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Your Personal Contribution To Culture Change

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Your Personal Contribution To Culture Change

“This is business, not personal, Sonny!” – Tom Hagen, The Godfather

The Court Jester’s Payoff Grid

Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?

“Enter Rumor, painted full of tongues.” Henry IV, Part II, Induction

Empathy demands I cringe a little bit for any employer who lists a job ad that includes as part of the winning candidate’s skill set the ability to “change the culture,” or be an “agent of cultural change.” This seemingly benign requirement is, in fact, a tacit acknowledgement that the existing organization is incapable of executing its business model satisfactorily, which, in turn, points to at least one of the following causes:

  • The organization lacks the overall level of talent needed to execute the selected business strategy, or
  • The organization itself is fine, but the business strategy is sufficiently flawed so as to preclude a successful execution as articulated.
  • And, of course, both could be true.

Then we have the problem of what, exactly, are we talking about when the term “corporate culture” is bandied about? Investopedia is as good a source as any, and here’s how they define it:

Corporate culture refers to the values, beliefs, and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact, perform, and handle business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people that the company hires.[i]

I think this definition is good, but I would like to add to the “values, beliefs, and behaviors” list one more item: priorities. If the organization’s management and employees do not have a shared set of priorities, then even a superior business model, perfectly aligned with the economic environment in which it functions, is vulnerable to a failed implementation due to the lack of cohesion among those performing the actual work. For example, if a new restaurant chain has an equal mix of employees and managers who believe that their top priority is either to give customers a very pleasant dining experience or to, say, maximize shareholder wealth, then customers will have a very different experience at that establishment, depending on who serves them. Note also the reference to how corporate culture “…develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people that the company hires.”[ii]

I juxtaposed the serve-the-customer and Asset Managers’ goal as priorities in the previous example for a reason. Placing the priority on meeting (or exceeding) customer expectations with respect to scope, cost, and schedule is firmly within the Project Management domain, confirmed by the nature of the management information systems that support PM. For decades business colleges have taught that the point of all management is to “maximize shareholder wealth,” and I’m pretty sure that is still being taught today. Curious how that little axiom never seems to make its way into an organization’s Mission Statement, or Vision Statement if it is, indeed, the point of all management. Among the sixteen best Mission Statements according to Biteable, only one mentions a return on investment at all, and even then it’s somewhat tangential. That one belongs to Spotify, and reads:

To unlock the potential of human creativity — by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.[iii]

None of the other Mission Statements on the list made mention of Asset Management objectives at all. But all sixteen did call out providing some sort of benefit to existing and potential customers, leading me to believe that PM is far more central in providing the basis for a coherent, successful corporate culture than Asset Management. This is true even for the very business colleges offering courses in the management sciences. I did a web search on the question “Why should I attend business college?” and none of the many responses included the faintest hint of “to shore up the college’s endowment.”

So, does this mean that PM is the optimal vehicle for changing corporate culture? Well, yes, but it’s complicated. While I do believe that corporate culture is downstream from the efficacy of the organization’s business model in delivering goods and services within the customers’ cost and schedule parameters, I’m also convinced that the whole “cultural” thing, as defined earlier, falls mostly within the realm of Organizational Behavior and Performance, which is (ironically enough) part of Asset Management. This means that, even with a superior business model/technical approach laid out by the PM, success is far from guaranteed, particularly if the organization happens to have a preponderance of Jungle Fighters and Company Men rather than Craftsmen or Gamesmen (the archetypes from Michael Maccoby’s excellent book The Gamesman [Simon and Schuster, 1976]). Essentially, if you want to “change the (corporate) culture,” don’t expect PM to get you all the way there.

But it’s the right place to start.



[i] Tarver, Evan, Corporate Culture Definition, Characteristics, and Importance, retrieved from on March 12, 2023, 19:36 MDT.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Biteable, Mission Statement Examples, 16 Of The Best To Inspire You, 15 June 2021, Retrieved from on 13 March 2023, 18:39 MDT.

Posted on: March 15, 2023 08:49 PM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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Excellent read. The lack of aligned priorities leads to silos.

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