Consultant John Mattone Talks to the AMA About Cultural Transformation

American Marketing Association
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John Mattone
Key Takeaways

What? No single management responsibility of a CEO is more important than developing, refining, and nurturing an effective workplace culture.

So What? Russ Klein asserts that what you do does not define you, but your values do. As such, he believes it is more important to build a high performance organization on top of a values-driven foundation, and the quality of the work itself will follow.

Now What? What values constitute your workplace culture? Have those values been identified, communicated, and supported programmatically throughout the year? Decide for yourself. Is organizational fitness more about celebrating and nurturing who you are or what you do?  

Introduction on Cultural Transformations

By AMA CEO Russ Klein 

Have you ever been invited to be featured in a book on "Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention?” Like you, I’m more accustomed to reading about the achievements and corresponding insights behind someone else’s success. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t read because I have certainly learned so much from studying great leaders with no reservations about stealing their approaches!

That dynamic changed temporarily when I was asked to be a subject and case in point on leadership by accomplished author and organizational consultant John Mattone and Nick Vaidya, publisher of CEO Magazine.

Not only was I humbled and flattered; the #1 reason I pursued the post of CEO for the American Marketing Association was the vision I had developed for the AMA culture! The opportunity to lead the most esteemed knowledge-based organization devoted to marketing best practices in the world was and is nothing less than a calling.

How many times have you observed leaders make missteps when they had a chance to do something positive for your organization’s culture? It’s painful isn’t it? I think the reason it’s so maddening is because it’s not really that complicated.

My definition of corporate culture is simple. Culture = Permission.

In other words, a culture is a tapestry of rules, written and unwritten, that ostensibly say, “It’s okay to be this way, not that way, around here.” I for one detest policies that are nothing more than an officious effort to substitute common sense. So my approach to shaping the culture of the “Next AMA” has been what I call a “Be-Do” approach. 

The message here at the AMA is that it’s more important to be, than to do. Be what you ask? Be curious. Be grateful. Be joyful. Be courageous. Be customer-centric. Be stakeholder sensitive. My experience, supported by a great deal of literature on the subject, is that when you have an inspired, aligned organization who share in the organization’s stated values…they will do great things together. 


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We have jealously protected these six watchwords that reflect our primary values, and they are reflected in the competencies for which we interview job applicants. We have set aside the conventional annual performance review process in favor of what will be an exchange between every supervisor and their employee in terms of how they are being, with respect to those values and corresponding competencies.

The premise is simple. 

The state of one’s being is foundational; in fact, it is a gateway competency required for sustained success in a marriage, a friendship, any relationship. Every organization’s cultural advantage is the sum total of the relationships between its employees. If you can’t be, you can’t do…at least not here at the “Next AMA.”

Let me tell you, as a CEO, next to powers of being in love and being understood, I cannot think of anything that gives me more pride and satisfaction than witnessing the AMA staff being great…one relationship at a time. I love Roy Disney’s assertion, “When you know your values, it’s easy to make decisions.” Then suddenly, you have your transformation.

AMA Interview with John Mattone

Co-Author of Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention.

John Mattone, an author and consultant, is one of the foremost experts on leadership and culture. His advice on building and sustaining “leadership and talent culture” with results has been sought after by Fortune 1000 CEO’s and executive teams. His latest book, Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention (with co-author Nick Vaidya) hits bookshelves on January 26.

The American Marketing Association recently sat down with John to discuss leadership, workplace transformation, and the five elements that drive organizational culture.

AMA: You have a master’s degree in organizational psychology. How did you choose that path?

John Mattone: I went to a very small school called Babson College that is very well known for business and entrepreneurial studies. I happened to have a professor who had a PhD in Organizational Psychology and I took a class my junior year and it hit me that this was the direction I wanted to go in. Then I went on to the University of Central Florida and I got a master's degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. I then went into the corporate world.

AMA: What in your career lead you to write a book compiling advice from top CMOs?

John Mattone: I loved the field of organizational development and internal consulting so when I got my master's degree, I had a job with a company in Boston and immediately I was doing the work I enjoyed. I always loved to do training programs which I had done from a young age, 26-27 years old, teaching much older people. I had a lot of people coming up to me and saying I was pretty good on this platform and that I could actually make a career out of this. I made a decision at age 30 to launch the first iteration of my company. I did that for 10 years. I wrote two books during that time frame. 

At age 40 I returned to the corporate world. I had a number of corporate positions and worked in consulting. I was president of a firm at one point, a partner in two consulting firms. I was also a VP of operations for a company and that was one of the best jobs I've ever had because I had an opportunity to have some operating experience at a senior level. And then I got a calling, it was very strong and very powerful. It was very direct: "You need to go back and do what you were put on the Earth to do." And that is the opportunity to help leaders and future leaders and companies become the best that they can be. I looked back on those 14 years as being pivotal to my growth and development as a person and as a professional.

