The Cultural Web and its elements

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 analysing 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:

  1. 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 behaviour.
  2. Rituals and Routines – The daily behaviour and actions of people that signal acceptable behaviour. This determines what is expected to happen in given situations, and what is valued by management.
  3. Symbols – The visual representations of the company including logos, how plush the offices are, and the formal or informal dress codes.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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 cultural paradigm.

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.

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.

Stories

  • What stories do people currently tell about your organization?

  • 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?

Rituals and Routines

  • What do customers expect when they walk in?

  • What do employees expect?

  • What would be immediately obvious if changed?

  • What behaviour 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?

Symbols

  • 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 staff?

Organizational Structure

  • Is the structure flat or hierarchical? Formal or informal? Organic or mechanistic?

  • Where are the formal lines of authority?

  • Are there informal lines?

Control Systems

  • What process or procedure has the strongest controls? Weakest controls?

  • Is the company generally loosely or tightly controlled?

  • Do employees get rewarded for good work or penalized for poor work?

  • What reports are issued to keep control of operations, finance, etc...?

Power Structures

  • 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?

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.

  • Identify the factors that are prevalent throughout the web.

In our example the common theme is tight cost control at the expense of quality, and at the expense of customer and employee satisfaction.

 

Johnson, G., Whittington, R., Scholes, K. & Regnér, P., 2014. Exploring Strategy: Text and Cases. 10th ed. Harlow(England): Pearson Education Ltd..