A healthy organizational culture is clear and dynamic. The Culture Design Canvas is a culture mapping tool to help you understand and grow your culture.
Want to Implement Culture Design into your business?
By Gustavo Razzetti
The Culture Design Canvas is a culture mapping tool to assess your current company culture, define your future state, and evolve workplace culture.
This article provides a step-by-step guide to facilitate this culture mapping tool.
The Culture Design Canvas is more than just a tool; it’s the framework we use at Fearless Culture for helping organisations 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 organisation 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
Prior to the culture design 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.
A. Mapping 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 categorised in three sections:
– The Core
– The Emotional Culture
The Functional Culture
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.
When mapping your culture with our tool, we recommend starting with the core. The same way that, when building a house, you would start by building the foundation before erecting the walls.
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.
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 top 3 cultural priorities
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.
‘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 behaviours do we reward and punish?
Most companies have incoherent behaviours. They preach one thing and reward another.
Your culture is the behaviour you reward and punish. Values are useless if there aren’t brought to life through everyday actions.
What behaviours do we reward? What behaviours 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.”
C. Work on the right side: the Emotional Culture
After using the Culture Canvas to mapping the core, move to the right side of the tool and focus on the emotional culture, working on three 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.
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.
Team rituals are constant nudges that move people into action and create a sense of belonging.
Organizations design team 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.
D. Work on the left side: the Functional Culture
Once you completed the emotional culture building blocks on the Culture Design, move to mapping the functional culture at the left side of the tool.
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.
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.
Organisations 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 behaviours 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.”
E. How to Review, Reflect and Adjust Your Canvas
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.
Checklist when using the culture mapping tool:
- What does your organisational 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 organisational 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 behaviours and values align?
Avoid the Following Mistakes when Mapping Your Culture
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 map your culture 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.
<a “=”” href=”https://youtu.be/hu_G3QE0i24″>Watch this video to learn more about the tool, or <a “=”” href=”https://www.fearlessculture.design/services-training/culture-design-masterclass”>join a Masterclass and become a certified facilitator.
Different Ways to Use the Culture Mapping Tool
Some of the most common applications of the Culture Design Canvas are:
- Map your current organisational 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 localisation (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 organisational 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 organisation stands for
To learn more about the different ways to apply the CDC, read this post.
Examples of Culture Design Canvas
Related Reading & Tools on Culture Mapping
Copyright & attribution
The Culture Design Canvas was created by Gustavo Razzetti (Copyright © 2019- 2023 by Gustavo Razzetti and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You can use it for free but need to follow the following:
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit (author name: Gustavo Razzetti, link to the original canvas: https://fearlessculture.design/canvas, and provide a link to the license) and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
Artwork by Moira Dillon.