Why Talking ‘Passion’ Can Make All the Difference

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Apr 21, 2017

“Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures,” iconic American writer Joseph Campbell said. That’s true at the organization level as well. A passionate, engaged workforce can push your company out of the mire of mediocrity. There’s no time to waste.

Left to his own devices, a harried middle manager consumed by the daily grind of production quotas and deadlines is likely to push any consideration of workforce passion and engagement to a back burner. That may get orders out the door today, but that mindset slowly grinds the passion and initiative out of employees.

Upper management must make passion a clear priority for the organization. A company with happy, engaged employees is more than a great place to work. Studies show that it’s also more profitable and successful: positive work cultures are more productive, and “hidden costs” of low workforce engagement include reduced productivity, higher absenteeism, more employee errors, increased healthcare costs, staff turnover, and lower stock prices.

How to help employees find their bliss

Joseph Campbell’s specialty is mythology, but he could easily have been discussing workplace dynamics in this quote:

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.

“Finding bliss” in the organizational context means working with individuals to find their strengths and weaknesses so that their jobs are fulfilling instead of draining. An individual’s strengths are tasks they get excited about, while weaknesses are tasks they’re capable of accomplishing but don’t look forward to and can even dread. You want to help people find things they love at work, so they’re excited to come to the office rather than finding reasons not to be there. This thinking about strengths is one I’ve learned and embraced from Marcus Buckingham.

Managers must ask their team

Managers all say they want great teams with passionate, talented employees, but there has to be more than the low-level awareness that creating a standout team is a good goal to achieve. Instead, managers need to have a genuine desire to make it happen. Words aren’t strong enough in this case; actions are what are necessary – from mapping out what it takes to get there to executing those steps.

I’ve found that discovering any employee’s strengths and weaknesses requires one-on-one communication and must be a positive conversation. Employees won’t be honest if they suspect they may be penalized for speaking frankly. During these meetings, I ask individuals, “What responsibilities or work functions do you most enjoy?”

Plan to hold at least two to three meetings with each person to discuss their answer to this question, since they likely haven’t been asked which tasks they love by management. This no doubt takes a lot of time, but the end result is worth it, and I’ve found it to be key to turning around underperforming divisions and sites. In fact, I spend 20% to 30% of my time talking to employees – from top to bottom – when I work with divisions needing improvement. That’s how important people and their passions are to the success equation.

Once you’re done with the interviews, look at all tasks to see if you can re-balance job roles and responsibilities so that people spend approximately 80% of their time doing tasks they love. If you can’t do that using your current workforce, then you’ve uncovered a weakness in your team and need to add someone with the talents and passions to fill the gap.

This is a never-ending journey, finding the balance within the team and for each employee. As people grow and evolve, their preferences and passions do too, so this is an exercise to revisit every year to keep your team performing at its best.

Strong teams are diverse teams

A team of people with basically identical temperaments, skills, and abilities is rarely effective. Take basketball: You don’t want five centers like Shaquille O’Neal on the court. You also need guards and forwards, who have different strengths like speed and agility, to complement Shaq.

Personally, I’m a strategic-minded person who doesn’t love some tactical details. While I can do work efficiency studies and I’m good at them, I don’t like them. I enjoy the execution of the information, not the process of information gathering and assessment. So I need someone to counterbalance me who has a love for details and, in this specific case, workflow optimization.

Having a “detail person” on the team keeps me from getting sucked into the weeds with details so I can concentrate on my strength and passion of keeping a high-level overview. At every level you have to flex from strategic to tactical, and I can do that. However, I know I perform at my best when my own 80% share is strategic tasks. That knowledge helps me assemble a diverse, effective team.

Be patient

Realigning responsibilities and reorganizing teams takes time and causes temporary disruptions, but the result – happier, passionate, more engaged team members – is worth the effort and critical to your team’s success.