I relaunched my business at age 55. In the last five years I've written six books. I wrote two best sellers Talent Leadership (2012) and Intelligent Leadership (2013) and I began speaking at corporate and association events all over the world. I did some coaching with senior executives and worked with universities on education programs. The chance for me to actually touch people through my speaking and executive retreat work—at the senior level and with high potentials through one-on-one work—and help the world with what I think we are struggling with: A massive gap in leadership in companies and even families. We have gaps all over the world in those two areas. There has always been a passion for me to try to move the needle. I can't solve all the world’s problems but I am excited about culture transformation.

I wanted to connect with CEOs who are great people doing great work. We wanted to uncover 14 or 15 of them and let the world know these are strong people with great character, great values, who have worked from the beginning. Nothing was handed to these people. All the CEOs in the book had humble beginnings. That was the flavor we wanted to get across in this book is that the culture of a company starts with CEOs and senior executive teams who are good people, who are strong and vibrant in an inner core; great character, great values, great thinking patterns. They've taken their individual learnings to help their organizations become strong entities through strong culture. I really feel like I am on a mission and I am very passionate but ultimately I wanted to create a book where I could let the world know about these people who were doing great things with their organizations.

AMA: What is one unique piece of advice from this book?

John Mattone: I think there are two things:

1) When do companies transform? The answer is ‘always’ because we are living in a destructive world. Markets are changing, customer needs are changing, and demographics are changing. You've got political changes. It’s so disruptive. I have a model in the book. It’s called a six-step model for cultural transformation. I built that model as a hypothesis that I wanted to validate through these interviews. 

Organizations, if they want to be successful in their transformation efforts—about 75% of companies fail in these efforts—must do so through great leadership and it starts with the CEO and senior executive team. If you're weak in the C-Suite, you're going to be weak in your culture and in your operating results.

One of the big takeaways is that companies could be successful in any transformation effort, but you've got to have a focus in on great leadership. It’s not only the current leadership population but also an eye toward future leaders; the younger people who are talented and have the potential to move up the ladder. They need to be identified and the development needs to be accelerated. That is so pivotal in strengthening the readiness of the organization to handle all the disruptive stuff that's going on. 

2) You have to think big and you have to think differently. It goes back to what we learned from Steve Jobs back in 1997 when he came back to Apple and made his announcement to employees that success at Apple has nothing to do with the computer; it has everything to do with building relationships with customers. A lot of people are not aware of this but, in that speech, when Steve Jobs came back he built a marketing campaign called the "Think Different" campaign. 

Apple's Think Different commercial from 1977.

I really believe the Apple we know today was founded in 1997 on the heels of that speech. Ultimately the message was: "I've been away from Apple for 15 years but I've learned so much and here's what I want to share” that if you want to get different results in our business we have to think differently. If you want big results, you have to think big. That culture of think different and think big was born at Apple and that is why they are so innovative today. And so what I've discovered and was validated in all 14 interviews is that there is no room for thinking small. If a company is going to be successful in transforming itself into something strong, more vibrant, and more customer oriented than it was, everyone in that organization has to think different and think big.

AMA: Talk a little bit about what cultural transformation means in a workplace. Is it about a new language, a workspace, a shared goal?

John Mattone: I think the first think that people often think about is: What is culture? How do we define culture? If you were to take the aggregate of everyone's character, self-concept, value system, emotional make up, and the results that are generated—and if you aggregate that across the entire organization—that is your culture. It is very important that you diagnose your culture and you look at those elements that are strong and vibrant that are helping your organization drive stronger operating success. 

But similarly you must identify the impediments. What it always comes down to is that very few companies measure culture. Most companies measure engagement. In fact, 75% of companies use engagement surveys. That's rampant all over the world. Only 15% of the companies in the world actually measure culture. But the thing that drives engagement is culture. Ultimately, what drives operating success is engagement so we make the proposal in the book that we have to do a better job at looking at the elements that drive culture. 

There are actually three elements. They are what I call leading indicators to use an economic analogy. We think about what drives operating success. 

1) "Can Do": [This culture is] where people believe they have the skills, competencies, and capabilities to execute what it is they are being asked to execute. Do people walk around with the belief they can execute? That foundation has to be there. 

2) "Will Do": [This is] the passion, the drive, and the motivation to really make a difference. 

3) "Must Do" [This] third leading indicator... is the cultural alignment. That is when we feel connected and aligned with the mission of the organization. 

Those three elements: “Can do,” “Will Do,” and “Must Do” are very unique and distinct cultures. What I've discovered is that they are almost like engines: if you are not optimized in these three cultures, it will impact two other cultures.

The individual execution and performance culture which is in reality what happens when people perform. And it’s going to impact your team culture, the extent to which people collaborate. I had an assessment that actually measures where you're strong and where you're weak. It improves things like the extent to which the organization has a comfortable work environment. It includes the benefit program. And those are parts of it but there are so many elements that bind to those five things. But if those five engines are strong that's when we see greatness in a company.


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