The Cultural Web
Aligning Your Organization's Culture with Strategy
Many aspects of organizations are interconnected.
What is the first thing that pops in your mind
when you hear the term corporate culture? A great many people
refer to the classic phrase coined by the McKinsey organization,
that culture is "how we do things around here". And while that
may be true, there are so many elements that go into determining
what you do and why, that this definition only scratches the surface.
Whether you can define it or not, you know that
culture exists. It's that ethereal something that hangs in the
air and influences how work gets done, critically affects project
success or failure, says who fits in and who doesn't, and determines
the overall mood of the company.
Culture often becomes the focus of attention
during periods of organizational change – when companies merge
and their cultures clash, for example, or when growth and other
strategic change mean that the existing culture becomes inappropriate,
and hinders rather than supports progress. In more static environments,
cultural issues may be responsible for low morale, absenteeism
or high staff turnover, with all of the adverse effects those
can have on productivity.
So, for all its elusiveness, corporate culture can have a huge
impact on an organization's work environment and output. This is
why so much research has been done to pinpoint exactly what makes
an effective corporate culture, and how to go about changing a
culture that isn't working.
Fortunately, while corporate culture can be
elusive, approaches have been developed to help us look at it.
Such approaches can play a key role in formulating strategy or
The Cultural Web, developed by Gerry Johnson
and Kevan Scholes in 1992, provides one such approach for looking
at and changing your organization's culture. Using it, you can
expose cultural assumptions and practices, and set to work aligning
organizational elements with one another, and with your strategy.
Elements of the Cultural Web
The Cultural Web identifies six interrelated
elements that help to make up what Johnson and Scholes call the
"paradigm" – the pattern or model – of the work environment. By
analyzing the factors in each, you can begin to see the bigger
picture of your culture: what is working, what isn't working, and
what needs to be changed. The six elements are:
- Stories – The past events
and people talked about inside and outside the company. Who
and what the company chooses to immortalize says a great deal
about what it values, and perceives as great behavior.
- Rituals and Routines – The
daily behavior and actions of people that signal acceptable
behavior. This determines what is expected to happen in given
situations, and what is valued by management.
- Symbols – The visual representations
of the company including logos, how plush the offices are, and
the formal or informal dress codes.
- Organizational Structure -
This includes both the structure defined by the organization
chart, and the unwritten lines of power and influence that indicate
whose contributions are most valued.
- Control Systems - The ways
that the organization is controlled. These include financial
systems, quality systems, and rewards (including the way they
are measured and distributed within the organization.)
- Power Structures - The pockets
of real power in the company. This may involve one or two key
senior executives, a whole group of executives, or even a department.
The key is that these people have the greatest amount of influence
on decisions, operations, and strategic direction.
These elements are represented graphically as six semi-overlapping
circles (see Figure 1 below), which together influence the
Using the Cultural Web
We use the Cultural Web firstly to look at organizational
culture as it is now, secondly to look at how we want the culture
to be, and thirdly to identify the differences between the two.
These differences are the changes we need to make to achieve the
high-performance culture that we want.
1. Analyzing Culture As It Is Now
Start by looking at each element separately,
and asking yourself questions that help you determine the dominant
factors in each element. Elements and related questions are shown
below, illustrated with the example of a bodywork repair company.
- What stories do people currently tell about
- What reputation is communicated amongst your
customers and other stakeholders?
- What do these stories say about what your
organization believes in?
- What do employees talk about when they think
of the history of the company?
- What stories do they tell new people
who join the company?
- What heroes, villains and mavericks appear
in these stories?
Examples (car bodywork repair company):
- We are known as having high customer
complaints, shoddy work.
- Staff members talk about the founder starting
the company with a $1,000 loan..
- The message is that we do things the cheapest
way we can.
Rituals and Routines
- What do customers expect when they walk
- What do employees expect?
- What would be immediately obvious if changed?
- What behavior do these routines encourage?
- When a new problem is encountered, what rules
do people apply when they solve it?
- What core beliefs do these rituals reflect?
- Customers expect a newspaper and coffee
whilst they wait, or a ride to work.
- Employees expect to have their time cards
examined very carefully.
- There's lots of talk about money, and
especially about how to cut costs.
- Is company-specific jargon or language used?
How well known and usable by all is this?
- Are there any status symbols used?
- What image is associated with your organization,
looking at this from the separate viewpoints of clients and
- Bright red shuttle vans.
- Bright red courtesy cars – compact, economy
- The boss wears overalls not a suit.
- Is the structure flat or hierarchical? Formal
or informal? Organic or mechanistic?
- Where are the formal lines of authority?
- Are there informal lines?
- Flat structure – Owner, Head Mechanic,
- The receptionist is the owner's wife so
she goes straight to him with some customer complaints.
- It's each mechanic for himself – no sharing
tools or supplies, little teamwork.
- What process or procedure has the strongest
controls? Weakest controls?
- Is the company generally loosely or tightly
- Do employees get rewarded for good work or
penalized for poor work?
- What reports are issued to keep control of
operations, finance, etc...?
- Costs are highly controlled, and customers
are billed for parts down to the last screw.
- Quality is not emphasized. Getting the
work done with the least amount of direct costs is the goal.
- Employees docked pay if their quotes/estimates
are more than 10% out.
- Who has the real power in the organization?
- What do these people believe and champion
within the organization?
- Who makes or influences decisions?
- How is this power used or abused?
- The owner believes in a low cost, high
profit model, and is prepared to lose repeat customers.
- The threat of docked pay keeps mechanics
working with this model.
As these questions are answered, you start to
build up a picture
of what is influencing your corporate culture. Now you need to
look at the web as a whole and make some generalized statements
regarding the overall culture.
These statements about your corporate culture should:
- Describe the culture; and
- Identify the factors that are prevalent throughout
In our example the common theme is tight cost control at the
expense of quality, and at the expense of customer and employee
2. Analyzing Culture as You Want it
With the picture of your current cultural web
complete, now's the time to repeat the process, thinking about
the culture that you want.
Starting from your organization's strategy,
think about how you want the organization's culture to look, if
everything were to be correctly aligned, and if you were to have
the ideal corporate culture.
3. Mapping the Differences Between the
Now compare your two Cultural Web diagrams,
and identify the differences between the two. Considering the
organization's strategic aims and objectives:
- What cultural strengths have been highlighted
by your analysis of the current culture?
- What factors are hindering your strategy
or are misaligned with one another?
- What factors are detrimental to the health
and productivity of your workplace?
- What factors will you encourage and reinforce?
- Which factors do you need to change?
- What new beliefs and behaviors do you need
4. Prioritize Changes, and Develop
a Plan to Address Them
Used in this way, Johnson and Scholes' Cultural
Web helps you analyze your current culture, and identify what
needs to stay, go or be added to if you're to achieve your strategic
Implementing cultural changes is not simple:
it involves re-moulding values, beliefs and behavior, and it's
a major change
management challenge, taking a great deal of time and hard
work from everyone involved. By providing a framework for analyzing
the current culture, and designing changes, Johnson and Scholes'
Cultural Web provides a good foundation for the difficult business
of changing organization culture. Using it, you can create a cultural
environment that encourages success, supports the organization's
objectives and, all-in-all, makes for a better place to work.
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