This article is the fifth in a five part series around successfully delivering step changes in value through a comprehensive view of project / portfolio best practices and organizational change management. To access the other articles in this series, click here.


Of all of the dimensions we have discussed in this series, culture is probably the most difficult, as it involves holding up the mirror to an organization and really looking at how things work, and then having the courage to imagine how things could be different.

The Origins of Organizational & Project Culture

Culture is defined both by what is said and what is unsaid, what is done and what is not done. But there is one thing that is universally true, culture comes straight from the top. Embarking on any program of organizational change needs to consider the culture that’s in place. Are you willing to do what is necessary to change the culture? Or change what is necessary to adapt to it?


  • Stated Values - the organization’s or project’s values, frequently printed on a charter, and hanging on the wall. This is what leadership has declared to be important to the organization. This usually consists of broad themes such as safety, performance, accountability, innovation, integrity, honesty, community, etc.

  • Unspoken Values - these are the values which are actually demonstrated in day-to-day life, which can be quite different from the stated values. This can be discovered by asking people “how things really work around here.”

Leadership Style

  • Autocratic Leadership / Leading By Fiat - “Do what I say”.

    • Excluding team members, issuing directives without input.

    • Shutting down conversation and constructive debate.

    • Performance / delivery above all. The ends justify the means.

    • Telling people what to do.

  • Participative Leadership / Leading By Example - “Do what I do.”

    • Including team members in solving problems,

    • Encouraging diverse perspectives and opinions,

    • Listening more than speaking,

    • Teaching people what to do.

  • Servant Leadership / Leading by Enabling - “To serve and grow.”

    • Creating the right vision and direction,

    • Creating the right environment for individual and organisational growth,

    • Shares power, puts the needs of others first,

    • Serving people.

The Front Line

  • Perceptions - The conversation that happens in the boardroom is not always the same as the conversation that happens around the water cooler. You may think leadership messages are getting out to the team, but is it really sinking in?

  • Beliefs - Do people really believe that a new agenda will be implemented? Or is just a “flavor of the month.” Teams are frequently subject to “initiative overload” and are constantly changing, even with contradictory management whims. It’s easy to understand how teams can become cynical, and think that this is just more of the same.

  • Tradition - “This is how we have always done things.” People like to cling to the familiar and the comfortable, and are often scared to embrace something new, especially if it creates uncertainty in their own role.

  • Regional / National Cultural Norms - Local cultural norms play an important role in organizational culture and affect any effort to change it. Local customs and culture affect communication style, deference to seniority / hierarchy, willingness to be transparent, desire to “save face”, etc.

A New Way of Talking about Values

Rather than continuing to talk about the same old values (safety, accountability, performance, etc.), it can be helpful to talk about values in a way that’s directly related to everyday life.

What kind of culture do you want?


  • Optimistic / “We can do it!”

  • Collaborative / teamwork

  • One Team

  • Problem Solving

  • Empowered

  • Learning

  • “Ideas can come from anywhere”

  • Transparent

  • Safe to Speak Up

  • Continuously improving

  • Working for Organization / Team Success

OR This…

  • Pessimistic / “Don’t even try.”

  • Everyone for themselves

  • Silos / Tribal

  • Finger-Pointing

  • Blocked / Micro-managing

  • Blame-Shifting

  • “Not invented here”

  • Hiding the truth

  • Dangerous to Speak Up

  • Stagnating

  • Working for Individual Success

Measuring Culture… It takes more than a survey.

Capturing and measuring culture is part experience, part science and part art. It boils down to tracking how people are feeling. It is not always easy, but there are a range of new technologies and approaches that can help with this. If you have or are about to embark on a significant change program for your organisation you will need to ensure that you breakthrough this paradigm.

Successful cultural change is not just seen, or heard… but felt.

Culture takes time, effort and focus. It is not just a top-down initiative but a continued collaboration with all levels in an organisation. The core concepts and guiding principles need to be practiced, demonstrated, reinforced - stated boldly and repeated often. This holds true for your internal team as well as third parties who are engaged to help deliver and implement any organizational change.


Culture metrics are not only part of how we implement any improvement program, but an intrinsic part of our purpose at ProjectAI. We exist to connect people to projects in revolutionary ways.

We want to help you build and benefit from a new way of thinking about organization or project culture. Let us show you what is possible. Please contact us for more information.

How has culture influenced or disrupted successful change at an organisation you have been involved with? What do you feel is important to measure to ensure you are building and reinforcing the cultural change you want to see? Share your experience and lessons learned in the comments below.