Why culture really matters

The hidden perils of acculturation


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management

University of Hertfordshire

United Kingdom


According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, acculturation is defined as the cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture. The phenomenon refers to the cultural change that stems from intentional blending between cultures, which aims to alter a pre-existing perspective, approach or way of thinking and replace it with a preferred, and more highly valued alternative response pattern.

A ‘giant’ new kid on the block

The 1984 breakup of AT&T in the US, resulted in the creation of seven independent telecoms companies that were formed from the original twenty-two AT&T controlled members of the Bell system. Pacific Bell, controlled by the holding group, Pacific Telesis Group, was considered by many to be the weakest of the emerging new organisations.

“Of all the Bell regional holding companies, Pacific Telephone holds the most risk for investors. The company’s record of poor earnings and its long-running feud with the California Public Utilities Commission make it a risky investment at best.” New York Times, 1985

Finding itself within the new and fiercely competitive Californian telecommunications marketplace, Bell Pacific had to reform itself into a savvy and successful organisation, much removed from its Bell origins. Bell Pacific launched aggressive marketing campaigns to capture a significant share of the burgeoning market. However, the company quickly found itself enmeshed in controversy for selling unneeded telephone services to non-English speaking customers who did not understand what they were buying. As tales of the dubious sales tactics of the company became public knowledge, morale within the organisation plummeted and its reputation, increasingly on par with that of a dubious used car dealership, also took a hit (Kirp, 1989).

Bell Pacific decided to turn its attention to transforming the organisation into a modern and efficient conglomerate. Modernising the company would require the shaking up of its massive workforce of 62,000 workers and drastically reshuffling the rigidly hierarchical structure, described as a steep pyramid with 14 very precisely delineated levels.

In search of a new culture

More crucially, management also targeted the total transformation of the culture within the organisation. They were worried that Pacific Bell did not have the right culture and competitive attitude and concerned that employees were not sufficiently entrepreneurial for the corporation to be able to succeed in its new environment.

Looking for direction, they turned to a well-known, local Californian recluse and organisational development consultant, Charles Krone. Years earlier, Krone made his fame as an internal specialist within the Proctor & Gamble soap division, for which he set up a liquid detergent plant in Lima, Ohio, that outperformed every other soap plant in the company (Rose, 1990). His counterpart, Herb Stokes, who had since become a corporate consultant and rancher in Abilene, Texas — led a similarly successful effort at a P&G paper products plant he organised in Albany, Georgia. Krone’s methodology was based on a mélange of systems theory, socio-tech thinking, sufi mysticism and the writing of 20th Century Armenian Mystic George I. Gurdieff who believed that most humans spent their days in ‘waking sleep’ and that is only by shedding ingrained habits of thinking that individuals could liberate their inner potential.

Krone’s work was supposed to teach people to think more precisely, but it was jargon-laden and off-putting (Rose, 1990). Pacific Bell contracted with two associates of Charles Krone for $40 million worth of leadership development and personal-growth training (Kirp, 1989), to acculturate the workforce and embed the new culture. Some reports suggest that the full figure was closer to $147 million…


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK



Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. In October 2011 he was awarded a prestigious lifetime Honorary Fellowship from the Association for Project Management for outstanding contribution to the discipline of project management. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has delivered lectures and courses in many leading institutions worldwide, and has won multiple awards and prizes. He has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering and published over 30 books. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Software: Evolution and Process published by John Wiley. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series, Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, a Senior Member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board.  Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.