Having grown up in the Girl Guide movement I have built, nurtured and enjoyed the warmth, love and ambience of many campfires. ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands’, sticky marshmallow sticks and scary stories about dark highways weave their magic into an environment of peace, belonging and assurance that all is well in the world. From experience and cold nights, I know that a great campfire does not just happen. It is the product of careful construction, thoughtful ignition and constant attention to nurturing its fiery life. And the result speaks for itself.

I love the parallel that can be drawn from the simplicity of the campfire to organizational culture, and the application of the same principles that build an environment of belonging, acceptance and greatness.

I have had the privilege over the course of my career to date, to work in organizations that live and breathe phenomenal workplace culture. Workplaces that are organic and innovative, and promote and support a sense of self fulfillment, as well as acknowledge an invaluable individual contribution to the collective. Workplaces that inspire hope – hope for a better future, hope for a better way of doing things, hope for the capacity to be involved in something that makes a difference in the world.

Conversely, I have worked (for very short periods of time) in organizations that are toxic. Toxic cultures look, feel and smell the same, and with no surprises – lack the same foundational elements that ensure phenomenal workplace culture. Toxic cultures are stale and inconsistent, and permeate a sense of dispensability and superfluousness to their staff. They lack vision, they lack values and they lack intelligent leadership.

Culture can be defined as the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group. Workplace culture expresses the way of life of the collective. It is learned patterns of action and expression, and actively shapes a way of being.

Like the campfire, great workplace culture does not just happen. It is the product of careful design, structured implementation and constant commitment by the leadership team to nurturing its growth and development. Organizations that live and breathe phenomenal workplace culture with no exceptions, have these three foundational elements that ensure the actions, reactions and behaviours of the individuals within the organization are aligned with both purposeful internal achievements and excellent service delivery.

By design, great culture establishes a way of thinking and a way of being that is ultimately reflected in the behaviours and actions of the individual. That way of thinking is designed to ‘elevate’ each individual – to instill a greater sense of self worth, confidence and resilience; and promote the growth of a professional human being; and as a result, elevate the overall well being and performance of the group.

By design, great culture promotes, encourages and grows innovative, proactive individuals who are motivated to go beyond the call of current duty and responsibility because they believe in themselves and what they can achieve, and because they know they are part of a culture where their effort is appreciated and their leader has their back all of the time.

By design great culture establishes a set of values and standards that support and grow people by providing cultural benchmarks for thinking and behaving. Good is the enemy of great. Good leads to ordinary and ordinary does not drive high performing people and organizations. Benchmarks of excellence are a trademark of phenomenal workplace cultures. Excellence, left to chance will occur infrequently. Values and standards actually define and set precedence for exceptional thinking that enhance individual personal strengths and self actualization. A collective of professional human beings makes for an extraordinary workplace experience!

A strategic ignition or carefully placed series of matches ensures the birth of the campfire. Similarly, a structure or system to support the implementation of excellence is the second element to great workplace culture. The process involved in ensuring the values and standards become common place to every individual must be obtainable, sustainable and scalable as well as being relevant to all staff within the organization. Quite a challenge for most organizations! Here’s what organizations that exhibit great culture know well – that great leaders empower and create culture by example. You cannot bring what you don’t have. You cannot expect what you are not. Great leaders know that emotional aptitude, managing themselves and being a living, breathing example of the benchmark of excellence is the key to success.

When the songs are sung and the marshmallows are gone, the campfire is left to die and by morning is a remnant of its former self. Workplace culture, if left unattended and ignored, like the campfire will degrade. Leaders cannot afford to be distracted from ongoing nurturing and consideration of organizational culture. Thinking will deteriorate to reactive, standards will slip to ordinary, behaviours and language will deteriorate to a norm without diligence and awareness, and a commitment to excellence by the executive.

How are your skills in laying, lighting and tending the campfire?

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