I have a question regarding company culture and its impact on a project.

The small company for which I work is undergoing growth and I have been tasked with implementing an ERP package over the next few months. The trouble is that I have noticed that the culture seems unsuitable for change, although change is sorely needed.

Without wishing to be disloyal, the problem lies at the very top. The project sponsor is also the company owner and his methods are causing widespread apathy for two reasons.

He seems unable to delegate effectively, requiring involvement in every decision. This has the effect of greatly slowing any key decision and has evidenced itself in a building project having taken 18 months longer than initially thought, through excessive deliberation on small details.

As is his right, being the owner, he decides his own hours of work (generally 11am to 6pm) However, when added to the previous point, this has contributed to a fatalistic attitude among my co-workers.

The first few stages of my project have dragged by at a much slower rate than I'd hoped and I am concerned that this symptom will continue throughout the implementation phase, where I will require an empowered project team and short communication pathways to work effectively.

I am now preparing for the imminent commencement of the implementation phase and wish to make my case for a change in the culture. However, it's sensitive and I'm trying my best to recommend practices we should adopt rather than things that are currently wrong.

My question is: how should I approach this problem professionally? I wish to give my suggestions sufficient weight without upsetting a possibly fragile situation

itilimp's picture
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[b]On culture change[/b]
If you haven't already I highly recommending reading John Kotter and Dan Cohen's 'The Heart of Change' which takes you through the steps of implementing change (small or large) which would eventually result in a culture change. There is a neat summary presentation available for download [url=

The authors make a really good point that culture change does not happen because someone at the top says it needs to happen; it happens because people start doing something new and over time that becomes the way things are done.

There's also a 'Field Guide' sequel with practical checklists, hints and tips which may be of use to you.

[b]On project management[/b]
Read the report '[url=]Silence Fails[/url]' and think about how you can work to address the problems it cites (also 2 books available) as I suspect they are relevant to your situation based on what you have written.

Good luck!

imlycett's picture

Thanks for replying and for your references. The theme I seem to be spotting is that for a culture to change, this can be begun by presenting a positive vision of where we need to be and getting buy-in from the stakeholders.

What about staff morale? If they are used to frustration at every turn, they will come to expect it again. One thing I hear frequently is "You won't get him to change, he'll always be like that" - not something someone commencing a project likes to hear.

I'm trying not to take on the popular viewpoint and judge each situation by myself but it can be demoralising.

itilimp's picture
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I'm sure others will chip in here. I personally think you have to stay positive and repeat your message in as many different ways as you can and get a criticial mass of people to support the new way of thinking/working. One man an organisational culture does not make. Show him the impact that taking a long time over decisions has had in the past in a visual way if possible (not necessarily you personally, but this could be a group exercise that he is part of highlighting this and other issues that make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful project).

dolphin's picture

I agree with itilimp, these imo are the keys:

[quote]repeat your message in as many different ways as you can and get a criticial mass of people to support the new way of thinking/working[/quote]

the most important person to get on board is the ceo...I would suggest drowning him in facts about the implementation. In my experience the lack of delegation is really a trust issue, he does not trust anyone to make the decisions but himself. IMO this is the first key stakeholder to get behind you. I think this can be done by involving him in as many items as you can. convince him of the [b]need[/b] for change.

once you have his support (trust), then keep keep celebrating the wins as they come along, to get folks to buy in to the vision. some folks will not be convinced until they see something.

there's a good case study which seems to match this situation you are describing. We studied it in a class I recently took on change management, here's a link:

Culture change is tough but not, like anything good, takes blood, sweat and tears. Good luck! :-)

Mark's picture
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Sorry this took me so long.

It's too late to be thinking about culture change related to your ERP effort. KEEP THESE TWO THINGS SEPARATE IN EVERYONE'S MIND BUT YOURS.

For your ERP project (that's what you're getting paid for, remember), be a fiend for details. Don't leave a meeting without recapping who's going to do what by when, and make clear with the CEO separately if necessary what his responsibilities are. Don't remind him that he's delaying you... he'll figure that out. Just keep talking about tasks and dates.

[b]WHO is going to do WHAT by WHEN.[/b]

Regarding culture change, do read Kotter. It's brilliant.

And don't expect to get very far. He's the owner and CEO? Long history of delaying things? You are not David, and he is not Goliath.

Nothing wrong with being the change you want in the org, but be careful.

Napoleon said, [i]"Every soldier carries a Marshall's baton in his pack."[/i]

And David Ogilvy said, [i]"yes, and he shouldn't let it stick out."[/i]

thaGUma's picture

imlycett, forgive the assumption, but you indicate that you are not alone in feeling negative about how your boss runs things. This is not a great situation to be in.

I notice that your post was a couple of months ago - how have things shaped up?

I would consider spinning it 180deg. Go with the change. Be supportive to your boss - accept his way of working and lack of delegation. BUT build on areas where he is lacking. ADD to the process.

I find that building a base level of co-operation will encourage the boss to trust that you can carry out his requirements. Add value on top of that and you become much more likely to gain credibility and achieve where others may be put off.

You have a diffcult boss but you have an opportunity to gain.


imlycett's picture

I'd like to thank all of you for your comments.

As things currently stand, momentum is gaining on the implementation phase and I hope for things to be in full-swing within a fortnight.

I haven't had too much interaction with the MD of late but I have been preparing the groundwork. I've made what I feel is a strong case towards how I need the project to run, by focusing on the benefits that can be realised when the project team is effectively delegated to. It is still quite likely that progress will be impeded and I plan to spell out the financial impact of any delayed decisions - I think this is the language to use as it seems to be one of his biggest motivators.

He has hired me for my technical skills and not my business skills (although these are developing) and so I must be prepared to stand-up against obviously barmy technical proposals while being prepared to give ground on business related issues. I plan to adopt donnachie's strategy of building common ground and working from there. I also plan to adopt Mark's "Who, What, When?" approach to combat his tendency to leave agenda points unresolved.

Thankfully, my project is sponsored by an external organisation and the committee are all 'on-message'. One year remains on this project and we're now taking the view that it may be sensible to revise our goals downwards instead of aiming for the ideal of organisational change coupled with technological change. Rather than busting a gut trying to shoot for the moon, I'm just trying to get into orbit (but in a reliable spaceship - to stretch the analogy)

That said, I am learning valuable lessons by example. Knowing how not to do things is possibly as valuable as seeing how things should be done.

YHogan's picture

I applied an in-house role with company A (client side). I have been through 4 round of interviews in 8 weeks, feedbacks were all very positive however it required 1 more interview to make decision.
With no guarantee company A would make an offer therefore I accepted an offer (signed & returned employment agreement) from company B, a reputable consultancy with very good compensation package. It starts in 3 weeks time.
When I called to decline company A's further interview request and told them I already accepted an offer from other company. Company A hiring manager emailed me that they were giving me an offer. HR called to discuss compensation details. I have not received any offer paperwork. This only happened on Friday so I will wait until next Monday.
If company A's comes back with an offer better than company B, should I accept A and tell B I've changed my mind? Is it unethical? No doubt will burn bridges? Company A in-house role will be a tough one, it has more control and better career progression therefore A is better job in long term. Company A, as a client, could potentially hire company B as a consultant.
I would appreciate if anyone could give some suggestion how to deal with this situation.
Many thanks in advance.