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Project culture and the ‘tone from the top’

By John Chapman, Programme Director | Wednesday 30th November 2016.
John Chapman


In July 2016 the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) published Corporate Culture and the Role of Boards. In the Executive Summary it notes:

Culture in a corporate context can be defined as a combination of the values, attitudes and behaviours manifested by a company in its operations and relations with its stakeholders. These stakeholders include shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers and the wider community and environment which are affected by a company’s conduct.

The report references the UK Corporate Governance Code which states:

One of the key roles for the board includes establishing the culture, values and ethics of the company. It is important that the board sets the correct “tone from the top”. The directors should lead by example and ensure that good standards of behaviour permeate throughout all levels of the organisation.

corporatecultureProject governance & culture

Project Governance is a subset of Corporate Governance. The Project Board will need to consider the culture of the project. What is the ‘tone from the top’ of the Project to those individuals who are in the project team, and the wider community who are affected by the project outcomes?

In the delivery of business solutions we need to encourage open dialogue. This starts pre-project with the preparation of the business case. What are the benefits required to be delivered? Where are there organisation issues that need addressing? Does the organisational culture need to change?

During project delivery there will be design discussions and development of business process changes. Each one to be considered and probed in depth. Consultation, cross hierarchy process reviews and debate are important to look at the bigger picture. User Acceptance testing should involve a representative set of individuals, who can provide open feedback on what is encountered. On go live, issues identified need to be fed back quickly and managed.


Culture is much more about people than it is about rules. Codes of conduct are a baseline; a culture is created by what you do rather than what you say. The alignment and consistency of behaviours of leaders, and how they communicate through words and actions is the essential starting point.

What is the ‘tone from the top’ that will be set for your project? For business solutions projects it needs to be one of open dialogue, leadership during delivery, and recognition that everyone has a contribution to make.

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