Making the invisible visible – using the culture map

We’ve been working on refining the culture mapping tool developed by Dave Gray and now also in conjunction with Alex Osterwalder, you know, the business model canvas guy.  We’ve been beta testing our own process of deploying the tool with live customers and the results have been nothing short of spectacular including:

  • Identifying opportunities for massive cost savings
  • Identifying where the real innovators in the system are and where they are currently disconnected from decision makers
  • Catching outstanding issues which appeared to have been resolved from a management viewpoint
  • Understanding absolutely specifically what factors are contributing to erosion of trust within the organisation.

When people are talking about drivers for change in their organisations, the cursory analysis often ends with “It’s a culture issue.”  So now what?  The risky thing with tackling the cultural dimensions of organisational issues is that you end up in an unproductive circular discussion about abstract concepts around values.  While these conversations can be entertaining, they rarely yield a constructive path to action.  What we need to do is move the abstract values based discussion to tangible observable behaviour based analysis.  We call this making the invisible visible.


Click on the picture to download a pdf version.

You know there’s a problem, you know it’s cultural in nature, but you can’t see what it is. We can help you see it.  Our process is currently based on a series of discussions with staff members from different parts of your organisation designed to elicit narratives of positive and negative experiences at work. From these short stories we can start to unpick what Dave and Alex have labelled the ‘levers’. These are the both stated and unstated rules, codes, patterns, processes, structures, routines, habits that form the building blocks of your organisations’ cultural DNA.  It also immediately exposes the gap between what you think is (or should be) going on, and what is actually taking place.

When we can clearly see what was previously intangible, we are in a position where we can design specific discrete actions that allow us to move from the current problem state to a more desirable future state.  This is then done in an agile and iterative way to allow for constant fine tuning to gently erode the undesirable behaviours and amplify the constructive new ones.

There are other culture mapping models out there but we’ve found that they are unsatisfactory in that they either yield a number, a label, or a prescribed process that assumes humans will respond as predictably to new instruction as components in a machine do. They can also be quite time-consuming, emotionally painful, and extremely expensive.  Our method is fast, quite fun, yields deep insight incredibly quickly, and is comparatively very cost-effective.

Does this sound interesting to you and your organisational requirements?  Why not contact us for an informal chat about how this might work for you.

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Update: at the invitation of Matthew Partovi I ran a mini workshop on culture mapping at the Responsive Org meetup in London. Tom Oswald dropped in and drew this lovely sketch, so lovely I had to drop it in here.

Sketch by Tom Oswald https://twitter.com/tomfivetwo

Sketch by Tom Oswald https://twitter.com/tomfivetwo

Update 15/5/15: Dave Gray did a little video interview about the culture map tool, we’ll just leave this here.

3 comments on “Making the invisible visible – using the culture map”

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  3. Reply

    This is great stuff. Making the invisible visible is a trick any magician would seek to master but Satori’s magic goes further by making it simple, fun and actionable. They may be riding on the shoulders of a giant (David Gray) but that shouldn’t take away from their achievement of packaging up a “big consultancy” service (that’s normally presented in a long winded, expensive way) and turning into something that’s fun. And cheap!

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