Towards a Culture of Innovation

How Agile and Organizational Change Management Contribute to the Success of Culture Change



By Katharina Kettner, PhD

Canada & USA


It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.
(Charles Darwin)

Same goes for organizations in the jungles, swamps, and rough seas of the global economy, dealing with the constant need to adapt to technological and economic changes. Even – and especially – industries and regions on the periphery of change now feel the pressure to innovate to respond to markets, industry regulations, and customer demands.[1] So how does one achieve that goal?

As a young consultant I was approached by the newly appointed VP of Innovation and Creativity for a large tech company to discuss a concept for some changes he wanted to make. He explained to me that it was high time for the company to become more creative and innovative, and that he couldn’t understand how the employees, who were so creative in their cottages, clubs, and allotments, were “withholding creativity and innovative spirit from the company”.

That was around the turn of the century and two decades later I am still puzzled by this leader’s perspective. This company’s employees were – and still are – recruited for superior technological and engineering skills, for exact analysis, and precise measurement. Moving an organization with 10000+ employees worldwide towards a culture of creativity is not an easy feat.

Fast forward into the 21st century and I am doing an impact analysis on a project. In OCM (Organizational Change Management) stakeholder impact analyses often start with the primary source of information (key stakeholder, business lead, SME) stating “not much of a change really, we’re just introducing a few new standards and procedures”. In this case, with some careful question technique it turned out that this change will affect hundreds of employees working in operations and require them to assess risks autonomously and in cross-functional teams across deeply ingrained silos. The mutual conclusion at the end of the interview is that the change of mindsets and behaviors is actually quite large.

Far beyond initiatives that introduce bean bags and bright colors to common rooms, this is what Culture Change looks like. It’s quite technical on the surface, but is actually about touching mindsets and changing the way an organization has been working for decades, sometimes longer.

Culture is the answer to the question “how we do things around here” and all its underpinning mindsets. Culture is an iceberg[2]: Behaviors, artifacts, policies, industry standards, logos, the way of dressing etc. are visible and above the water line. Values, beliefs, informal communication (water cooler talks, rumours etc.) are below and can only be reached via behaviors. Norms are around the water line: Dress code is a good example, it may be “unwritten law” or stated explicitly.

To the members of a culture, the invisible factors are deeply rooted, often they are not consciously aware of them[3]. Without holistic Organizational Change Management, based on experience and including factors such as stakeholder engagement and organizational culture, many of the “invisibles” will go unnoticed in organizations, leaving leaders wondering why nothing is moving forward.

Despite the fact that executives and business consultants tend to avoid the word culture, awareness for Organizational Culture is in fact on the rise. Surveys and research show that executives, managers, and co-workers place a great deal of importance on their organizational culture, even if it may not be readily admitted in everyday life.


Figure 1: http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/media/file/Strategyand_Cultures-Role-in-Enabling-Organizational-Change.pdf [4]

A useful model to categorize company culture is the grid of Trompenaars/Hampton-Turner[5] (see diagram). It characterizes organizational culture without going into too much detail:


To read entire paper, click here


Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 12th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in May 2018.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Kettner, K. (2018). Towards a Culture of Innovation: How Agile and Organizational Change Management Contribute to the Success of Culture Change; presented at the 12th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium, Richardson, Texas, USA in May 2018; published in the PM World Journal, Vol. VII, Issue VIII – August. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/pmwj73-Aug2018-Kettner-towards-culture-of-innovation-utd-paper.pdf


About the Author

Katharina Kettner, PhD

Canada / USA




As an innovative Sr. Organizational Change Manager with over 25 years of experience in designing and implementing programs for corporate clients in Europe and Canada, Katharina Kettner has been involved in large transformations (IT, M&A, reorg), including enterprise & portfolio CM and strategic planning. She also worked with start-ups, artists and in patent projects. Katharina is well-versed in waterfall & agile, a strong facilitator, and an expert in organizational culture & leadership development. She holds a PhD in Communication & Media, a certificate in Economy & Business Studies (Strategic Management & Leadership), and certifications in PRINCE2, Scrum, PROSCI ADKAR, and Business Process Management. She has published articles and a book on OCM Best Practices in IT projects published by gpm-ipma and is active in professional networks.

Dr. Kettner can be contacted at [email protected].


[1] One example for this phenomenon is the insurance industry, where the term Insuretech has been coined, https://www.techopedia.com/definition/33220/insuretech . Several large consultancies have explicitly included this industry in their strategies to cater for the wave of innovation & technology and its current needs & trends, i.e. speed to market, deep innovation, micro innovation etc., large conferences are devoted to the topic: http://insuretechconnect.com

[2] Often cited, one of the earliest mentions in: Edward T. Hall Beyond Culture by Anchor Books, 1977

[3] Trompenaars

[4] Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company), Culture’s role in enabling organizational change, November 2013, accessed on April 10, 2018. Respondents’ organizational level: 12% C-suite 17% Director 24% Manager 47% Other.

[5] Trompenaars Seven Dimensions of Culture https://sevendimensionsofculture.wikispaces.com/Trompenaars%27+Seven+Dimensions+of+Culture
For more info watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS1K_rl8PrQ&feature=player_embedded