest. Not only do the authors outline the imperative to continually transform corporate culture to stay ahead of the competition, but they also interview numerous corporate leaders to provide examples to lead the way.

John Mattone has been featured here before. He’s a leadership guru, a top-ranked CEO coach, and runs a top-ranked leadership blog. Whenever he contacts me, I know that I will learn something. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his latest work.


“The culture you create and reinforce will determine your success.” –John Mattone


Culture Change is Constant

When you talk about cultural transformation, what are you referring to?  Under what circumstances might a company look to transform its culture?

Always. The need to transform culture and ensure that you always have the culture in place to drive sustained operating success is a never-ending pursuit and business priority. A healthy, vibrant and mature culture will drive success and keep any organization “ahead of the curve.” So many factors are creating “disruption” in all sectors—digitization, globalization, and the need to operate at two-speeds (fast in emerging economies, slower in mature economies). Traditional differentiators like size, scope, legacy and market position are no longer differentiators. To stay ahead of the curve, CEO’s and senior teams must always be re-thinking, re-shaping, and reinventing their own purpose as well as the purpose of the enterprise. It is no longer about the company you want to create; it is now much more about the company that you must create.

Copyright John Mattone and Nick Vaidya; Used by Permission Copyright John Mattone and Nick Vaidya; Used by Permission



“The need to transform culture is a never-ending pursuit and business priority.” –John Mattone



Defining the Right Culture for You

How do you define what is the right culture for your organization?

You have to be passionate and diligent about measuring everything. This is the 6th step of my Cultural Transformation Model. Measuring operating metrics is part of it. Measuring the effectiveness of your talent systems, your engagement levels, and getting views from your customers and suppliers, and actually measuring what’s working and not working in your culture are all critical. Ultimately, it’s about leveraging your strengths and gifts—the positive legacy aspects of your business (and culture) and addressing the “gaps” and having a laser-focus discipline is what’s required. Sometimes, the C-level team determines based on this “world of feedback” that the company must become more innovative. This will then lead to strategies on how to recruit and select talent who possess the capability to be agile, nimble and innovative. Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice in medicine. However, I would say the same principle applies in the world of corporate reinvention and renewal.

Copyright John Mattone and Nick Vaidya; Used by Permission Copyright John Mattone and Nick Vaidya; Used by Permission


“A healthy, vibrant and mature culture will drive success.” –John Mattone


The Role of the Leader

How to Build A Culture Primed to Perform

How do you create a culture that is primed to perform?

What does science say about changing organizational culture?

Is there any tool that can help measure and track your culture over time?


Build A Culture Designed to Perform

Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor have just written a book, Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation, that answers these questions and more. It is written as a guidebook for those who know how important a strong culture is, but they don’t know what steps to take to create one. I recently spoke with Neel and Lindsay to learn more.


“Culture is what tells your people why they should work.” -Doshi/McGregor


The Magic of a Great Culture

Often people think of culture as something that is like art, but you say that the “magic behind great culture is actually an elegantly simple science.” Tell us more about your research.

We all know that culture is important. We’ve felt it. Some cultures are filled with fear and stress, while others inspire creativity and enthusiasm. What has eluded us, however, is why. Our research provides an “elegantly simple” answer: culture is what tells your people why they should work, and why they work is what determines how well they work.

Here’s the kicker though: not all “whys” are created equal, and too often, cultures are designed to motivate using the destructive “whys.”

Our answer is not only elegantly simple, but also empirically powerful. Using our total motivation framework, we’ve measured the motives of over 20,000 people at more than 50 major institutions. We’ve observed an incredibly strong relationship between their culture and performance metrics like sales and customer experience. In one study, employees with high levels of total motivation (or ToMo for short) generated 38% more in revenues than their low ToMo counterparts.

Culture is an entirely quantifiable and engineerable asset—and the most important one. ToMo gives leaders the tools to unlock the highest levels of performance in their people and company.


“Why you work determines how well you work.” -Doshi/McGregor


Why You Work Determines How Well You Work

What is total motivation? How does this drive performance?

Total motivation is simply the notion that why you work determines how well you work. The effectiveness of the “why” depends on its distance from the work. Let’s take a mid-level management consultant for example:

Play is when you work for enjoyment of the work itself. Play is the most powerful motivator: twice as potent as purpose and almost three times more than potential. Our fearless consultant might enjoy conceptual thinking and the process of breaking down big puzzles into digestible, actionable pieces.

Purpose is when the outcome or impact of the work is why you do it: maybe she values seeing how a new strategy improves a client’s well-being and helps his customers.

