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 planning change.
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.
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:
These elements are represented graphically as six semi-overlapping circles (see Figure 1 below), which together influence the cultural paradigm.
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.
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.
Examples (car bodywork repair company):
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:
In our example the common theme is tight cost control at the expense of quality, and at the expense of customer and employee satisfaction.
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.
Now compare your two Cultural Web diagrams, and identify the differences between the two. Considering the organization's strategic aims and objectives:
See our change management articles for more on managing change successfully.
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 goals.
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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