Leaders Need Passionate Teams, Especially in Tough Times

jacqueline-2a.jpgBy Jacqueline Throop-Robinson
CEO and co-founder of PassionWorks! Inc.

Susan notes: Jacqueline Throop-Robinson is an accomplished speaker, masterful facilitator and skilled coach, who has researched passion in the workplace for seven years. She's dynamic, fun, and full of energy. She's also a member of AWR.

She and her team can measure the extent to which people are passionate about their work, and help them discover what drives their passion. They’ve also identified how leaders can create environments that will increase passion in the workplace, and thus  improve business success.

I’m excited about PassionWorks!, and I’m delighted that Jacqueline is sharing some of her insights and tools with fellow AWR members.

Being A Leader Is Hard Work

It’s not easy for leaders to meet all the expectations placed upon them by shareholders, Board members, and employees, especially when times are tough. It’s not enough to meet your targets anymore; most leaders need to exceed them to feel secure.

So, most leaders I know work hard ... very hard ... to achieve and please. And, in my experience, the more senior the leader, the more this is true.

Senior leaders tell us they spend more and more time at work (or on work at home), while most employees report that they are underutilized. (When asked to what extent, many report upwards of 40% more capacity!) So, why this disparity?

Take John, an executive vice-president in an insurance company. He is in the office by 8 and rarely home by 9. His direct reports, on the other hand, work a comfortable 7.5 hours each day.

Then there’s Linda, a director and single mother of two, who works a long day and then answers BlackBerry messages any time day or night, while most of her employees comfortably manage their tasks with time to spare.

Your first thought might be that these folks simply do not know how to delegate. In both cases, this is, in fact, not the case.

Some Employees Start "Coasting"

Both of these senior leaders know their teams are qualified and they assign work readily; however both feel their teams are not very interested or committed to their work. They more or less complete tasks and projects to standard, but does this approach serve anyone well?

In a nutshell, these managers, like many others, have come to accept “coasting:” employees who do just enough to fulfill the basic obligations of their job.

Yet, when asked to remember their employees’ first year of employment in our research, most leaders reported high levels of motivation and engagement.

So why do leaders accept the gradual regression to coasting as a legitimate way of working, especially when exceptional performance is needed? The answer is simple: leaders don’t know how to affect change. How do you take someone who is coasting and infuse them with passion?

Most senior leaders I know are passionate about their work, but they don’t know how to cultivate that passion in others.

Our research over the last seven years has provided us with some interesting answers. We’ve developed a way of measuring the extent to which people are passionate about their work, and of discovering the key drivers of their passion.

We’ve also identified how leaders can create an environment that will increase the probability of fostering passionate teams by a significant margin.

Learn About Workplace Passion

To start with, leaders need to pay attention and learn about passion! This may seem obvious, but to many people it’s not. Passion is not something soft... It’s at the heart of all major success: where there is success you will find passion. Passion is what powers people through tough times, through challenges and through seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Much has been written on passion but it’s often misunderstood.

A lot of employers say they want to hire passionate people, or foster passion in their workplace, but they're not really sure what that means. I tell the story of three such clients in this short video:

Here are some of the things we’ve learned in our research into what makes people passionate:

First Insight: “The type of jobs people have may influence passion. But anyone in any job has the potential to experience passion in their work.”

People often think that they will only experience passion if they are doing their dream job or work related to a personal interest, such as a hobby. This couldn`t be further from the truth. The reality is that people can choose to engage fully in any type of work as long as they are able to satisfy their personal passion “drivers”.

We`ve met janitors, parking lot attendants, file clerks and people in many other occupations who are strongly passionate about their work. They are intelligent, caring people who act and think about their work in ways that create passion within them.

Second Insight: “It’s not just about the product of our work (the what) but how we work as well.”

There’s meaningful work, and there’s working in meaningful ways. Sources for meaning can come from the product of your work and/or the process by which it’s accomplished.

Recently, I interviewed a custodian in a multi-national organization. He was very clear about the importance of his work and the scope of his responsibilities. He understood that people counted on him for a myriad of things and he took pride in delivering high-quality service. He knew everyone in the company and he was their “go-to” person. He oversaw every detail and ensured it met with his standards, about which he was uncompromising!

