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Successful change and governance - culture matters

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“I get told what my people think I want to hear” sighed the chief executive of a major organisation to me. “How can I really understand the true picture of progress and issues with major programmes in my organisation if the information reported upwards is massaged at every layer in order to suppress issues – including by my board colleagues?”  “I only hear about things going wrong when they have actually gone wrong – and then it’s too late – and the time people should have spent addressing the issues instead gets wasted in trying to cover things up and transferring blame.  If only I had known earlier I, and my colleagues, could have influenced the outcome positively.” 

In the recently published Gower Programme Management Handbook 2nd Edition, I provided 10 golden rules for better governance of project management – and hence more successful programme outcomes. 

Rule 10 is about leadership, collaboration and supportive culture. It has the greatest impact on effective governance. Put simply, good governance is about how people behave. These behaviours need to be set from the top. 

The right culture has to be driven from the top as the board members sit at the apex of governance in an organisation. Only the senior people can set, reward and enforce a culture of transparency, openness, collaboration, performance focus, empowerment, single point accountability, role adherence, ethical working, and so on. The board members need to demonstrate individually and collectively good behaviours of governance.

The board members have to ensure that the policies, ethics, culture and ‘tone’ is set appropriately and that adherence to good governance principles is not compromised.

Board members need to foster a culture of improvement and of frank internal disclosure of information. Board members influence this (directly or indirectly) by what they say and do.  

Improving and delivering good governance comes mainly through a change of culture, behaviours and relationships. Organisations need a coherent structure and processes for project management that transcend the business, but they primarily need a culture and behaviour of people that actually believe in and want to do things in the right way. An organisation might have the best structure in the world with all the right review/authorisation bodies, but if the behaviour is wrong (with someone wanting to ‘play a game’ or circumvent lessons learned and good practice) good governance is destroyed. 

End users are running today’s business and often feel they are too busy to spend time thinking about a project that will not deliver for months or even years. But we all know that early user involvement is crucial to avoiding late user changes when they don’t like the deliverable. Again this message to emphasise the need for early user involvement needs to come from, and be reinforced from, the top.

To hear more about the importance of good governance and culture to programme and project success come along to the APM Governance SIG Conference - Successful change - good culture and governance matter – on Thursday 6 October. 

Directing Agile ChangeAPM guidance on agile change for board directors, available now for £15.00. APM members recieve 10% discount.


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  1. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 23 September 2016, 12:14 PM

    If you don't get told the truth it is because:a) People have been kicked in the head for raising potential issues.b) People who respond magnificently AFTER a problem has blown up get praised for their efforts to recover the situation.And unfortunately, people have long memories. changing culture requires a long-term approach involving both carrot and 'stick'. The carrot is easy, reward accurate reporting. The 'stick' usually means getting the middle and senior managers who are lying about the situation to suit their political agenda 'off the bus' - there's no easy way to change a culture; if you accept undesirable approached at the top it will infect the whole organisation. As Martin says, getting this right starts at the top.