While one cannot “re-design” an organization’s culture in a workshop or two, it is important to take stock of current culture and clarify intentions with respect to its future. If differences turn out to be meaningful an organization needs to set themselves concrete objectives relating to culture change and follow through on them.
A tool that we found helpful to achieve this is the Culture Design Canvas by Gustavo Razzetti. It aids documenting the current culture and facilitates a discussion about where you want to be.
Understanding and documenting your current culture and laying out the culture-to-be takes time. For serious work allocate minimally half a day.
Discussing and designing culture takes a good cross-section of the target organization. Keep the group to a size of max. 7-8 people to be able to have a meaningful discussion.
Beyond printouts of the canvas you will need a selection of sticky notes and markers. Alternatively you can work online using the Mural template.
How to Use the Culture Design Canvas
Gather all relevant information and documents: purpose, values, culture surveys, company rules and policies, etc.
Have everyone read the materials before the session.
The Culture Design Canvas has 10 building blocks. A mistake commonly made is to fill them all at once or in a random order. Follow these steps to map or design your culture successfully.
A. Map your culture at a high level
Create a draft version of the canvas, writing big ideas on large post-its. Think of this as your first prototype. Don’t overthink it.
B. Start at the core: purpose and valuesThe Core is the foundation of your culture; it defines what your company stands for.
The central part of the culture also focuses on the long-term vision and the impact the company wants to create in the community, employees, and marketplace. Many companies already have some sort of mission, vision, or values. Start by capturing those. If you have no stated values, purpose, or mission you may want to hold a separate workshop to define them.
1. Company Purpose
The organizational purpose is the impact a company creates on people and the broader community, not just on the business or market in which it operates.
A purpose is the ‘why’ that moves employees into action. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
2. Core Values
Corporate values are like a code of conduct – they are fundamental beliefs that guide your employees’ behavior. Values need to be practiced, not just spoken.
Your corporate values offer guidelines on the expected mindsets and behaviors. They guide how to achieve the company’s purpose.
3. Select key strategies
What are the core strategies that will guide focus and energy? Establishing clear priorities is vital to facilitating decision-making.
When everyone is aware of what matters, it’s easier to make the right choices.
4. What behaviors do we reward and punish?
Most companies have incoherent behaviors. They preach one thing and reward another.
Your culture is the behavior you reward and punish. Values are useless if there aren’t brought to life through everyday actions.
What behaviors do we reward? What behaviors do we punish?
C. Work on the right side: the emotional culture
Focus on the following building blocks: Rituals, Feedback, and Psychological Safety.
5. Psychological Safety
High-performing teams need Psychological Safety. It’s the belief that a team or culture is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.
Building Psychological Safety requires increasing Self-Awareness, Curiosity, Creative-Confidence, and Participation.
How does your organization encourage everyone to speak up? How does your team promote participation and candor over groupthink and silence?
A healthy culture encourages ongoing communication and feedback. It’s a critical asset to uncover our blind spots, adjust our behaviors, and improve teamwork.
Feedback is a gift. The more you practice it, the better you get at giving and receiving it.
Creating a culture of ongoing and open dialogue is not a choice, but a must. Successful organizations are replacing annual performance reviews with smaller, more frequent team feedback practices.
A feedback-friendly culture is about addressing “How do we help each other learn and grow?”
Team rituals are constant nudges that move people into action and create a sense of belonging.
Organizations use rituals to kick-off new projects, welcome new hires, celebrate wins, and promote specific mindsets and behaviors, among many other things.
“What are our peculiar ways of starting, managing, or celebrating projects?”
D. Work on the left side: the rational culture
Decision-making rights should lie with those closest to the information. The problem owner, not the source of power, should have the authority to make the call.
Distributing authority is not a binary thing, though. There are various methods for making decisions. Organizations should choose those that better align with their culture.
Each decision-making model has both pros and cons — these models can range through consent, advisory process, democratic, or consensus.
