KIRKUS REVIEWS | April 7, 2022
NAVIGATE THE SWIRL
A leadership consultant explains how certain conversations can transform a business.
Hawkes uses an unusual but apropos word to define the constant change that most business leaders face: “the Swirl.” The term acts as an anchor in an absorbing business book that brilliantly addresses how to cope with the turbulence of change, culminating in “seven crucial conversations” that lead to organizational transformation. Before enumerating and explaining these, the author logically lays the groundwork by first “Framing the Conversation” in Part 1 and then exploring “The Evolution of an Enterprise” in Part 2. Hawkes urges readers not to jump ahead to the conversations themselves in Part 3; this is good advice, because the initial sections provide a solid foundation for understanding later ideas. The first offers an excellent overview of the business organization, with an emphasis on the underappreciated notion that “teams and organizations are complex, adaptive, social systems.” Hawkes aptly demonstrates how a drive toward “alignment” can help keep “Swirl” to a minimum in such systems. He neatly notes how every business has three basic elements, depicted in a triangle: “Develop, Sell, and Deliver.” Hawkes also postulates that business growth occurs in “three domains” related to transformational change: “Leadership and Culture,” “Capabilities and Roles,” and “Strategies and Customer Experience.” The book’s second part concentrates on how an enterprise evolves, covering four stages of this evolution in considerable detail. The most engaging aspect is his assertion that these stages revolve around both individual and collective actions within an organization, from “Independent Contributors” in Stage 1 to “Leaders Leading Leaders” in Stage 4. The author clearly describes each of these stages and supplements them with examples.
Parts 1 and 2 are so detailed and relevant to modern organizational leadership that they could easily stand on their own, but Part 3 is the heart of the book. Hawkes introduces it by noting that “Organizations evolve at the speed of conversation.” He then devotes a chapter to each of the “Seven Crucial Conversations,” involving such concepts as “Activating Purpose,” “Shifting Mindset,” and “Aligning Strategies.” He elegantly describes each of these in broad terms to avoid overwhelming readers, but he also provides enough detail to give his insights some impact. For example, for “Activating Purpose,” he provides readers with a series of questions, including “Does this team have a leader willing and able to activate a shared team purpose? How will decisions be made in this team? What is the shared purpose of the team? Are the needs of the customers and stakeholders whom we serve clear?” Useful sidebars highlight specific examples and key terms. Hawkes deftly concludes the book by restating what he promised in the introduction: “an operating system” for business transformation, which he sees as “both a human journey and a shared journey.” The author succeeds at this goal, skillfully exposing the complexities of organizations without minimizing uncomfortable realities. Overall, the book provides a fresh perspective on how to provide effective leadership even in challenging circumstances.
Valuable and actionable counsel for forward-thinking business leaders.