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Don’t fight the culture

September 17, 2011 - Project Management

organizational cultureI’ve been in a process improvement full-time role now for three months, specifically in the IT project planning and execution space.  I’ve never tackled process improvements with 100% of my time before.  It’s been a lot of fun so far, requiring collaboration with many different groups at many different levels.  There hasn’t been a dull moment yet.

And never before have I been hit over the head by our organizational culture again and again and again.  And again.

Organizational Culture: The specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other…
Charles W. L. Hill and Gareth R. Jones – Strategic Management

I was always aware of specific aspects of our culture before, of course, having been a part of this organization for over five years.  But for the first time, I have to consciously think about it.  Consciously design processes that are a blend of the ideal, within the context of the corporate culture.

I started out by thinking the “process” improvements should actually be culture changes.  But it didn’t take me very long to realize how much harder that was going to be, if it would be possible at all.

I came to the realization that an organization’s culture should be embraced and understood, to most effectively operate within it.  Is it a relationship-based culture, or are people more process-oriented?  Is it a consensus-driven culture, or are decisions made in a hierarchical fashion?  These and similar questions will dictate the kind of processes, behaviors, and communications that will be successful.  This is critical for everyone within an organization to understand.  Project managers, vice presidents, software engineers, team leaders… everyone.

Embrace the corporate culture, strive to understand it, then consciously leverage it to achieve your greatest results.

(As a side note, in some circumstances, the corporate culture is truly harmful to the organization. Peter Bregman, a blogger over at Harvard Business Review, wrote a great post back in 2009 about taking on a deliberate culture shift.)

What do you think? Design the ideal process within the corporate culture context, or design the absolute ideal process and make it fit?

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