Agree or Disagree: Don’t Change Culture

Agree or Disagree is a new series on Voices on Project Management in which two bloggers debate both sides of one point of view. Here, we take a closer look at a quote from Peter Drucker, U.S. management consultant and author: "Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you've got."


A country's culture consists of its people's history, thoughts, system and rules. Companies are structures that originate and operate within that country's culture, and they exist to fulfill the needs of that country's people. A country's culture will impose and manifest itself within the company through its local workforce and interactions.

"Company cultures are like country cultures" because of what people perceive to be acceptable and unacceptable; what they are sensitive to; and what their priorities are. For example, one very famous Western multinational coffee chain that operates in Saudi Arabia synced with the country's culture to design its shops and services, which feature separate women, family and men sections. Like many other international companies, this one has successfully used the "work with what you've got" approach.

I have to agree with Drucker that we should "never try to change one" because that can be perceived as antagonistic and lead to alienation. In my experience, successful individuals and company cultures are the ones that expend their energy to find commonalities and adapt to complement local culture without compromising their core business values.


I disagree: Dave Wakeman, PMP

Peter Drucker said a great deal that still rings true in our daily and professional lives. Yet, this statement isn't one of them. 

In reflecting on his quote, I find myself imagining what he would say if he looked at any number of businesses or sports teams that make changes to their administration and turn their culture into something entirely different.

An example that illustrates why Mr. Drucker is wrong is when Nick Saban became head football coach at the University of Alabama in 2007. He undertook a plan he calls "The Process" that changed everything about the football program's culture. He emphasized taking everything one step at a time -- which differed tremendously from other coaches, but led to unbelievable change and success. Alabama won three national championships in five years. 

In changing an organization's culture, look at three key points. First, the buy-in must start at the top of the organization. You can't have a legitimate change in culture without full commitment. Second, you need to change your reward and feedback system to reflect your new culture and the new results desired. If you are still rewarding old behaviors or you don't reinforce the kind of behavior that you are hoping for, your new culture won't take hold. Finally, the lines of communication have to be wide open. This means you have to communicate the goals, objectives and other measures of success to your team. This is important because it allows your team to act in a manner consistent with the new culture.

Do you agree or disagree with Mr. Drucker's quote? 

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