Potential is when the work enables a future outcome aligned to your personal goals: she might want to manage operations at a big company or a company of her own down the line, and this job will help her achieve that.


“Culture can’t be managed by chance.” -Doshi/McGregor


How Leading From the Heart Will Change Your Organization

From the Heart

Think about the leaders you respect and admire. Chances are they distinguished themselves because they led with and from the heart. Heart-led leadership is the subject of Tommy Spaulding’s new book The Heart-Led Leader: How Living and Leading from the Heart Will Change Your Organization and Your Life. Tommy is the founder of Spaulding Companies, a leadership-development consulting firm based in Denver. He previously wrote It’s Not Just Who You Know. After reading and thoroughly enjoying his books, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his work in this area.


“Success is about building hearts, not resumes.” -Tommy Spaulding


How Heart-Led Leaders Are Different

What distinguishes a heart-led leader?

A heart-led leader serves others. They epitomize servant leadership. They are humble. They are genuine and sincere. They are transparent and vulnerable. They measure success not just on spreadsheets but on the amount of impact they (and their organizations) have on others. They believe love and results are two sides of the same coin.

Why do heart-led leaders produce better results?

For years we looked at servant leadership as a worthy leadership style that is beneficial to organizational culture but not necessarily tied to bottom-line results. Heart-Led Leaders are obsessed with achieving bottom-line results. But they also believe that love and results are two sides of the same coin. They believe that if they love what they do and who they do it for, it is hard not to produce extraordinary results.

Are you born a heart-led leader or are you able to acquire the characteristics over time?

This is a century old argument – are leaders born or are they made? I have always believed that although we may be born with certain characteristics and qualities, true heart-led leadership is a learned trait – just as one would learn how to ride a bike. If one chooses to become a heart-led leader, he or she can become one. But the 18-Inch Journey to become a Heart-Led Leader is a difficult one.


“Heart-led leaders have the self awareness to understand who they are.” -Tommy Spaulding


18 Principles of the Heart-Led Leader

You make the point that there are 18 inches between the head and the heart, and then provide 18 leadership principles to support the difference. Would you talk about one or two of these that stand out and why they are so important?

The Heart Led Leader The Heart Led Leader

I believe the journey to heart-led leadership is the 18-inches between your head and your heart. In my book, The Heart-Led Leader, I list 18 traits that I believe one must possess to become a heart-led leader—traits such a humility, passion, love, authenticity and vulnerability, etc. I think 21st century leaders must possess these qualities to be truly successful – to create impact, change and bottom-line results.

As an Eagle Scout myself, I was pulled into your personal example about when you wanted to be named Outstanding Scout. Would you share that story and what you learned about character?

Character is one of the 18-inches (traits) of heart-led leadership. I first learned of the importance of character at Boy Scout camp when I was a kid. The scout masters chose one scout at the end of summer camp that was awarded the “Most Outstanding Scout” award. It was the highest honor given to the one scout who demonstrated great leadership qualities. I wanted to win this award more than anything. That week during scout camp I worked harder than any of the other scouts. I got up early. I volunteered for everything. I earned more merit badges, and did whatever the scout masters asked of me.

At the end of the scout camp we had a huge camp fire celebration. And at the end of the evening the scout masters awarded the “Most Outstanding Scout” award. I was certain that I would win the award. I nearly started to stand up before they announced my name.

Light A Fire Under Your Business

Light A Fire

Tom Pandola and Jim Bird’s new book Light a Fire Under Your Business is unlike most business books you will read. The authors not only share practical business principles, but they do it through a combination of business and fire-fighting experience. Whether fighting a fire in a building or one ranging outside, these two veteran firefighters share their experiences and apply the principles in a clever way that gets your attention. Firefighting requires teamwork, flawless execution and commitment.


“Execution is everything.” –Jeff Bridges


I recently had the opportunity to talk with Tom about the book and his advice to build a culture and a team.  Tom Pandola is a director of communications in the air medical transportation industry. He is also a cofounder of  Third Alarm, a leadership consulting company. Pandola’s work experience includes 25 years with the Los Angeles City Fire Department where, as a fire captain and battalion chief, he tested inspirational leadership principles while solving problems associated with responding to fires, floods, riots, and earthquakes.


Build a Culture of Execution

How do you develop a culture of execution?

When something is happening, or not happening and falling short of the organization’s expectations, in this case execution, I have three steps that I take to zero-in on the cause of the problem.


“The result of bad communication is a disconnection between strategy and execution.” –Chuck Marin



Step 1: What process is currently in place?

