Change Model – The Cultural Web (Part 1)

How do you start instituting change within your organization? A simple model and tool that you can use is called the Cultural Web. Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes created this change tool in 1992. The model looks like this:

Picture taken from “What is the Cultural Web?” Innovation for Growth blog

Picture taken from “What is the Cultural Web?” Innovation for Growth blog

In the front and center of this model is the paradigm. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines paradigm as a typical pattern, an example, a model. The paradigm is your organization culture. It has six different areas surrounding it, which are modeled like a web because these areas all interact with each other. The paradigm is what your culture is as the result of the interplay of these six areas.

The six areas of the Culture Web model are: stories, symbols, power structures, organizational structures, control systems, and rituals and routines.

In this blog post, we will discuss the first three of these areas:

1. Stories

This is the first area we see around the paradigm. Stories are the language of your organization. People talk about their organization’s mission and vision. It’s your reputation. It’s the language of the way people talk about you.

When your employees talk about the organization do they say, “This is a great place!” or do they say, “Avoid it! Do not show up here. I wouldn’t want you working here.” Any language dealing with your organization falls under stories.

Organizational guru Chris Argyris said that there’s often an espoused theory and an actual theory being used in organizations. Many times our vision is espoused – this is what we want to happen. But how do we actually do business? What is our actual behavior? So when we take a look at our stories, we want to take a look at what the actual language is that’s being used within them.

Here’s an example of how we can change a story: I was taking over a Navy Recruiting command in the Northeast and recruiting was difficult. The leadership was saying that the goals were “too high and too challenging, and they aren’t given to us correctly, so just do the best you can to meet them.” The message being given through the language of the leadership was that it was okay to fail.

To fix that, one of the things we instituted was to change that story: “Hey, we know the goals are demanding but the Navy is depending on us to provide these people. You are good, we believe in you, and we expect you to make mission.” Just by changing the story, we changed the team’s production because people said, “Hey, they expect this, they believe in us.”

2. Symbols

Think of logos. When I say “Starbucks,” that word brings something immediately to mind. McDonald’s. Apple. These names have obvious symbols.

But there are many other symbols types that you can find used within your organization. For example: dress codes – think about how formal or informal your company dress is. IBM – what comes to mind? Google – what comes to mind? What type of office does each CEO have? These are all symbols. You want to make sure those symbols are positive.

A big symbol in the D.C. area is that of the Redskins football team. What’s the symbol there? There are a whole lot of different areas to this that can be used with that one logo. It’s not a positive logo, is it? It’s important enough that you want to take a look at your symbols along with all the other areas.

3. Power structures

These are not only the official power structures, but also takes into account who in the organization really makes the decisions. I think we’ve all worked in situations where nothing moves until the guy sitting over there shook his head. That is a person who has power. Maybe it could be a budget person, maybe senior leadership, maybe an executive’s assistant, but it also may be an R&D person. It is whoever has power, whether formally or informally, that you may want to observe and to note.

In our next blog post, we will look at the other three areas of this model and start to think about how they all interact with each other.

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