Spider Webs and Corporate Culture


My little garden in London has a large number of spider webs that seem to be doing an excellent job of catching flies and mosquitos. In that sense, I don’t mind.  But when I pass through the garden in the early morning on my way to my office at the back, I frequently get a web in the face and spend the next few minutes extracting myself. They are definitely sticky.

When I have time, I enjoy just staring at these marvellous webs and their complex construction, so precise as to be the work of an engineering genius. So strong and delicate at the same time.  And when I really pay attention I notice that there are different types of threads. Most of the silk threads make up the interior network, each connected to the other to form the web network. And more often than not the spider sits at the very center of the web, each of its eight legs resting on one of the major sections of the web, which I assume allows it to detect which area of the web has a trapped and struggling moth or fly.  At which point the spider moves in for the kill, wrapping it in a cocoon of silk, thus storing the food supply for later snacks.

However, there are slightly thicker threads of silk that anchor the web to bushes or the iron railing around my garden.  These support the web structure, much like the support cables on a suspension bridge. Without these the web could not maintain its broad, wide and open shape.  These anchor threads are obviously critical to the entire support of the web.

And now to corporate culture:

“Systems are the essential building blocks of every successful business.” ~Ron Carroll

Culture rulesIn my latest book; CULTURE RULES!: The 10 Core Principles of Corporate Culture, I show that corporate culture is more than just behaviours, and “how we do things around here”.  The visible behaviours most academics and consultants think of as culture, are actually the outcomes, or end result, of what I call the “corporate culture business system“.  This is analogous to any end-to-end business system, such as a supply chain, where there are multiple value drivers along the chain from supplier to finished product.

Behaviours don’t just happen randomly.  We behave in certain ways in response to certain stimuli, or “drivers”.  A perceived injustice triggers one set of behaviours while a perceived kindness another. In an organisation, collective or habitual behaviours, what some call culture, are the outcome of various drivers (policies and processes) in place in the organisation that induce certain behaviours.

For example, a corporate culture business system may have a particular compensation policy or bonus scheme that encourages risk taking. And sometimes extreme compensation potential drives extreme, and even excessively risky behaviours. Such was the case in many global banks between 2004-2007 when the housing market was inflating, mortgages and lending rates were extremely low, and people were eager to invest with borrowed money. A culture of greed and casino-like behaviour grew inside many large banks, with excessive compensation policies as the driver. The inevitable result was a focus on personal and company profits at the expense of clients and customers and the inevitable global financial crisis that began in 2007.

There are many culture drivers in a typical corporate culture business system. But not all have the same strength.  And the internal strength of these drivers produce a specific collection of employee behaviours, or the visible culture.

This chart, from my book, CULTURE RULES!, shows the relative strengths of various culture drivers. You might be surprised to find Peer Pressure at the top of the list, but it is actually one of the strongest drivers of shared habits and collective employee behaviours, what we see as corporate culture.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 14.38.50

Change the drivers, change the culture

Back to the Spider Web analogy:

Strong culture drivers such as Peer Pressure, Company Policies, National Cultures, and CEO behaviour are akin to the support threads of a spider web.  They hold the web together and the strongest culture drivers tend to determine the type of corporate culture. Stop and think about your particular corporate culture.  What behaviours stand out?  Then look at what elements of the organisation might be promoting these behaviours.  Many company policies and internal business practices may actually be driving unwanted behaviours that are out of alignment with your espoused company values.

Want to know how to reshape culture?  Look at the policies, business processes, leadership behaviours, hiring practices,  compensation and frequently told hero or bum stories and you will probably find the real drivers of employee behaviour.  Remember, culture is a business system.

A bad system will defeat a good employee every time. ~W. Edwards Deming

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon:

CULTURE RULES!: The 10 Core Principles of Corporate Culture

LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution




About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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