A tool to map, understand and evolve your workplace culture
The Culture Design Canvas is the foundation of most of the work we do at Liberationist. It helps organizations map their culture to both provide clarity and understand the gaps.
Your workplace culture is the soul of your organization. Though it’s intangible and soft, it has a huge impact on how your people and business perform.
Mapping your workplace culture makes it easier for people to understand what your organization stands for. It also helps identify the gap between current and future states.
The organizational culture is dynamic, not static. The Culture Design Canvas is a flexible tool that allows capturing the different evolution of the organization’s ‘soul.’
You can use it to understand your own workplace culture –current or future–or that of other organizations!
How to Use the Culture Design Canvas Tool
Before the session, build your dream team. Gather a diverse group of people. Not only you need representation from different areas and seniority but also multiple perspectives.
Aim for diversity of thought. Avoid the typical culture committee that’s basically a couple of HR folks, the CEO, and two trusted executives.
Gather all relevant information: purpose, values, organizational surveys, rules, and policies, etc.
Have everyone read the materials before the session.
1. 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.
2. Start at the core: purpose & values
This part is the foundation of your culture. Some companies have gone through the definition of purpose and values. So, this step should be more of capturing/ refreshing those.
If you haven’t done that exercise thoroughly, this will require external facilitation or a specific session to take care of it.
The organizational purpose is the impact it has on people and the broader community, not just on the business or market it operates.
A purpose is ‘why’ that moves employees into action. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. The purpose is the North Star that guides our course, especially during stormy weather.
For example, Google’s purpose is to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Corporate values are like a code of conduct — they are fundamental beliefs that guide your employee’s 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.
Google’s values are best articulated by their famous phrase, “Don’t be evil.
American Express’ values include customer commitment, a will to win, and personal accountability.
3. Select key strategies
What are the core strategies that will guide focus and energy? Establishing clear priorities is vital to facilitate decision-making.
When everyone is aware of what matters, it’s easier to make the right choices.
Strategy is the art of sacrifice. Establish clear priorities using even-over statements.
Durability even over style, could work for a company like Ikea.
Wow our Customers even over sales profit, captures Zappos’ customer-centric approach.
Choose the top three strategies and add them to the Culture Design Canvas.
4. What behaviors will we reward and punish?
Most companies have incoherent behaviors. They preach one thing and reward another.
Your culture is the behaviors you reward and punish. Values are useless if there are not brought to life through everyday action.
What behaviors do we reward? What behaviors do we punish?
5. Work on the right side: the emotional culture
Now focus on the following building blocks: Rituals, Feedback, and 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, to promote specific mindsets and behaviors, among many other things.
“What are our peculiar ways of starting, managing, or celebrating projects?”
6. 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.
Zappos give total authority to their customer agents. It makes sense considering that the company prioritizes customer awe over profitability.
Distributing authority is not a binary thing, though. There are various methods for making decisions. Organizations should choose the ones that better align with their culture.
Each decision-making model has both pros and cons — these range from consent, an 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 work done.
However, some meetings are very productive, and others are just a waste of everyone’s time.
Organizations must choose which types of meetings are critical and facilitate experiences that are worth being part of. Define their purpose, frequency, and duration.
How do we convene and collaborate?
Read The Ultimate Guide to Successful Meetings to discover insights, tips, and tools to design and facilitate better sessions.
NORMS & 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.
Consider why Wikipedia succeeded, and Nupedia failed. The former trusted contributors, the latter operated with a rigid, 7-step review process.
Wikipedia’s rule was, “Assume good faith.”
How do we clarify expected behaviors without hindering autonomy?
7. Review, Reflect & Adjust
Time to focus on the bigger picture again. Review the canvas: make sure it’s clear, consistent, and simple.
Use the following checklist:
- What does your organizational culture stand for? Is it simple and clear?
- Is your company’s purpose ambitious, yet attainable?
- 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?
This tool was designed to help organizations kick-off the conversation on their own. However, due to the complexity of some organizations, you will need help to familiarize yourself with the tool and different applications.
Feel free to drop us a note if you have any questions or need help to facilitate a Culture Design Session.
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
- Design the organizational culture of a new company or one that lacks a clear culture statement
- Team Culture plays a critical role yet it’s usually undervalued. The Culture Design Canvas can help you to map and unlock the hidden power of team culture
- When onboarding a new CEO, the Culture Design Canvas provides an understanding of what the company stands for and what’s working and what’s not
- For a company that’s struggling, this tool can help you redesign your workplace culture
- The Culture Design Canvas is an actionable tool to identify cultural growths opportunities —there are many things you can improve without changing what your organization stands for
Examples of Culture Design Canvas
Related Reading & Tools
The Culture Design Canvas was created by Gustavo Razzetti (copyright by Liberationist).
Artwork by Moira Dillon.