culture design starts with you
An explanation of what methods I intend to use
when researching Culture Design and developing my report
Research Methodology
Culture and leadership are perceived differently by individuals, companies and industries which is why asking questions to different sources will be important to clarify ambiguities on both topics. The data gathered will be qualitative including personal opinions and individual experiences from industry professionals with culture and leadership. A strong research methodology will help me select the right methods based on what I am trying to find out.

The main research questions being:
• Should leaders design culture?
• Can anyone design culture?

I am looking to find if anyone in a leadership position should can support culture and if not why it keeps happening. On the flip side I'm looking to prove that anyone in an organisation can design culture. I want to know why it hasn't been done this way before and how it can be done moving forward.

Strong research methodology comes from having clear questions and an understanding and selection of methods available to fulfil those research needs. According to Easterby‐Smith et al (2012) designing a research methodology beforehand is crucial for the success of a project. In 2014, Easterly Smith and Abbariki drew out four features of research design which are closely related but distinct:

Ontology: How we construct reality
Epistemology: Set of assumptions about how to investigate the world
Methodology: The full combination of techniques used to run this research
Methods and techniques: individual techniques for data collection

Based on Easterby‐Smith et al (2012)'s four types of ontology ("realism, internal realism, relativism, nominalism") and the two extremes of epistemology (positivism and social constructionism), I identified the following about myself and this research:

I have a relativist ontological positioning. I believe there is more than one truth and facts depend on the perspective of the observers. In this project I would like to explore different people's ideas of what culture is and how it could be designed. I'd like to look at the point of view of different kinds of employees and leaders.
I have a relativist ontology (graph by Easterby‐Smith et al, 2012)
I have an epistemology that tends more towards social constructionism. This means that I believe people give meaning to situations and in doing so 'construct' reality. A social constructionist believes that people give meaning to life through feelings, thoughts and the way they express themselves.

There is a direct relationship between epistemology and methodology (Easterly Smith and Abbariki, 2014) and so aims, starting points, data types, analysis and outcomes are predictable as can be seen on the following table:
I have an epistemology that tends to constructionism (graph by Easterby‐Smith et al, 2012)
I will be able to run an ethnographic type of research since I am part of two of the companies I'll be intervening for this project. I will use the following qualitative research methods, click to see details of each:
Document analysis
Obtaining data from existing academic and industry literature on culture and leadership
Small in number but big in depth to ask leaders about what they think about leadership and culture

The interviews will be either live, by email or through Skype. I'll speak to previous managers and industry leaders willing to talk about culture and leadership. More interviews will be done to leaders than employees, in order to get in depth answers about their particular perspective on culture from their position in the company. There are plenty of leadership guides available by companies like Deloitte ("Global Human Capital Trends 2015") and CultureAmp (a "People Analytics" company) containing employee demands, reactions and overall attitude towards culture.

I will record the audio of live and Skype interviews using a professional voice recorder called: "Voice Record Pro 3.1.0.", built by BejBej apps. I've chosen this software because it allows unlimited length audios and offers the option of recording at configurable quality.

In an email to his students, PhD France Belanger talks about the benefits of audio recording. He believes notes can never be as thorough as audio, that exact quotes from an interview are more compelling and that it frees me (the interviewer) to make eye contact, build rapport and listen actively.
There is a chance people will get nervous about me recording exactly what they are saying, worried that this information could land in hands of someone they would 'not wish to hear it' (Belanger, 1999). To make sure participants are not worried, I will give them an agreement so they know what will happen to the information and "although some respondents may be nervous to talk while being recorded, this uneasiness usually disappears in a short time" (Thomas et al, 2015).
I'll run workshops to study what participants will do under certain team circumstances.