Third Insight: “Action and progress are different things.”

To experience passion, requires action. However, the action must also feel like progress. So not all actions are created equal! Some actions lead to a passionate work experience, and others lead nowhere. We each look for signals of progress which tell us we’re on track. These signals are often unique to us.

Fourth Insight: “We often look for the wrong behaviours when we look for passion in people at work.”

Our research shows that people often confused extroversion with passion. It’s not about being extroverted, excited, dynamic or fast. It is about being committed and engaged - being ‘more’ within our “personal range.” When people are passionate about their work, they always become more animated when they discuss their work. It doesn’t have to be `big` but you will notice a perceptible shift in their energy.

How To Foster Passion in Tough Times

So in tough times, leaders can nurture passion and move employees out of coasting by consciously managing the conditions which give rise to passion:

1) Make work meaningful
Reinforce why the person`s work matters to the company and how others benefit from what they produce. It`s amazing how often people either don`t know or forget to remind themselves of this. You can help! A friend of mine recently told a shipper of a large toy store chain how important his work was to the company. He initially looked at her as if she were from another planet, until she said, “You are my lasting impression.” His response? “I’ve never thought about it that way before.”

2) Support relationships
Ensure that in tough times you nurture people`s connections with each other. Develop a caring culture and encourage people to work together in ways that let them know they are supported.  You don’t have to be extroverted to want people to know you exist, and that you matter to them. Some people require more connectedness than others, but everyone wants to be part of a work environment that sees them as a whole person and cares about their quality of life, at work and at home.

3) Use existing skills creatively
Identify how to best use the person`s skill set in a way that will help the company navigate these tough times. You could ask a front-line person to identify a cost-saving measure or to create greater efficiencies and link it to meaning (e.g. helping build greater job security for all employees through cost control). The task or project must truly benefit the company and must authentically challenge the person.

4) Take action
Once a meaningful goal is established, help your employee create an action plan which allows her to move the project or task forward each day. Small or big actions are not the point. The purpose of action is to ensure that people do not get stuck and do not stagnate. Plus, build measures for the actions that will function as signals of progress for that person. For example, some people feel progress when they meet a quantifiable target (a number); others feel progress when they solicit client feedback.

Even when times are tough, when budgets have been cut and projects possibly put on hold, people can formulate new plans for moving the things they care about forward. Or, if needed, create new goals tailored for tough times and get people working on them, even if there is no budget. It`s amazing how creative people can get when they have no resources!

5) Celebrate
In order for people to feel progress, they must measure their success. However, people often deprive themselves of celebration. Without acknowledging success or milestones, people`s sense of achievement is dulled. To help people feel passionate, help them see their accomplishments, big and small. Help them appreciate what has been achieved, even if the target was missed. Learning from failures and mistakes can also help people feel progress and therefore can keep them engaged in their work.

There are many other drivers of passion in the workplace, but practicing these ones will get you started. Remember that people who coast have a lot to contribute. They just need a leader who can guide them back to (or help them create), a path that will support them in generating a passionate work experience.

They benefit by experiencing job satisfaction and fulfillment, from a greater sense of well-being and from seeing opportunities come to them. The company benefits from having individuals who work in ways that build a company success story, from building the brand to going the extra mile for the client to exceeding expectations. Working passionately is a win-win for all involved! For more information visit www.workpassionately.com

Copyright ©2009 Jacqueline Throop-Robinson
Jacqueline Throop-Robinson, CEO and co-founder of PassionWorks! Inc., is an accomplished speaker, masterful facilitator and skilled coach. She holds a BA, BFA, and MA as well as qualifications in adult education. She has numerous accreditations in a wide variety of learning tools and practices. Jacqueline has worked in the learning and development field as well as corporate management for over 20 years. Her clients include a wide-range of companies in a diversity of industries worldwide.   Jacqueline lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada with her spouse, Evan, and their beautiful daughter, Taylor.

Related links:
Isabelle Allende Tells Tales of Passion
Grateful For Pain That Led To Passion

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