My youngest daughter enjoys doing jigsaws and doing them has become one of her preferred activities on cold, wet winter afternoons.  And very often when she decides that’s what she going to do it becomes an activity for the whole family to gather round and do.  It was easy of course when she was young when there were just a few big pieces.  But now we’ve moved on to bigger, more complex ones with lots of pieces and subtle changes in colour it’s much, much more difficult. 

As we prepared for our latest challenge last Sunday afternoon I was thinking that building jigsaws and building organisational culture have lots of similarities.  Here’s a few comparisons that work for me:

  1. Prepare well
    It’s amazing how much easier it is to do a jigsaw when you’ve prepared properly.  We always do them on a table top, making sure of course that it’s big enough for the full jigsaw to be built.  We find somewhere to put the box so that we can all see the picture we’re building.  Then we turn over all the pieces and then sort them so that the edge pieces are all together, clearly related colours are together and so on.  We’re also clear who’s helping and who’s not at this stage – it seems to create some frustration if someone comes along right at the end to insert the last few pieces!  A little planning and organising at this stage seems to help considerably and really speeds up the process later. 
    It’s the same with culture.  Taking time to plan really helps.  Knowing the desired culture you want to create (and approximately how long it will take to do it) and what individuals roles are, are all useful considerations before you start.  Some planning of the activities, or cultural interventions, you’ll take and thinking about how they can be grouped and delivered most effectively is also helpful and will prevent time being wasted later.
  2. Always have the full picture in mind
    It helps sometimes to step back from the jigsaw and have another good look at the picture on the box.  When looking at tiny pieces it can be difficult to see something you’ve not noticed before in the picture.  When stuck, taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture, and the details it contains can help to see the piece you haven’t noticed before which has been holding you back. 
    Being able to see the big picture, and the detailed parts of it are both essential when managing culture change.  Get too close to the detail and it’s likely the culture you get is not what was intended.  And never looking at the detail will mean that the actions taken will be ineffective and once again the culture you end up with won’t be what was intended.  The end result is the same but the cause is different.
  3. Build in sections
    What seems to work best for us is to build the edge first because they have fewer connecting bits.  Once we’ve gone the outside done we pick areas with the most obvious colours or features and then we progress from there.
    When shaping culture I always suggest thinking about actions under three headings.  Firstly, those things which enable the change you are seeking, without which change is unlikely to even start.  Next, accelerating factors, those things that will speed up the change and thirdly, those things that will embed the changed culture you are striving for.  It always make sense to do some things before others so I suggest taking enabling actions first (building the edges), then focusing on the accelerating actions and then concentrating on embedding.
  4. Remember that every piece is an equally important part of the whole
    It’s so frustrating when you’re nearing finishing your jigsaw only to realise that there’s a piece missing.  It’s happened a couple of times to us and it always goes in the rubbish bin.  After all, what’s the point building a jigsaw that you can never finish completely?  A thousand piece jigsaw becomes useless if just one piece is missing, each and every piece is an equally important and connected part of the whole.
    The pieces of an organisational culture jigsaw are all also interconnected.  Each piece should be considered to be an element of the overall culture and shouldn’t be approached individually and / or separately.  It must be about the picture as a whole and not the individual pieces.  That’s what makes culture so complex – unfortunately the actions required for each piece may well be different and conflicting.  As the banks have found in recent years, the focus on sales has produced a culture which has resulted in customers being taken for granted and often taken advantage of.  And yet I’m sure that isn’t what leaders, with responsibility for culture, wanted.  A requirement for cost consciousness can easily become cost cutting at all costs and, as the report into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust illustrated just last week, produce terrible breakdowns in patient care.  When the culture jigsaw is focused on just one piece rather than the big picture, problems inevitably follow.
  5. Be willing to persevere
    Thousand piece jigsaws aren’t built in a couple of hours – at least they don’t when I’m building them!  Sometimes we start one day and then come back to it regularly before eventually completing it several days later.  And every once in a while we get bored, decide not to finish it and put it all back in the box.
    Creating an organisational culture which enables business success doesn’t happen overnight either.  You’ll have to keep coming back to it, adding more pieces until the picture is finished.  Or, you could just put the pieces back in the box?             
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