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Organizational culture is never something you’ll be able to fully control or understand. Much like the culture of humanity as a whole, things inside of a company ebb and flow, evolve and devolve, and change with the flow of time, leadership evolution, and market forces. Most successful enterprises are extremely effective at mapping out processes and procedures, and yet many think culture just happens or that they can throw perks and money at people to create a truly dynamic and inclusive workplace.
By creating a visual map of what your culture looks like, you can not only see what your organization is like from the employee perspective, but you can better understand all the moving parts of your culture and see where there’s room for improvement. This gives you the opportunity to more actively engage team members and create awe-inspiring employee experiences on a regular basis.
Below, I show you in 4 steps how you can map out your company culture, just like a designer!
Before you get started
To map out your culture, all you need are the following items:
- 4 different colored post-its (and lots of ‘em!)
- A whiteboard or large piece of paper
- An open mind!
You can go through this culture mapping exercise alone, but I recommend collaborating with a cross-functional team of individuals who work on different problems in your organization and who experience varying microcultures. Ensuring that you have a variety of people involved in this exercise who have exposure to numerous aspects of your organization will not only result in a more robust and useful map, but it will also give you better insight into the similarities and differences across your teams and show you ways you can promote diversity and inclusion across your company.
With that said, let’s get started!
Step 1: Create a key
Stick post-it notes on the board with each of the following labels:
- Internal activities (green)
- External activities (yellow)
- Activities you don’t do, but could do (pink)
- Cultural pillars (purple)
Step 2: Brainstorm pillars and internal activities (purple & green)
Now consider a variety of “cultural pillars” that make up most companies’ cultures:
- Mission, vision, and values
- Company events
- Community involvement
- Perks & benefits
- Learning and training
- Anything else that’s culturally relevant at your company
Write your company’s name + the word “culture” on a post-it note. Then, surround it with post-its that contain any relevant cultural pillars (purple). Leave enough space on your whiteboard or paper to place lots of post-its in between.
Start with the pillar you think most drives your culture. Have your group think about all the activities you do internally to promote or cultivate that pillar and write them out on green post-its.
Go through each pillar and create a new green post-it for each of the internal activities you can think of. You’re essentially trying to brainstorm every internal activity you do that could possibly relate to “culture” and group it off. Some of these may clump together or duplicate—that’s OK. This exercise is primarily one in brainstorming and creative visualization meant to help you see your culture differently than you ever have before.
With any good brainstorming exercise, the creative juices will be flowing and you may list off activities throughout the exercise that aren’t fully developed or aren’t even really happening at your company. Try to steer the conversation away from debate, and instead just capture these “missing” activities on pink post-its and move them off to the side. We’ll address them later.
Step 3: External activities (yellow)
Once you and your team have filled up your whiteboard or paper with a lot of purple and green post-its, go through that same list of pillars by considering where they happen externally. Write them down on yellow post-its and add them around your pillar post-its. If there are duplicates of anything you listed as internal, just group those notes together.
At WeVue, we’ve seen that a lot of organizations initially think about their company culture as an internal tool comprised of internal activities—basically something that their customers—externally—rarely interact with. We see that as a missed opportunity.
Instead, think about which activities you showcase to potential hires and recruits:
- Do you show off perks & benefits in job posts?
- How does leadership help to communicate culture externally?
- Do you have your mission, vision, and values presented on your website?
- Do employees eagerly tell their friends what your company does?
At this point, your whiteboard/piece of paper should be covered in green and yellow post-it notes surrounding your purple cultural pillars.
Step 4: Think about what you’re missing
There are probably activities you’ve left out because you don’t do them yet, especially depending on the size of your organization. For instance, you may not have a great way to communicate the close of new business or partnerships, or you don’t showcase your culture in your recruiting process. Here is your chance to get your team to contribute to what they think the culture is missing in light of the visualization you’ve just done. Add these ideas using pink post-its and start mapping them to your pillars. Don’t forget to include any ideas that may have surfaced earlier and that we set to the side (during step #2).
I recommend looking at some of the questions below to help you brainstorm, as you may be unaware of what you’re missing:
- What are they?
- How are they communicated?
- What are they?
- How did you decide on these specific perks?
- Executive visibility—What sort of things does the exec team do to reinforce your culture to the company and external stakeholders?
- Can anyone email the CEO? Does he respond? Similarly, does the CEO interact with customers?
Mission, vision, and values
- Do people actually know what they are? Are they visible?
- Do you showcase a sense of meaning and purpose in the work you do as a hiring advantage?
Office & environment
- Where do people eat? Take small meetings? Large meetings?
- How do people move through the space? Is there a receptionist? Do customers/candidates have to be buzzed in? By whom? What is that process like?
- How do you celebrate a job well done?
- How do you introduce a new hire?
Learning & training
- How does your team learn, both individually and collectively?
- Which resources in the community do your team tap into for different types of learning?
Culture is messy—but you can use that to your advantage
At the end of this exercise, your whiteboard/paper should be covered in post-its. You can regroup, draw connections between different notes, and take liberties to see how these clusterings of information help to create a visualization of your culture.
You now have a map of your culture, how it’s projected out into the world, and opportunities to grow and improve your culture across different areas of your company. From here, you can replicate this mapping process with further focus. For instance, try honing in on just your mission, vision, and values and how they are communicated both internally and externally and where there are missed opportunities to reinforce them in both your team-building and recruiting process.
As companies grow, I often see them just tack on more and more activities without a plan for how they all tie together into a cohesive culture. If you keep adding to this map as you make organizational changes, you’ll be able to keep a better pulse on your culture and will be able to better integrate new experiences into the bigger picture. Stay tuned for my next post to learn how the big picture and smaller experiences fit together!