Managing Projects in a Change-Resistant Culture

Michael R. Wood is a Business Process Improvement & IT Strategist Independent Consultant. He is creator of the business process-improvement methodology called HELIX and founder of The Natural Intelligence Group, a strategy, process improvement and technology consulting company. He is also a CPA, has served as an Adjunct Professor in Pepperdine's Management MBA program, an Associate Professor at California Lutheran University, and on the boards of numerous professional organizations. Mr. Wood is a sought after presenter of HELIX workshops and seminars in both the U.S. and Europe.

One of the worst assignments a project manager can receive is that of managing a project where the organizational culture (OC) is overly resistant to change. While it is natural for people to be resistant to change, it’s when they are entrenched that the PM faces a daunting challenge. Leadership tells the PM to go and implement change, while the rank and file will have none of it. So what can PMs do to influence and shape a change-resistant culture to be willing and even embrace change?

As always, having a common definition to work with is important. In this case, defining what is meant by the term “organizational culture” provides a baseline of the variables in play when change is afoot. It is defined as follows by businessdictionary.com:

“The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. Organizational culture includes an organization's expectations, experiences, philosophy, and values that hold it together, and is expressed in its self-image, inner workings, and interactions with the outside world, and future expectations. It is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid.”

Suffice to say, that firmly established OCs tend to be resistant to change, especially if that change is …

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