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What Is the Cultural Web Model?

What Is the Cultural Web Model?

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 and 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 and how and what elements can help move it forward and define it.

It is both a picture of where an entire company has been, where it wants and needs to go, and how long it will take to achieve it.

In this article, we are going to have a closer look at the essential cultural elements of a company – and show you how you can use them as a tool to interrogate and envision your own company culture.

Elements Of The Cultural Web Model

The cultural web is focused on the reality of a company. Surrounding the center are six cultural elements that help to portray this reality. These six elements include:


In this key element, it is useful to think about the story that an organization tells to demonstrate its core beliefs.

This could be how the company started, how far it has come, any challenges it has faced, the crucial players 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 story of a company is a great encouragement for employees to go down certain paths and be part of the company's history.

Rituals And Routines

These include the different actions and behaviors that are acceptable within a company.

Routines can also be seen as an 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 company's culture.


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

It is anything visual, such as logos, the way the office looks, advertisements, the dress code, and more.

When it comes to both the external environment and internal environment, it is the visual communication that a company uses to influence this area.

In this instance, you need to think about:

  • What images come to mind 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 and clients?

Organization Structures

There are two main cultural 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 organizational structure.

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 absolute 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 and 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 handled). This helps give managers absolute control.

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.

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.

How Do You Do A Cultural Web Analysis?

Cultural web model meeting

The cultural web analysis is a model where convictions and core assumptions are clarified by means of using the six cultural elements spoken about above. And the organizational culture exists 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 of organizational culture can be seen and created. Essentially, 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 organizational culture. This is because it has an impact on the corporate strategy and performance of the organization.

Cultural Web Analysis: The Culture Context

The culture of a company is shaped over a longer period of time. This can lead to it being a complex and abstract subject.

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, basic assumptions are usually made regarding the organizational culture in a company. 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 as they also need to be highlighted and reviewed.

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

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 and externally as they operate.

Because of this, a group of organizations that share the same values will display the same behaviors. And the whole organizational culture will determine the actions and decisions that an organization will make.

Johnson and Scholes distinguish a cultural and business context:

The Regional Cultural Context

The regional and national context has to be considered. It has a massive influence on a company’s key players.

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 Organizational Context

This is 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.

Essentially, the outside world has to take into account these strategies if they want to effectively do business with organizations.

The context of the organization also includes the way that an organization must be treated and managed.

An effective organizational culture will be characterized by:

  • Like-mindedness among employees
  • High level of competence amongst employees
  • High level of flexibility from employees
  • A concrete, understandable mission, recognizable to everyone and forms from the company’s objectives and corporate strategy
  • A high level of involvement from employees.

Cultural Web Analysis: Subcultures Within An Organization

Cultural web model within organizations

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 also be countless subcultures.

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 are always going to be deviating cultures within an organization.

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, as joint values are then shared less often. Because of this, a subculture may form within a department.

They still share the same basic assumptions as an organization. However, they deviate with specific ideas regarding their tasks or visions.

It is essential for any subcultures to be watched, noticed, and managed so that they don’t become isolated from the shared culture too much.

A lack of union and too many subcultures can spread counter-productivity and rivalry. It can also be a challenge for CEOs to manage various subcultures if they are left to form independently.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of The Cultural Web

Although the cultural web model is a great tool for tapping into the pulse of your organization, it’s by no means perfect. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of this organizational management approach:


  • The cultural web approach gives you a comprehensive assessment of your corporate culture
  • It can help you identify what your strengths and weaknesses are as a company, so that you know what areas you need to work on
  • The model can help you understand which direction your company needs to take to get you where you want to be
  • It can help you develop a plan for positive change
  • It can enable you to define a clear hybrid strategy for moving forward.


  • The process can be time-consuming and requires organization and dedication
  • It can be difficult to perform objective assessments.

Although analyzing the six key elements will help you understand where you are now as a company, it is up to you and your managers to interpret the data you gather and find solutions for moving forward.

To get the most from the process, it should be managed by an individual or team with experience in corporate culture best practices and implementing change.

Best Practices

Implementing cultural change is not easy, especially when routines, attitudes, and behaviors have become ingrained over time. To get where you want to be, you will need to reshape the values and beliefs of your employees.

You will need to nurture your organizational culture and reinforce positive growth and professional development. And you need to make sure every member of your company understands what you are doing and why.

All this takes a lot of time, energy, and patience, especially if you have staff members that have been with you for a long time and have become stuck in their ways.

When implemented correctly, the cultural model can help you understand what makes your corporate culture unique – and what you can do to boost your company’s performance and success.

