A complete guide to facilitate the Culture Design Canvas to map, assess and evolve your workplace culture

The Culture Design Canvas is more than just a tool; it’s the framework we use at Liberationist for helping organizations and teams build a positive workplace culture.

The Canvas is a culture blueprint to provide clarity, facilitate alignment, and uncover areas for development.

Mapping your workplace culture makes it easier for people to understand what your organization stands for. It also helps to identify the gaps between current and desired states.

You can use it to map your own workplace culture, design a new one, or map the culture of your competitors.

How to Use the Culture Design Canvas Tool

Before the session, build your dream team. Assembling the right group of people is crucial to designing workplace culture. Participants should be diverse in terms of seniority, tenure, business units represented, skills, and perspectives.

The task of designing your company culture should not be limited to the usual “culture types.” You want to explore the culture through a broader perspective; avoid the typical culture committee composed of a couple of HR folks, the CEO, and two trusted executives.

Gather all relevant information and documents: purpose, values, culture surveys, company rules and policies, etc.

Have everyone read the materials before the session. If people are not familiarized with the CDC, encourage them to watch this intro video prior to kicking off the design session.

The Culture Design Canvas a tool for Workplace Cultural Transformation
Culture Design Canvas —created by Gustavo Razzetti, Liberationist, liberationist.org

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. Each participant should do this on their own before they start working together.

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.

B. Start at the core: purpose and values

The 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. Some even have gone through the definition of a purpose that is less self-serving.

Start by capturing those. If you haven’t done that exercise thoroughly, this will require external facilitation or a specific session to take care of it.

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; 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.”

Outdoor company Patagonia’s purpose is ”We are in business to save the planet.”

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.

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 facilitating 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.

Examples:

‘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 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?

Spotify rewards ideas. In the music streaming company, “Ideas, not highest paid grade, win.”

On the other hand, Spotify punishes “politics” and “micromanagement.”

Airbnb’s Culture Design Canvas: The Core

C. Work on the right side: the emotional culture

Now 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?

At Atlassian, everyone’s an insider. Unlike most businesses, the Australian software company shares everything with its employees before they do so with the press.

6. Feedback

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?”

At Patagonia, managers are trained to ask for feedback rather than to give feedback. This creates a culture of intellectual humility that makes everyone more open to listening to other people’s feedback.

7. Rituals

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?”

Zappos offers its interns a “Pay to quit bonus.” The online retailer wants to test how committed new employees are to its purpose of “To live and deliver wow” customer services. This ritual strengthens the culture by forcing people to make a tough choice and decide whether or not they belong.

Pixar’s Culture Design Canvas: The Emotional Culture

D. Work on the left side: the rational culture

8. Decision-Making

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 gives total authority to their customer agents. This 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 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?

At Netflix, people are empowered to make decisions without approval from their bosses. The role of the manager is to provide context and help people make better decisions, not to make decisions for them.

9. Meetings

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?

Read The Ultimate Guide to Successful Meetings to discover insights, tips, and tools to design and facilitate better sessions.

Airbnb has weekly executive meetings. After they are finished, the notes are available to everyone in the company.

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?

Consider why Wikipedia succeeded, and Nupedia failed; the former trusted contributors, while the latter operated with a rigid, 7-step review process.

Wikipedia’s rule was, “Assume good faith.”

Netflix’s Culture Design Canvas: The Rational Culture

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.

For example, Netflix has a culture of freedom and responsibility. Airbnb has a culture where everyone feels they belong anywhere.

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

You 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?

You map the ideal culture, not the real one

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. 

You 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?

Master The Culture Design Canvas

The Culture Design Canvas is a tool that’s simple to use. However, mastering it requires training, practice, and coaching. Filling the building blocks is easy; designing a culture that’s unique, that requires expertise.

Watch this video to learn more about the tool, or join a Masterclass and become a certified facilitator.

If you have any questions or want to bring us in to facilitate a Culture Design Session, feel free to drop us a note.

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
  • 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

To learn more about the different ways to apply the CDC, read this post.

Examples of Culture Design Canvas

Netflix Culture Design Canvas

Spotify Culture Design Canvas

Zappos Culture Design Canvas

More Examples of Thriving Cultures Mapped with the Culture Canvas

Related Reading & Tools

What is workplace culture and why should you care?

Cultural Tensions Canvas

Culture Tensions Experiment Canvas

How to Build a Successful Workplace Culture

Credit

The Culture Design Canvas was created by Gustavo Razzetti (copyright by Liberationist).

Artwork by Moira Dillon.

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