Research literature validates Participatory Action Research (Bergold, Thomas, 2012) and Problem Solving Workshops (Kelman, 1972; Barbanti, 2005) as a good way to work towards a solution with a group that is immersed in a problem. If I extrapolate that to my research, working directly as a facilitator with team members of an organisation would be a good way to work towards discovering how to design culture.
Herbert Kelman (Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University) explains that in a "Problem Solving Workshop", all the parties involved come in with a sense of minimum commitment and risk. In this sense, having culture design workshops with teams and their leaders at the same time should decrease the risk perceived by both parties. Kelman has observed that a willingness to talk about certain topics outside of a workshop environment can be perceived as "weakness" by leaders or that willingness to communicate would reduce "pressure on the opponent" (Kelman, 1972)

The strengths of using a workshop to research culture design are that:

• It will allow team members to communicate in a way and about a subject that would be impossible on their regular work setting. It will also offer a new context and actionable techniques to "guide the communication process" and open discussions (Kelman, 1972).

• I will be responsible for facilitating a controlled experience where participants are "confident that their utterances will not used against them, and that they will not suffer any disadvantages if they express critical or dissenting opinions"(Bergold, Thomas, 2012). In this sense, being able to deliberately create a safe space increases the chances of new forms of communication to occur. Thomas and Bergold note that conflict should not be avoided during Participatory Action Research, but that instead conflicts should be "jointly discussed".
I'll send out surveys and run questionnaires in order to measure people's agreement with 'being happy at work' and how aware they are about culture issues and points of improvement.

I will use a questionnaire to try and identify patterns in attitudes towards work mostly from employees and also from some leaders. I will have two separate surveys: one for employees and one for leaders. I hope to gather more than 10 responses from employees with this questionnaire since I will be sending it to very few people I know who can answer and match the criteria. My survey will be 'factual' (Ackroyd and Hughes, 1981) since I will be looking to collect descriptive information.

Saul McLeod (psychology (BSc) Tutor at The University of Manchester) in his piece about Questionnaires he describes strengths and weaknesses of a questionnaire. He points out that a large group of people can be reached, the answers can lead to generalizations and that a lot of data can be collected with relatively low costs. On the down side he warns that questionnaires lack detail, because the questions are pre-set, unlike an interview where the conversation can be directed based on interesting comments from the subject.
Ethical considerations

Talking about culture at work involves describing behaviours of ourselves and others. Informed consent will be crucial when holding interviews. The information revealed can be very sensitive and have an impact in the working lives of the interviewees.

During workshops everything that is said will not be recorded, unless the participants agree to it in advance.

Everything that is published on this website will be run past the person who said it for approval before publishing to avoid misunderstandings or creating issues at that person's workplace.

Double Diamond
The Double Diamond diagram was created by the Design Council (UK) in 2005 to visualize the design process. I will use it to guide my approach to this project because it breaks down the process into kinds of activities and thinking. The diagram is split into four stages where the different kinds of activities and ways of thinking can be mapped out: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. The shape of the diagram implies that some stages involve divergent thinking (Discover and Develop) and some stages require convergent thinking (Define and Deliver).


This is the first quarter and it marks the beginning of the project. This includes initial ideas, inspirations, understanding the problem and discovering what the end users need. In the context of Culture Design, we will discover:

• How might we define culture and leadership?
• What does the industry and literature say about designing culture?
• What is the relationship between leadership and culture?
• What is the relationship between employees and leadership in terms of culture?


Designers will look to interpret what was discovered in the previous stage and align what is necessary in order to achieve business objectives. In this project, the definition stage will include:

• Defining what the culture challenges are
• Defining how the industry testing will be done
• Arrange workshops where to test preliminary ideas in


In this stage design-led solutions are created, iterated and tested for validation – not for implementation. To discovery how anyone can design culture I will:

  • Design the culture design activities (CDA)
  • Test preliminary CDA with teams that I belong to or have access to
  • Try new ideas as the tests yield learnings


The delivery stage is the final section of the Double Diamond model. It is here where the resulting product of the project will be finalised and launched in the real world. The activities I will do in this phase will be:

  • Sharing final recommendations/tools with industry for feedback
Made on