The key to success is designing a clear framework for analysis and change. You can start by:

  • Training and encouraging your employees and supporting them throughout the process
  • Encouraging them to give feedback and offer to address any concerns
  • Making sure that they understand that what you are doing is not just about improving the bottom line of the company. It's about creating a culture where they can be happy and comfortable to perform their duties to the best of their abilities. This can be created through having a family atmosphere in place amongst team members.

How Do You Use The Cultural Web Model?

The cultural web model process

Now that you know a bit more about it, how do you put the cultural web into practice?

The cultural web is best used when it starts by looking at an organization’s culture as it stands. That means running through each of the important elements and aligning it with how the company currently operates.

The idea is to skew a bit more aspiration when it comes to your corporate culture.

Now, you have to determine the differences between the two. Where are you succeeding? Where are you lacking? And how can you make up the difference between the two?

The cultural web is designed as an illuminating exercise, but it isn’t the end of the journey. Now, you need to act on it and put some form of a plan in place.

After you have developed a better idea of where you stand, where you want to go, and the space in between each, you can develop a way to get there.

This could include working on your corporate values or figuring out the best ways to prioritize and promote behaviors you want to see in your organization.

Taken together, the cultural web can help provide a holistic vision and roadmap based on key areas to bring about real enrichment in your corporate culture.

Tips On How To Create A Positive Organizational Culture

Employers can use the following tips to help build a positive corporate culture at their workplace:

Emphasis On Employee Wellness

No organization can expect to foster a positive culture without healthy employees. Employees need to feel their best – physically, mentally, and emotionally – to contribute to a positive culture.

In many ways, employee wellness is a foundation for a positive corporate culture.

Leaders should ensure that employees have the resources, tools, and on-site healthcare opportunities they need to live their healthiest life – inside and outside of the office.

Grow Your Current Culture

Building a positive corporate culture doesn’t mean employers should completely scrap everything their company currently stands for.

Rather than expecting employees to do a complete 180, employers should work on enhancing the current culture they have. Ask employees what they do and don’t like about their current culture and cultural environment.

Leaders should use these suggestions to help create a positive corporate culture that’s appropriate for their workforce – they will also be able to identify any leadership issues that are hindering positivity in the process.

Provide Meaning

Meaning and purpose are more important in the workplace now more than ever. The majority of employees crave meaning and purpose in their work. Without it, job satisfaction takes a major hit.

And a company certainly can’t build a culture without any meaning behind its work. Create a mission statement and core values and communicate these to employees.

Give employees specific examples of how their roles positively impact the company and its clients.

Create Goals

No organization can have corporate culture without clear goals in place. Employers should gather their team to create goals and objectives that everyone can work towards.

Creating a company goal brings employees together and gives everyone something specific to work towards – other than a paycheck.


Being a good listener is one of the easiest ways employers can start to build a positive culture.

According to research gathered by CultureIQ, 86% of employees at companies with strong cultures feel their senior leadership listens to employees, as compared to 70% of employees at companies without a strong culture.

So, listen to employees and make sure they feel their voices are heard and valued.

Empower ‘Culture Champions’

‘Culture champions’ are employees who embody the values and missions of a company. They are excited to promote a company’s aspirations and encourage others to do the same.

Identify these employees and encourage them to keep spreading the cheer.


What is the first thing that pops in your mind when you hear the term corporate culture? Many people refer to the classic phrase coined by the McKinsey Organization that culture is "how we do things around here."

And while that may be true, there are so many elements that go into determining what you do and why. Whether you can define it or not, you know that culture exists.

It's that ethereal something that hangs in the air and influences how work gets done, critically affects project success or failure, mandates who fits in and who doesn't, and determines the overall mood of the company.

Culture often becomes the focus of attention during periods of organizational change – when growth and other strategic change takes place.

In more static environments, cultural issues may be responsible for low morale, absenteeism, or a high staff turnover, with all of the adverse effects those can have on productivity.

So, for all its elusiveness, corporate culture can have a huge impact on an organization's work environment and output.

This is why so much research has been done to pinpoint exactly what makes an effective corporate culture and how to go about changing a culture that isn't working.

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 nurture 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 organizational culture is related to both the way that an organization interacts with the outside world, and the way employees interact with each other.

Although strong organizational cultures can create unity, there is the chance that subcultures will form and create division in an organization.

There are many benefits from a strong organizational culture that are hard to replicate, which provides an organization with a strong competitive advantage.

Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand more about how to use the cultural web model in your organization and the benefits that it can bring.

Think about what your organizational culture is – could you use the six elements to choose a dominant culture? And how will you use them to map your culture?


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