The Culture Design Canvas is a framework for designing the culture of organizations and teams. You can use it to map the current culture, design the future state, and evolve your company culture.
Map your current culture (team or organization)
Design your desired culture (future state)
Evolve your workplace culture
The Culture Design Canvas is a blueprint to provide clarity, facilitate alignment, and uncover areas for development.
Mapping your workplace culture makes it easier for people to understand what your organization 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
Before you get started, download the template in PDF format or get the Mural template.
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. If people are not familiarized with the CDC, encourage them to watch this intro video prior to kicking off the design session.
The Culture Design Canvas a tool for Workplace Cultural Transformation
Culture Design Canvas —created by Gustavo Razzetti, Fearless Culture Design
A. Map 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. A mistake commonly made is to fill them all at once or in 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.
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 key strategies
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 behaviors do we reward and punish?
Most companies have incoherent behaviors. They preach one thing and reward another.
Your culture is the behavior you reward and punish. Values are useless if there aren’t brought to life through everyday actions.
What behaviors do we reward? What behaviors 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
Now focus on the following 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 use 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 rational culture
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.
Organizations 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 behaviors 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. Review, Reflect and Adjust
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.
Use the following checklist:
What does your organizational 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 organizational 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 behaviors and values align?