In an earlier post, we had explored a vital ingredient missing in employee engagement initiatives, and high performance – employees’ passion. But, how did researchers arrive at this finding?

John Hagel, Co-Chairman of Deloitte’s Center for Edge, and his colleagues, studied employees who consistently improved their performance under situations of rapid change. They found three common attributes in them:

  • A long-term commitment to making a significant impact in a domain
  • A questing disposition that actively seeks out new challenge to improve faster
  • A connecting disposition that seeks to build trust-based relationships with others

According to Hagel, “tapping into this kind of passion can shift individuals from the fear of change or failure, to excitement about the opportunity.” In fact, 71% of passionate employees work extra hours even though they are not required to. And more than two-thirds believe that their company’s future is bright.

So how do we activate such passion? Here are some ideas:

  1. Be what you want them to be. As with most behavior change initiatives, leading by example is foundational. If you act with passion, people will notice. This helps in two ways:
  • By making your own passion visible through action, you encourage others to embrace problems and take risks. People learn how work gets done, by observing how you, their manager works.
  • Your actions will attract other passionate workers. Find and connect with them. Connect them with each other too, so they can offer mutual support and share best practices.
  1. Set the context. Help employees get a sense of the organization beyond their day-to-day tasks—how their work fits into the unit’s goals, and how the work of the unit aligns with the company’s goal. This develops perspective. Called context setting, this practice helps people feel more committed.

Remember this parable. A traveler once comes upon three people laboring and asks them what they are doing. “I am laying bricks,” says the first worker. “I am building a wall,” says the second. But the third worker answers, “I am building a great cathedral that will host monumental events: marriages, baptisms, and funerals.” Help your employees see the monumental events, the walls, and cathedrals.

  1. Remove obstacles. As Alexander Den Heijer says, when a flower doesn’t bloom, fix the environment in which it blooms; not the flower itself. Similarly, if you see your employees lacking passion, look at what’s hindering it. Remove those factors – overly prescriptive processes, reporting requirements, micromanagement, etc. And create a culture where mistakes are okay, risks are celebrated.

It may seem like passion is something nice to have. But, if we truly acknowledge how rapidly our workplaces and market demands are changing, we’ll realize that passion with a focus on learning is the way forward.

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