Article
01 Jun 2021

What is the Cultural Web Model?

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The cultural web model was developed by Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes in 1992, the cultural web model helps to define the ‘paradigm,’ of working within an organization. It’s effectively a method that explores the different elements of a company. It looks closely at how these elements shape a person's experience working for them, or for the clients/customers working with them.  

As well as that, it is also a way to explore:

  • The complete history of a company
  • How behaviors or ‘rituals’ are created
  • What power structures exist within a company

At the end of the day, though, the cultural web model is how we understand a company’s present culture, how/what elements can help move it forward, and define it. It is both a picture of where a company has been, where it wants/needs to go, and how long it will take to achieve it. 

How Do You Use The Cultural Web Model To Define Corporate Culture?

So, what is the cultural web model? A company’s success and strategic direction will often be a byproduct of its cultural values. This is because the way a company succeeds is linked to its assets; the people. A big part of this is how those people are able to relate and perform in the company’s culture. 

This means that it benefits companies to think about their organizational culture as well as analyze it. This can take numerous forms and follow several different models, there many models that successfully break down an organization's culture to better understand it. They usually look at what makes their current culture unique and what is hindrance/help to success and performance. 

The cultural wen model is one method of understanding a company culture better. In this article, we are going to have a look more closely, talk to you about the essential key elements, and show you how you can use it as a tool to interrogate and envision your own company culture. 

Elements Of The Cultural Web Model

The cultural web is focused around the ‘paradigm,’ this is the reality of the company. Surrounding the center are six elements that help to portrait reality. These six elements include: 

Stories

You shouldn’t look at this as the complete ‘memory’ of an organization. In this key element, it is useful to think about the story that an organization tells to portray its core beliefs. 

This could be how the company started, how far it has come, any challenges it has faced, the crucial player and their actions, and how the employees would describe working for the organization. 

The thought process here is that these stories can highlight what a company values, and what behaviors they deem appropriate for exemplifying. The memory of a company is a great encouragement for employees to go down certain paths and become a part of the companies history. 

Rituals and Routines

These include the different actions and behaviors that are acceptable within a company. Routines can also be seen as expectation, which may involve what an employee can expect each day at work, tasks they may complete, or leaving work. 

In many recurring scenarios, employees learn which way they are supposed to behave and what would be considered normal behavior. Whether that behavior is productive or not is debatable, however, it has still become a normal part of the companies culture. 

Symbols

Symbols have a role in the cultural web model as part of the employer/organizational branding. 

It is anything visual’ branding, logos, the way the office looks, advertisements, the dress code, and more. Both external and internal, it is the visual communication that a company uses to influence this area. 

You need to think about: 

  • What images you think about when you think about your organization. 
  • How does your company appear? Is it bad? Good? 
  • How is your brand perceived as an employer? 
  • How is it viewed by employees?
  • How is it viewed by customers/clients?  

Organization Structures

There are two main elements used in this element of the cultural web. They are: 

  • Written influence
  • Unwritten influence

The first is as straightforward as an organizational chart. Whether hierarchical or flat, this is a clear and precise view of the organizational structure. It shows who the world where, who has decision-making powers, and who reports to who. 

Past this, things become a little more unclear. That’s because Scholes and Johnson were careful to define the idea of ‘unwritten influence’ within an organization. This can involve the people who have a massive amount of influence who aren’t reflected on any organizational chart. 

Ultimately, this determines which contributions carry the most value, who a company can turn to for decision making, and acknowledges some of the potential political elements that could be in play too. This is why this element is often the most revealing for a company. 

Control Systems

The next element is based on how control is established and used in an organization. This can also be looked at in terms of performance management, and how employees are marked on how well they work, how they excel in their various roles. 

You need to think about things such as quality control, financial systems, and rewards. These include the methods of rewarding good performance, and how poor performance is managed, corrected, and handled (whether it is ineffectively or effectively)

Power Structures

Lastly, we have power structures. 

Some refer to this as the real power within a company. It is essentially the power or the center. It can take several different forms. It could be from one person, an entire group, a handful of executives, or a certain department that influences the complete company. 

It could be one person, a handful of executives, an entire group, or a department that has influence over the entire company.

When thinking about it, the key here is knowing which people have the greatest say, how an organization runs, and how their opinions dictate strategic direction.

What is the Cultural Web Model?

The cultural web model was developed by Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes in 1992, the cultural web model helps to define the ‘paradigm,’ of working within an organization. It’s effectively a method that explores the different elements of a company. It looks closely at how these elements shape a person's experience working for them, or for the clients/customers working with them.  

How Do You Do Cultural Web Analysis?

