The trouble with passion and purpose at work

Passion and purpose. Everything you need to get started with motivation. Right?

Many HR professionals and leaders seem convinced today that the key to motivating workers is to unlock and release their passion. But will it work?

At the ASTD2013 ICE this year, I heard from 4 people about this topic and my first impression was one of inspiration (again) and awe (again) at how right they were, how amazing their stories were and how cool the results they got were. But today, no longer under the influence of conference-buzz, I’m not so sure. MAYBE only one of their stories is relevant…

 

Person number 1: Sir Ken Robinson told us that people need to find their “element”. The “element” is the true passion each person has that is the driving spirit of intrinsic motivation. Find it and work is no longer work – it’s joy for which you are paid. Sound great!

Persons number 2 and 3 Jon and Owen from “The Passing Zone”, confirmed Sir Ken’s speech: If you really love it and want it, just do it and great things will follow. They told me that it might be tough, but that you shouldn’t worry about going for it.

But how is this relevant for leaders and the HR folk who want to motivate people? I worry that it is not. Is it possible to use the idea of passion and purpose to motivate people in an organisation? Or is it a dream that will create lots of buzz, but ultimately go nowhere?

 

Maybe if we back-track a little and define motivation, it may help. Two possibilities come to mind:

  • Verb “to motivate” = to give someone a reason or motive to act
  • Noun “motivation” = something you have that drives you to act

Thinking of the verb, we could imagine that HR and leaders will need to find the ways in which they can push or pull people working towards awesomeness. In the past, they may have focused more on carrots and sticks, but today the tendency is to talk about unlocking passion and purpose. But how exactly are they planning on doing this? My passion is surfing … Good luck putting that to work!

Thinking of the noun, motivation is something you have (or don’t have). It’s not something you will give to me. If I am not passionate about accounting, you can’t make me passionate about it. And if you aren’t interested in my music passion in your company, we are in trouble…

 

So here is the problem as I see it: Passion and purpose is what motivates people and the best results come from finding it and unlocking it. HR and leaders need to release this passion. But you can’t give it to someone. So what do you do?

 

I see two approaches:

 

Person number 4 at the ASTD conference was Rick Lozano, who told us that one day his manager asked him: “What are you passionate about?” Rick replied “I like developing courses” and his manager said: “That’s not what I mean. I mean “passionate”…” Rick hesitatingly replied “music” and his manager instructed him to find ways to bring THAT to work.

Read my TU100 session notes here to find out what he did

This first approach is an example of a manager (leader, HR..) using the concept of passion to motivate someone and get better results. I love the story and seeing how Rick has integrated music into his work as a trainer is very inspiring. I just don’t believe that those kind of stories are so evident or possible in every job. If a call-centre agent loves stripping (I met one!) she can’t put THAT to work. And how can the average banker bring his love of circus, golf or fishing to work?

 

The second approach is, in my mind, the only real workable solution and probably the one intended by Sir Ken Robinson: Schooling for and spotting passion and recruiting passion for your company.

What would this mean? Firstly, it means that at school, we need to create environments that allow each individual amazing little human being to figure out what they love. Robinson spoke about this in his famous TED speech. To achieve this, we will need to let go of our wish to produce standardised “good” students who pass all the same tests to all the same standards.

Then we will have to help people who have found their passion to put it to work. We will need to help people to navigate the vast myriad of existing and future possibilities in order to find the place to add value to the world via their work.

And companies will need to do a better job of recruiting the right people for the right jobs. They would not recruit for knowledge and skills and spend their time trying to motivate people to be passionate. They need to look for the people who have the right passion and drive already and (if necessary) develop the missing knowledge and skills later .. ..whilst just trying not to screw up the natural motivation that is already there.

 

In my opinion, if everyone were doing what she really loved and doing it well the world would indeed be a better place. We need to help people find that passion before they look for work, then recruit to get the right people in the right jobs. The rest will follow all by itself…

Are you feeling passionate at work?

 

 

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About Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

Posted on June 20, 2013, in Leadership, Self-Effectiveness and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Dan – hi! Rick Lozano actually pointed me to this article. I love it. And I think you’re right. How do we take the hypothetical “bring your passion to work” idea and make it real?

    This reminded me of an exercise I do when brainstorming blogging ideas. I call it “Jellyfish blogging”. What do you think?

    In your case, the question could be – how can we bring the principles, strategies, beliefs, or even energy of the circus to banking? I think there is more of a link there than we see at first glance… and if we made a link we’d definitely be one of the few to enhance a business strategy with that!

    http://victoriamontemayor.com/2013/07/02/jellyfish-blogging-how-to-brainstorm-blog-post-ideas/

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