Banishing the hyenas - building a programme friendly organisation culture

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The film (adapted from the play) 'A few good men', is about proving a conspiracy to cover up the murder of a US Marine. In the dramatic court scene, the prosecutor proves that “code red” is the  behaviour behind the murder. Despite not appearing in any instruction manual, “code red” is proved to be at least as strong as any written regulation. A shocking example of culture being a product of both the seen, and the unseen.

In my January blog Hyenas in the long grass, I wrote that programme success depends on what goes on both within a programme and its environment, or landscape. No other business process I know has by default, to fight against the rest of the business, which means fighting its culture.

In this blog I am suggesting how a culture can be developed that sustains rather than obstructs programmes.

The hyenas (the challenges) I referred to in my January blog all arise from organisation culture, which is like an iceberg. Some of it is highly visible and typically comprising:

  • Vision and mission
  • Strategy
  • Policies and rules
  • Processes and their information
  • Organisation structure, roles and responsibilities
  • Technology to support the processes

All these describe how any organisation works, yes? After all, this is what is written down, described on websites, taught during induction, tracked, measured etc.

Well no, of course not. 'A Few Good Men' shows that how people really behave in organisations is a mixture of their individual characters, the seen part of culture and the unseen, i.e.:

  • Unwritten rules (how we do things here)
  • Relationships (e.g. formal and internal/external social networks)
  • Beliefs
  • Perceptions
  • Common practice
  • Assumptions

Given this it is not surprising that change programmes are often “seen” as a virus by the host organisation. Culture usually makes this inevitable.

All is not lost, an organisation’s culture can be analysed and changed. But how? Well as is said about making rabbit stew... first catch your rabbit.

In the January blog I said that first convince your CEO. And I mean really convince their heart and mind. This is because a coherent culture change can only be driven from the top. I have not the space here to discuss how to convince a CEO. So let us assume you have. Now all you have to do is change the organization culture

Step one is Analysis; Sun Tzu wrote “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles”.

Professor Edgar Schein (at Harvard) has researched and written brilliantly on this. From this and other work I have developed an 'organisation culture maturity model'. This model can be used to carry out what I call an 'organisation culture risk analysis'. This analysis considers:

  • What cultures there are
  • Cultural components
  • How embedded they are
  • Their level of impact on business operations or change
  • Providing an overall risk assessment

Such an analysis could be used to address a complacent safety culture, or create a culture friendly to programmes. A traditional business analysis would identify the above the waterline factors that need to be addressed. Cause and effect analysis might capture some of the below the waterline factors. An organization culture analysis can capture everything in a structured way.

Step two is to know your desired state (good old gap analysis!). This means:

[a] Adapting change, portfolio, programme, and project management to your organisation. Define what they need to look like when embedded sustainably.

[b] Show what the rest of the organisation’s culture needs to look like when changed.

Step three is to build a roadmap for change to the desired state. It needs show how [a] and [b] will grow and develop.

Step four is to go on the journey. Here Kotter and Abrahamson’s models I quoted in January come into play as this is about making change happen.

Many CEOs may find this unpalatable, but then, perhaps Jack Nicholson was right in 'A Few Good Men' when he bellowed; “you can’t handle the truth!”.

But if this has whetted your appetite and you want to know more, please attend EVA19. My session: Changing the project wasteland with a portfolio culture that works.


Posted by Adrian Pyne on 15th May 2014

About the Author
Adrian is a consultant who’s practice for more than 20 years was the delivery or rescue of Change programmes and the design, build, operation of portfolio, programme and project management capability. Starting in telecoms he has worked in commercial and public sectors: e.g. investment/retail finance, central & local government, diversity, nano & energy technologies and mining. Adrian is a visiting lecturer at Nottingham & Kingston University Business Schools. He has always specialised in and championed the people aspects of our profession, notably stakeholder management and behaviour. In recent years much of his practice has focussed on developing cultures and organisations in which programmes and projects can thrive and not merely survive. Adrian has been a long time contributor to the APM, especially within ProgM, e.g. the BoK 6 refresh. He is a frequent speaker, in the UK and internationally, and is co-author of the Gower Handbook of Programme Management. Adrian is RPP certified and an RPP Assessor.

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