A company’s corporate culture sets the tone for the way employees interact with each other and the way all individuals within the organisation contribute towards its development. The Cultural Web is a tool that can help you identify the current culture, but also map out the desired culture, aiding in the creation of a strategy for achieving it. A positive culture will look different within different organisations, but whatever that may look like for your situation, it provides a strong backbone for employee satisfaction and their resulting productivity.
Developed by Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes in 1992, the web holds your company’s paradigm at its centre which is made up of the characteristics of six main elements that exist within every organisation. To complete the Cultural Web you will need to list down all the factors that contribute to the six elements of the web. Although these may not shape your desired state, it is useful to first create a web for your current state, and to then replicate the exercise for your ideal corporate culture. This will then help you to devise an effective strategy for positive change.
The Six Elements of the Cultural Web
This element of the Cultural Web is quite literally about the stories that are told between existing employees and shared with new team members. Whether they are true or not, they create the current beliefs around the company’s history, most important events, noteworthy successes or failures, stakeholders and their actions, perceived company values and much more that is exchanged on a casual basis between employees.
Rituals and Routines
This element refers to the actual behaviours and physical patterns that employees follow on a day-to-day basis. These can also tell you a lot about how inclusive or discriminatory the organisation currently is towards employees of different backgrounds or needs. The rituals and routines within your Cultural Web will often include un-mandated behaviours, but ones that have been learned as normal and passed down over time from employee to employee.
These could include: How quickly they get their day started, when and how they take breaks, how they go about interacting with each other, social events, how they go about completing their tasks, how HR concerns and recruitment are handled, behaviours around overtime and leave, etc. The current state of these behaviours may not be ideal for productivity, however, it is important to first acknowledge what your organisation’s current, normal and accepted behaviours are.
The symbols of a company include everything to do with its branding. It is the internal and external image of a company based on what is visible. Some examples include its logo, physical premises, online presence, advertising style, product design, and even employee clothing.
These factors put together make up the look and feel or an organisation, both to customers and to internal staff. Thinking of the first images that come to mind when you visualise the business will help you, or others, to fill in this section of the Cultural Web with the most important factors acting on this element.
These can be both formal, written structures, and informal, unwritten ones. They encompass hierarchical structure, such as a flat or pyramid structure, rules round accountability, the responsibilities of each role within the structure, the systems that promote fairness and equity, a culture of collaboration or competition, etc.
Although most of these will come down to formal processes, there are often other unwritten factors at play in this element, such as the power of highly influential employees. Keep in mind that this exercise is not just about what is formally mandated, but about what is actually going on. Therefore, this section can give useful insight into where there is a mismatch between what is desired from employees and what is written within processes, whether these are for better or for worse.
Power structures go very much hand in hand with organisational structures. These are primarily about who holds the greatest decision making power and how that power is used, often shaped by the core values of the company. Does one individual make all the decisions? Is it the finance department that sets the tone for all other departments or is it the quality assurance department that has the final say? Your organisation may even be governed in a more democratic or cooperative way, taking input from all stakeholders.
The person or individuals who hold most of the power will also tend to have the largest impact on the employee’s core beliefs around the organisation and the strategic direction of the company as a whole.
This element is largely about the systems that are put in place the exercise control over the employees’ actions and behaviours. This includes how performance is evaluated, bonuses and fringe benefits granted, how learning and development of skills is tackled, underperformance is corrected and good performance is rewarded. Once again, these control systems can say a lot about the inclusive or discriminatory nature of a company, depending on how they are set up. Some organisations will have very strict, numerical systems, while others may function in a more abstract way, taking unquantifiable behaviours into consideration.
How to get all of this information?
It may be easy for you to map out your desired Cultural Web if you already know what plays into optimal employee/business performance. The real challenge is understanding how your staff is really currently operating and what pushes them to act the way they do.
To get the most honest current state of your organisational culture, it may be helpful to create an anonymous survey sent out to employees, enabling you to gather first-hand information as to what they feel it is like to work there. You may even choose to organise focus group discussions with individuals from different departments or ask various individuals to fill in the cultural web from their perspective, later comparing and amalgamating their responses. We will discuss how to conduct surveys and focus group discussions in later editions of Empowerment Through Knowledge.
Once you have created a Cultural Web for your organisation’s current state and one for your desired state, it’s time to compare results. How big are the differences between the two? Which elements contain the greatest mismatch and in what way? When you have answered these questions, you can go ahead and start devising a strategy for change. It is useful to re-create the current Cultural Web at various points in time throughout your process of improvement, based on the degree of change you want to see. This can help you to keep track of whether your strategy is working all round, or whether you need to make adjustments to your strategy in order to get better or faster improvements in any of the six elements that make up your paradigm.