Some companies use more than one approach, depending on the issues. For example, some organizations use a democratic approach for everyday issues but an autocratic one when facing a crisis.
How do we share authority? What methods do we use to make decisions?
We produce our best work interacting and collaborating with others. Meetings are how teams get work done.
However, some meetings are very productive, while others are just a waste of everyone’s time.
Organizations must choose which types of meetings are critical and facilitate experiences that are worth partaking in. Define their purpose, frequency, and duration.
How do we convene and collaborate?
10. Norms and Rules
A healthy workplace culture doesn’t need many rules. The purpose, values, and strategic priorities should guide people’s actions.
Dumb rules frustrate your best talent. Rules should enable rather than limit people.
Keep your rules simple and to the minimum. Treat people the way you want them to behave; create grown-up rules and people will behave like adults.
How do we clarify expected behaviors without hindering autonomy?
E. Review, Reflect and Adjust
It’s time to focus on the bigger picture again. Review the canvas: make sure it’s clear, consistent, and simple.
Try to find a theme – one line that defines your company culture.
Use the following checklist:
- What does your organizational culture stand for? Is it simple and clear?
- Is your company’s purpose ambitious, yet attainable?
- Are your values and purpose serving others, or self-serving?
- Does your organizational culture feel difficult to replicate? Is it a competitive advantage?
- Are all the elements aligned with the values and purpose?
- Are authority and decision-making clear and distributed?
- Do the behaviors and values align?
Avoid the Following Mistakes
Don’t fill it all at once
Mapping your culture requires strategic thinking. There’s no reward for filling the Canvas quickly.
Make sure that The Core is consistent and strong enough before you move to the other areas. Get back to each building block. Does it make sense? What’s missing? What’s creating noise rather than adding clarity?
The purpose of the CDC is to visualize your company culture through the lens of the broader organization. It’s not meant to reflect how the CEO perceives the culture, but how regular people see it.
Involving people throughout the process is crucial to avoid this common mistake. Assembling the right team is essential to broaden perspectives during the session. However, there are many other ways to involve people.
You can share the first version and ask people for feedback. Or, when defining corporate values, you can ask people to upvote those which are more relevant.
Don’t run the exercise once and think you’re done
The CDC is a tool to design your culture; don’t expect to get it right on the first iteration. Share it with more people and get feedback.
Iterate until the third or fourth version looks much, much better than the first one. Once you feel the content is good enough, focus on the language. Refine it and make it as simple, human, and engaging as possible.
Your Culture Design Canvas looks too generic
Remember that the purpose of designing a culture is to make it unique and relevant. Your company culture becomes a competitive advantage when others can’t copy it.
Review your CDC and make sure it looks unique. Also, make sure that the content feels authentic and relevant. You want to create a culture that represents the reality of your organization, not a fake one.
Your Canvas Is Too Cluttered
Less is more. The idea of filling the canvas is not to include all the post-its or ideas that everyone shares. Part of the iteration process is to avoid redundancies, ideas that don’t make sense, or those which are too obvious.
The point is not to include everything but to stay focused. Do you have too many values? Are they rituals – true rituals – or just habits?
Different Ways to Use the CDC
Some of the most common applications of the Culture Design Canvas are:
- Map your current organizational culture to drive clarity and alignment
- Map your future culture and identify gaps and course of action to upgrade your company’s soul
- Map local and global cultures, identify gaps, define areas for localization (e.g., encourage local cultures to create their own rituals, establish local priorities, etc.)
- Map your workplace culture across departments and levels and identify tensions and contradictions to drive future alignment
- During an acquisition or merger, mapping both workplace cultures facilitates a smoother integration
The above user guide is an abbreviated version of the original guide provided by Gustavo Razzetti, the CDC’s designer. It includes many examples, as well as complete canvases for companies like Netflix and Spotify. It can be found here!
The Culture Design Canvas was created by Gustavo Razzetti (Copyright © 2019 by Gustavo Razzetti) and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.