Culture mapping

Dave Gray about the Culture Map from Business Models Inc. on Vimeo.

Since I founded XPLANE in 1993, I have worked on many change and innovation initiatives, and one of the most difficult — yet most important — aspects of any business transformation is culture change. Culture can be a company’s best friend, but when volatility in the business environment requires change, culture can be the biggest obstacle.

In most large-scale organizational change projects, culture is the “elephant in the room.” It is not only undiscussed, it is undiscussable, at least in any serious, meaningful way. And yet it is the biggest threat to any major change.

In 2006, my company was going through this kind of transformation. Our culture had been very process-driven and it needed to become more innovative, more entrepreneurial and more team-oriented. To help with that transition we created a visual map of the culture we wanted. We put copies of the map in every meeting room and on every desk, and we frequently used the map as a guide when making decisions. We used the map to evaluate new hires, and we used it as a teaching tool when on-boarding new employees.

XPLANE Culture Map

The culture mapping tool was so useful that I have long thought it would make an excellent tool for any company that’s dealing with a difficult transformation that will require rethinking, re-imagining or simply shifting the company culture.

I’ve been working with Alex OsterwalderAlan Smith, and Chris Finlay to design a tool that organizations can use to assess, map and transform their cultures. The Culture Map tool is still in the prototype stage and we are currently testing it with organizations large and small.

Here’s a brief video introduction to the tool:

Here’s a talk I gave on culture and change at the Dare Conference in London (external link):

Board background45

Here’s a talk I gave on culture and change:

Here are the slides from another, more recent talk I gave for a corporate client:

Here is what v.005 of the Culture Map looked like (Beta):

Culture Map v005

The map above was an early-stage prototype and we learned a lot as we tested it. The map has gone through a number of iterations (we are now on vesion 009).

We have been testing with individuals and teams for two years now and so far the feedback has been tremendously positive. It’s a tool that invites deep reflection.

Some of the feedback to date:

“I was amazed at how quickly people opened up and started talking about things they don’t usually talk about. Within five minutes they were sharing insights and ideas with each other.”

“Very clear picture of the actual corporate culture – with huge coincidences across all units and high evidence.”

“High impact on the senior management (real eye opener).”

“Strong basis for following interventions.”

Beta tester Esko Reinikainen of the Satori Lab wrote:

“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.
  • 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. [The Culture Mapping] method is fast, quite fun, yields deep insight incredibly quickly, and is comparatively very cost-effective.”


    Here’s the latest version of the map (Version 010):

    CultureMap 010 png

    Download the latest version as a PDF.

    Please join the Culture Mapping LinkedIn group and share your ideas and feedback!

    Subscribe to get updates on the Culture Mapping project.

    Contact me if you want to talk about working together on a culture transformation initiative.