The ethos, culture and behaviour of a company’s chairman directly influences the message regarding 'the way we do it round here'. So it is important that the management within the company is aligned to the culture set by the chairman, and that it sends clear messages to all project teams through its actions and leadership.
The CEO, as the leader of internal messaging, ensures that the right culture is embedded into project management behaviours and methodologies.
The financial crisis showed us what happens when the wrong tone is set at the top. Banking boards had set a tone that emphasised money first and remuneration was styled to incentivise.
This produced very unfortunate outcomes. In the past, the combination of a strong CEO and weak chairman created board cultures that were driven by ego rather than by ethics, governance, and long-term, sustainable strategies.
Today, the focus on historic failures, together with the rise of governance and the expectations of stakeholders, is placing culture at the forefront of how projects are managed – at least within businesses where an ethical tone comes from the top.
The chairman defines the culture that the board will adopt, and hence what deliverable metrics it will measure. This then filters down to project teams.
Projects need to be managed within a defined culture to ensure that they align with the organisation’s values and its high-level strategic plan.
The world is becoming more transparent. Business has moved from being holed up inside impenetrable castles to being in glasshouses, where information flows instantly and is aided in this respect by social media. This presents challenges to today’s chairmen, who need to set the tone of company culture so that this culture becomes second nature to project teams.
My message to chairmen is: live and breathe your projects. The chairman’s engagement in the business is critical. It is up to them to understand the key business risks and challenges, while watching the horizon for opportunities or threats.
The chairman and the CEO have a natural tension. They need to be close but not 'buddy buddy'. It is the chairman who is the independent voice of conscience and risk assessment, and who is the opportunity radar. Therefore, project teams need to know where the chairman’s radar is focused if they want to increase their chances of achieving long-term success.