Step one: I look at the process that is already in place. Does it provide our workforce with all that they need to execute properly and in a timely manner? If not, I would look at either developing a new process or just adjusting the current one to be more supportive of those involved.

Step 2: Are individuals empowered?

Step two: If a lack of execution is not found to be a process issue, then I will look at the individuals involved. Do they feel as though they are empowered and authorized to take the appropriate actions? Sometimes there has been a lack of communications or a miscommunication that causes people to feel less than accountable. I would correct whatever the issue that is found to be causing the lack of execution. This would include the last resort, which is to discipline individuals if it turns out they have made a conscious decision not to follow the process or to not take actions that they are authorized to take.

Step 3: Are behaviors infused in the culture?

Step three: This step gets to the core question about developing a culture of execution. When leadership continuously engages in process improvement and personnel empowerment, they are working on the culture of the organization. I believe that it takes leaders coming together to define the things that they believe will improve execution – and then work at infusing the desired behaviors into the culture.

light-a-fire-under-your-business-book-cover-m7b62gu1p2uq9gcqsb85om6482g63dcjbsklilnoryAn example from the fire service is the need to provide every member of the department with the right process and feeling of empowerment to get the right things done, for the right reasons, and at the right time. This is necessary because the fire service is a 24/7/365 operation, and the top leaders cannot be present when most of the work of their department is taking place. So in order to give the “right things” meaning, the leadership developed meaningful mission, vision, and values statements that serve to drive decision making at all levels of the organization.

This is the first step I recommend every organization take. Bring the leadership together and write a meaningful mission statement that defines, in the simplest way, your organization’s core purpose. This will provide your workforce with the basis for their thoughts and actions. Then write a vision statement that illustrates a desired future. This provides each individual the knowledge of executing their duties in a way that contributes to that vision. And finally, each work team should develop a set of values that they feel help them execute their unique duties with a high level of success.


Create a High-Performance Team

Why the Best Innovators Are Unreasonable

The World’s Most Creative

  • What does it take to make it into the history books as one of the world’s greatest innovators?
  • Do creative geniuses have any unique characteristics?

Rowan Gibson, one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on business innovation, previously shared some of his thinking about his new book, The 4 Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking.  Part of what makes his research unique is that he studied innovators throughout history to understand their thinking, their characteristics, and their methodology.  What he shared with me about history’s greatest innovators may influence the way you manage, the way you look at your boss, or the way you look at others we label as stubborn.  Because, as we will see, the best innovators are often the most unreasonable people.


Why the Best Innovators Are Unreasonable

Rowan, throughout your new book, you give examples ranging from da Vinci to Richard Branson. By studying these innovators, you developed a unique perspective. What does one need to possess or do to get mentioned in the history books?

I think those that make it into the history books are to some extent unreasonable people. George Bernard Shaw put it best when he argued that, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Innovators like the ones I just mentioned – Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk –these are not reasonable people. They don’t just accept that the world is the way it is. They have this deep, insatiable urge to improve it or radically change it to fit their own vision of how things should be.


“You can’t harvest big ideas unless you sow the right seeds.” -Rowan Gibson


Unreasonable Innovator: Leonardo da Vinci

Take da Vinci. Was he a reasonable person? Here’s a man who filled 13,000 pages of notebooks with scribbles, drawings, scientific diagrams, and designs—everything from human anatomy and facial expressions to animals, birds, plants, rocks, water, chemistry, optics, painting, astronomy, architecture, and engineering. He once coated the wings of a fly with honey just to see if it would change the sound of the fly’s buzzing noise in flight. Why would anyone do that? Da Vinci did it to establish that the pitch of a musical note is connected with the speed of the percussive movement of the air. In this case the fly’s wings became heavier due to the honey, so they couldn’t beat as fast, resulting in a lower-pitched buzzing sound–which of course might be interesting at some level, but reasonable people don’t do things like that.


Unreasonable Innovator: Richard Branson

Let’s say you opened a little record store in London, UK. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. But would you call it “Virgin”? And would you then create your own record label and start backing unknown musicians like Mike Oldfield or controversial bands like the Sex Pistols? Would you try to grow your one little record store into a national chain of media hypermarkets? I mean, if you did all of that, it would be quite remarkable. But would you then decide to start your own transatlantic airline and go up against British Airways on their own turf? Would you try to build your own mobile phone business from scratch and then your own bank or take a big risk by investing in a space tourism company? These are not reasonable things to do. So clearly Richard Branson is not a reasonable man.


Unreasonable Innovator: Elon Musk