What Is The Cultural Web Analysis?

The Cultural Web Analysis is a model where convictions, assumptions, and organizational are clarified by means of using the six elements spoken about above. The organizational culture and the paradigm exist within the web. 

The Cultural Web Analysis encourages and promotes the way that employees interact with each other and how they handle their workload within an organization. 

It also shows how an organization rates the outside world as a whole, including the various cultures that exist. 

Using the six elements in analysis, the whole picture (big picture) of the organizational culture can be seen/created. It provides companies with clarity in relation to: 

  • What is working? 
  • What isn’t working? 
  • How do we approach our work? 
  • How do we work together? 
  • How do we work with our organizational cultures? 
  • How does the outside world see our company and culture? 

There is a huge need to manage the organizational culture. This is because it has an impact on the strategy and performance of the organization.

The Cultural Web Analysis was developed by Kevan Scholes and Gerry Johnson in 1992. 

Cultural Web Analysis: The Culture Context

A culture of a company is shaped over a longer period of time. This can lead to it being a complex and abstract subject. The same is true for organizational cultures.

The shaping of culture can go unnoticed, so the character of organizational culture isn’t likely to receive much attention. Only when strong urges bring change to the organization, from outside and within, does a company structure start to become more vital? 

Nevertheless, assumptions are usually made regarding the organizational culture in a company and it plays a crucial and impeding role when a company finds itself in a change such as a merger. During this time various organizational cultures need to join so, they also need to be highlighted and reviewed. 

Policies and values within an organization are usually documents, little confusion usually arises around this time. Cultural aspects, however, are much more difficult to put into words. 

The organizational culture makes sure that people align their behavior to each other as well as being able to identify similarities in acting and thinking. This can happen within organizations as well as externally as they operate. 

Because of this, a group (network) of organizations who share the same values will, therefore, display the same behaviors. The whole organizational culture will determine the actions and decisions that an organization will make. Johnson and Scholes distinguish two cultural contexts:

The Regional Cultural Context

The regional and national context has to be considered. It has a massive influence on the stakeholders’ expectations. The region or nation is usually based on the social value that could potentially be different from the values of the organization. This is particularly true for internationally active organizations. This makes it important to also understand and respect the regional culture.

The Organisational Context

This where you look at any similarities between organizations within the network. Organizations will naturally have their own missions and visions, thus, having their own strategies with their specialties. 

The outside world has to take into account these strategies if they want to effectively do business with the organizations. The context of the organization includes something about the way that an organization much be treated and managed. 

An effective organizational culture will be characterized by:

  • Like-mindedness among the employees
  • High level of competence of the employees
  • High level of flexibility of the employees 
  • A concrete, understandable mission, recognizable to everyone, that forms from the objectives and strategy
  • A high level of involvement of the employees

Cultural Web Analysis: Sub-Cultures Within An Organisation

The Cultural Web Analysis theory by Johnson and Scholes assumes that there will be a strong organizational culture present. In practice, however, this may not be the case. There can sometimes be countless sub-cultures.

A study by Van Maanen and Barley (1984) shows that organizations that have a general culture only occur sporadically. 

The organizational culture from Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web shows us that it is mainly about the focal, more dominant culture that is based on any shared values. Regardless of how strong the dominant culture is, there is always going to be deviating cultures within an organization. 

Just one dominant culture can only flourish when employees interact with each other regularly and are confronted by the same people and problems. 

Labor specialization can weaken this structure and joint values are then shared less often. Because of this, a sub-culture may form within a department. They still share the same assumptions as an organization, however, they deviate with specific ideas regarding their tasks or visions. 

It is essential for any sub-cultures to be watched, noticed, managed, and don’t become isolated from the shared culture too much. A lack of union and too many sub-cultures can spread counter-productivity and rivalry. It can be a challenge for CEOs to manage various sub-cultures if they are left to form independently. 

Cultural Web Analysis Conclusion 

The organizational culture, whether big or small, has a massive influence on an organization’s performance. Even though, there are many organizations that may not manage or stimulate their own culture, a culture in any company can be extremely telling when it comes to looking at the future of the organization. 

Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web shows that the organizational culture is related to both the way that an organization interacts with the outside world as well as the way employees interact with each other. 

Although strong organizational cultures can create unity, there is the chance that sub-cultures will form and create division in an organization. There are many benefits from a strong organizational culture that are hard to replicate, this provides an organization with a strong competitive advantage.

Hopefully, this article has helped you to under more about how to use the Cultural Web Model in your organization and there benefits that it brings. Think about what your organizational culture is, could you use the six elements to choose a dominant culture? How will use this to map your culture?

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