On a three week canoe trip in 1985 it rained every single day. Even with moments of sunshine there was always a sprinkle. We lived in our raincoats! It was a smelly and soggy time. Lighting a fire was the daily challenge. If we came across some particularly good kindling, we tucked in our jacket pocket to keep it dry and warm, hoping body heat would dry it out a little. Otherwise it was peanut butter and jam on crackers for dinner – again.
Fire is important for its warmth and for cooking. It feeds body and soul! Culture is the same: it warms and keeps our soul fed.
Firelighting, like igniting culture, has a few key elements.
You need a spark, kindling, and then larger pieces. It requires a lot of attention at first: fanning, tweaking, adding bits, jostling log positions. Once it lights properly, you can sit back and let it burn, with the occasional log thrown in.
Altruistic touchpoints: the spark
In setting a culture fire alight, the spark is purpose of the organisation. This is what ignites passion, vision, and commitment. Done well, you and your leadership team bring to life every day how your organisation solves problems to help others. When contribution is the focal point every day for each person, the spark remains lit.
Extrinsic touchpoints: the kindling
Extrinsic touch points are about individuals being seen, heard, and valued. This is how you appreciate and recognise your employees. These can be tangible rewards, like bonuses, promotions, and salary increases. Recognition and words of encouragement are also critical. This encouragement fans flames and keeps the energy and heat rising.
Intrinsic touchpoints: the fuel
It’s not enough to have a purpose, you need to bring meaning to each person. These are the intrinsic motivators for employees. Intrinsic motivators include a sense of achievement, challenge, learning, creativity, growing, and producing something of merit and use to others.
In his book, Drive - The surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink determines that along with purpose, mastery and autonomy are also needed for employee engagement.
Essentially if your people are learning, growing, and contributing, you have solid fuel for that fire.
Watching someone rush through the fire lighting process is a disturbing experience. Quite often they don't take the time to collect enough kindling or smaller pieces to nurture and build a base. The same is true of culture. Leaders may do the bare minimum for the cultural fire, throw it all together, and expect it to come ablaze. More often than not it's like using one match to light a pile of damp logs. No amount of determination is going to get that fire lit quickly! You do it little by little, bit by bit, and it takes time and attention.
Do you have a clear purpose in your business? Do you bring it to life every day? How do you fan the flames with recognition and rewards? Do your people have a chance to learn and grow as you build the business? Is your culture damp or a roaring blaze?