The cultural web provides a way of auditing an organisation’s culture. It can also identify possible barriers within the existing culture to change. The web can also be used to describe the way an organisation should look after a transformation. This particular angle is of importance for this management project, because management felt that there was a clear difference between the current cultural web and the desired one within the organisation.
Culture is defined in many different ways. However, in most definitions elements like “basic assumptions and beliefs of an organisation or “the accepted way of working and behaving in an organisation” are included. Johnson and Scholes describe organisational culture as: “the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organisation, that operate unconsciously and define, in a basic fashion, an organisation’s view of itself and its environment.”
The assumptions and beliefs are in the paradigm, and are around and connected to everyday behavior by the other aspects of the web. These are tangible aspects of the organisation as well as harder to define aspects. The different elements in cultural web can be explained as follows:
- Paradigm: set of assumptions about the organisation which is held in common and taken for granted in the organisation.
- Routine: ways that members of the organisation behave towards each other, and that link different parts of the organisation. These are the “way we do things around here. This is at best a description of the working of the organisation, and it may provide a distinctive and beneficial organisational competency. It can also show a taken for grandness about how things should happen. This is very difficult to change and extremely protective of core assumptions in the paradigm.
- Rituals: With this is meant the rituals of organisational life. This can be the way people are trained, promoted and assessed. It shows what is important in the organisation and signals what is especially valued.
- Stories: These are told by members of the organisation to each other, to outsiders, to new recruits. They show the present in its organisational history and indicates important events and personalities.
- Symbols: Aspects of the organisation, such as logos, offices, cars and job titles. It also includes the terminology that is commonly used. The symbols are a representation of the nature of the organisation.
- Control systems: These systems, including measurement and reward systems, they monitor and therefore emphasize what is important in the organisation. They focus on attention and activity of the people in the organisation.
- Power structures: These structures are associated with the key elements of the paradigm. The most powerful groups of management/managers are likely to be the ones that are most associated with core assumptions and beliefs about what is important.
Why “Cultural Web” is Important to Managers?
Managers need to have a solid understanding of the dynamics of culture and how to change it so that they can direct activities in a manner that gets results. It is important that managers understand the organization culture of the company as it is the heart of organisation development and improved performance. Managers need to continually transmit the values of the culture through efforts such as rituals and social events as well as consistent positive feedback that gives each member of the organization a sense of importance.
Organization culture differs in the type of organisation, therefore it is important that mangers understand the organizational structure. For example, Lou Gerstner who was the chief executive officer of IBM 1993-2002, he believed in order for IBM to remain successful, he should transform the culture of the organisation. Some of the changes he made were to cut back on employment, reduce expenses and build a strong customer service. However, these changes had a massive impact on the culture in the organisation. For instance, since employment would be cut back that means that the workers that did stay would have longer hours. IBM employees were competing more within themselves than with external competitors. He forgot to change the mindset of the employees that customers drive the market and no one else. All of these reasons were affecting IBM from reaching the outstanding performance that it once achieved.
Another example which can illustrate the issues concerned with organisational culture, strategic drift and the management of change is seen in the case of Marks & Spencer. In the 1990s M&S ran into big trouble. The problem at M&S was that the organisation adopted a culture of doing things which was very hard to change to deliver the needs and wants of its customers. Also, it had become clear that the culture at M&S was not only driving the strategy but also driving the management team. The culture in M&S was created around one family atmosphere, until 1991 there had never been a chief executive of M&S who had not been a member of the family. They also had other problems such as not understanding the customers directly. As M&S were selling women products such as clothing they never had a woman who worked as senior management. These were all symptom of an organisation removing itself from immediate contact with customer need.
A very simple example is that if somebody today wants to work in a Chinese restaurant; would the manager of the Chinese restaurant employee somebody who is not Chinese? Unlikely! It is not discrimination but someone who is not Chinese would not fit in the environment of the restaurant, would not fit into the culture of the restaurant. Therefore, managers need to take a lot of considerations around the environment in which they work in order to consider whether a change is or is not required so they can get the best out of their employees.
IBM and M&S could have avoided this by analyzing the strategic decisions which made by senior managers such as what aspect of the current situation might aid change in the desired direction and how might these be reinforced, or by identifying the existing culture and that’s by using a method such as “The Cultural Web”.
For any manager the cultural web is a useful method of bringing together the basic elements that are helping in analyzing the culture of an organisation and its relationship to organisational strategy.