1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles and corporate culture

People doing a puzzle

There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle. ~Deepak Chopra

My wife and daughter are addicted to jigsaw puzzles, usually the 1,000 to 2,000 piece monstrosities that look like a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. I must confess I don’t have the patience or the desire to sit for hours hunched over a table putting a puzzle together. But they love it and every Christmas holiday a new mega-puzzle appears and takes over the sitting room table.

Whether you like, love or hate mega-puzzles, they do present an excellent analogy to better understand corporate culture.

The Important Pieces?

Which pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are the most important? Or are they all equally important in getting to the finished product?

Naturally, all the pieces are important since an almost finished puzzle with one missing is missingvery unsatisfying.  Like a company that makes a good profit, has killer products, and yet employees hate working there. Very unsatisfying.

The good news about those who love jigsaw puzzles is that no one wants to walk away from a 1000 piece almost complete puzzle with one missing. Those who love puzzles are striving for excellence, not “almost complete”.  Everyone starts looking around, on the floor, under the sofa, in the corner of the box, everywhere to find the missing piece to make the effort worthwhile.

Much of the stress and angst we feel inside companies is the willingness of management unhappy at workand leadership to stop striving for excellence just because goals are met or the profit margin in good. The P&L looks good, but we know the picture isn’t complete. Something doesn’t feel right.  We are missing some of the pieces of excellence. Perhaps it is innovation, perhaps trust and respect. In the case of modern banking, huge profits are made while tolerating overly risky and even unethical behaviour. Success somehow feels hollow and unfulfilling.

Corporate culture, like the mega-puzzle, is made up of many elements; leadership behaviours, customer service behaviours, employee engagement, subcultures, routine work behaviours, trust, accountability.  The list goes on.

And they are all important in building and sustaining a successful company. Successful for employees, customers, shareholders, communities, the planet.

But not all the ingredients of corporate culture are equally important at any one given time. Custom-Jigsaw-Puzzle Coming back to the jigsaw puzzle analogy, early on the most important ingredients in getting the puzzle started are the edge pieces. The first task of any real puzzle person (not puzzling person) is to get the border finished.  Thus finding and fitting the edge pieces becomes the critical task for eventual success. Completing the border gives the puzzle structure, definition, dimension, shape, a boundary within which to work. Later on, the pieces that connect one set of shapes to another become critical to the overall development of the finished picture.

In the early days or years of a company, not all elements of corporate culture are equally important. Obviously the business model is critical, but the less tangible culture elements of purpose, mission, hiring profiles, ambition, training, brand identity, leadership values and behaviours are vitally important in setting in place a strong and sustainable foundation for success. Later, as the company matures, other elements of the culture, such as innovation, respect for diversity, open communication and trust play an important role in sustainability and performance.

What are the critical elements of your corporate culture at this time in your business life-cycle? Sustainable success comes from a strong culture foundation.

Thanks for joining the dialogue.

John R Childress

Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

email: john@johnrchildress.com

PS: John also writes thriller novels




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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1 Response to 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles and corporate culture

  1. Great post John. And herein lies where management/leadership is so difficult to get right and when you do, to sustain it takes it up another degree of difficulty.


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