HR Roundtable: Where Did the Passion Go?

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Dec 18, 2018

The November HR (Cincinnati) Roundtable took a step into an arena that is somewhat taboo these days – “Passion at Work.”

Now, please note that we got together to talk about employees being passionate about what they do. It’s almost as taboo because there are countless self-help and motivational speakers who try to rally the troops because of disengagement. It’s very timely as a discussion topic because retention is such a challenge in today’s business environment. So, the topic for the month was – “Passion and engagement at work. Is it possible or not?”

The attendees started the day tackling the following three starter questions:

  1. Why aren’t people passionate at work?
  2. Why do companies focus on control vs. performance?
  3. How can we allow passionate people to flourish at work?

Everyone was very eager (you could even say passionate) to get to the questions. It was a lively discussion at each table and this is what they had to share when we all came back together.

Why aren’t people passionate at work?

Work is a “negotiated lie” – Yikes! This was a strong response right off the bat. It was noted that once you’re hired, you’re expected to fit the norms of the company which may mean not being passionate. It also leads to a lack of trust between staff and leadership. When people are in separate camps, passion is squelched.

Performance reviews aren’t about performance — We’ll cover this a bit in the next section, but the point here was that performance reviews are soulless. The focus is primarily on what people aren’t doing versus highlighting accomplishments and progress. This is extremely demotivating for people.

The job’s not a good fit — This is something that is gossiped about in the halls, but rarely do open conversations occur asking if someone feels that the job isn’t a fit. Employees are hesitant to bring anything up because they want to work and stay with a company. Internal alignment is key to organizational success. However, how many people are struggling because things aren’t a fit? Isn’t it time you had those conversations?

Lack of direction — People don’t have conversations about what is expected of them from their supervisor, or the company as a whole. Most expectations are assumed and then we complain when someone isn’t performing to the level they should be. It’s backwards and a trap that many fall into within every level of an organization.

My input doesn’t matter — This response noted that people either feel they aren’t genuinely heard as well as their ideas are dismissed. People want their contributions to be valued and “matter.” If your input is constantly disregarded, why would you be passionate in your work?

You’re working on someone else’s dream and not yours — We started with a “Yikes!” so we might as well wrap this section on another one. People expressed that they’re not passionate because they don’t share the dream/goals/strategy of their workplace. It’s a job and that’s about all it is. This is unfortunate that people feel they have to tolerate and struggle with their work because they’d rather be doing something else outside of the company.

Why do companies focus on control vs. performance?

Companies don’t trust employees — How sad is this? Companies state that people are their greatest asset, but let’s not trust them. This reality is true in far too many companies. When leadership thinks employees are out to do their worst and take advantage of the company, then that culture is most likely oppressive.

That’s how we’ve always done it — It’s funny that most people shiver when they hear this response, and yet it is a company staple. We are often so stuck on traditions and current methods that we can’t even recall when, or if, they were different in the past. Companies, and people, get comfortable and stuck in their ways in a very short period of time. This continues to be a giant obstacle that companies fall back on, but refuse to budge.

We think control is more tangible than defining performance — Performance is “ooky.” (That’s a legitimate HR term by the way.) Performance is in the eye of the beholder. It’s hard to quantify because it involves biases, filters, past experience of the person who leads others and we’re not consistent. We think establishing hard and firm controls will take out the ookyness, but it doesn’t.

We’re taught to manage not leadThis was a very powerful observation because it’s true. Supervisors are expected to produce, keep things moving and limit variability. This means that they spend more time keeping people in line than actually leading others. It’s a broken model.

Ego and power — This is one of those dark realities that companies want to avoid. However, it is something that presents a daily challenge. Some people love wielding power, real or perceived, over others. When this occurs, morale suffers and is damaged. We all need to be more aware of the challenges of ego and power and address how dangerous they can be.

How can we allow passionate people to flourish at work?

Allow people to cuss — This was just a fun answer! The intention was that you need to give people a healthy and safe avenue to vent their frustrations at work. We ask people to bottle up their emotions because they’re supposed to be “working.” This is a mistake. Venting occurs regardless of all attempts to thwart it. So, embrace this facet of the workplace and give people a healthy way to release some steam.

Connect the dots for people — Instead of people just plodding through tasks, teach your leaders/managers how to show that the work their staff does makes a direct impact on the company. Take the time to explain that their efforts matter both within their department and to the entire organization. People want to know that they are significant. Show them how they are.

Develop their roles based on strengths and not weaknesses — If you continue to utilize performance reviews, then focus on what folks do well. Stop making goals to shore up weaknesses as the primary focus of these discussions. If you leverage a person’s strengths, you’ll be astonished at how talented they really are. The system needs to change. Quit thinking performance is an annual compliance program required by HR. It’s antiquated and has no place in today’s workplace.

Give people permission to fail — We all state that we learn from our mistakes because it’s true. However, we get hacked when mistakes occur. That’s backwards isn’t it? In order for this approach to work, you need to give people parameters around what to do when they fail. Build in a soft landing for people instead of pounding them with a hammer. Also, as leaders, stop thinking that if you do this that chaos will occur. It won’t. Remember – lead instead of manage. Learn how to move forward from failure.

Be available and accessible yourself — This isn’t an “open door policy” (which went out of style in 1977). Remember that people model the behavior that YOU exhibit. Take time each day to check in on purpose and see how people are doing. Don’t say you’re available and accessible – show it. The time you spend with others will keep their internal fire and passion stoked.

Everyone felt motivated and had their fires rekindled at the end of this Roundtable. Hopefully, people will see the value of having passionate people at work from now on.

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