Where's Your Passion?
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“If you want to retain those who are present, be loyal to those who are absent.”

-- Dr. Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

“Learning cannot be disassociated from action.”

-- Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

“The most important measures are both unknown and unknowable.”

-- W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis


Where's Your Passion? by Kevin McManus

First published in Industrial Engineer magazine July 2000

The secret to high performance in any organization can be summed up in six words – capture the hearts of your people.  We all have, at one time or another, had something in our lives that we have felt passionate about, and passion is an emotion that comes from the heart.  Hopefully, we still have an intense burning within us for something in life.  Do you know where your passion is?  If you serve in a leadership role, either at work or away from it, do you know where the passion of each of your people is?  What makes them really passionate?  I bet it is not what you pay them to do.

It is my belief that we go through life each day either searching for or doing things that ignite our inner passion. Possible sources of passion include family, a hobby, music, sports, fly fishing, or helping others as a volunteer.  Doing these things make us feel really good.  Unfortunately, passion is rarely associated with the workplace.  Many people work merely to support their quest for passion outside of work.  Others find passion in doing certain work activities, but dislike or dread doing those that make up a greater percentage of their work day.

Why is this the case?  Dr. Deming stated that “the prevailing system of management has destroyed our people.” He was referring to how management has designed and put in place systems over the years that actually drive intrinsic motivation out of people.  Instead of doing things because they want to, people have become increasingly motivated to either stay out of trouble or to succeed at the expense of others.  To me, passion is the highest form of intrinsic motivation.  If you are looking for it, don’t waste your time looking at most of today’s workplaces.  Here is a hint though – look in the world of sports.

Greg Maddux, the great pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs, recently said in an interview that “you have to have a reason to pitch in order to pitch well.”  Like most activities, pitching is as much mental and emotional as it is physical.  Having a reason to pitch gives one the mental focus necessary and ignites the inner passion needed to use their physical talents to their utmost.  Imagine rephrasing Greg’s statement to make it work-related – you have to have a reason to create that spreadsheet in order to do it well.

I do not know if it is realistic to think that we can ever attach the same amount of passion to work on a widespread basis as we do to our families, our friends, or our community (or our sports teams?).  Work has found its place in our culture, and this place is not a predominantly positive one.  Many people have given up on work being something that they can feel passionate about. We can aspire to regain some of this ground, but in order to do so, we have to consider where this passion went and why it left.

Work and passion used to be more closely aligned.  Think about the artisans and craftsmen that used to take pride in creating something out of metal or wood, the engineers that designed some of our technological wonders, or the scientists that made fantastic discoveries even within the past one hundred years.  People that attach passion to work still exist, but they make up a much smaller percentage of the overall population.  If we want our teams and organizations to perform at higher levels however, we need to find a way to make work something we can take pride in – something we can feel passionate about again.

I believe that in the next ten to fifteen years, we will discover how to measure intrinsic motivation.  Once we do, we will discover how low the motivation (passion) levels in our workplaces actually are.  We will also place much more value on creating and changing systems to help restore what will eventually become the key measure of human performance in the workplace – the passion level.  What gets measured gets done.

A second future trend to look for is an increase in the potential knowledge in use in a given company.  Those jobs in the past that were not necessarily passion inducing (for example, miner or farmer), involved exerting a lot of physical labor over a continuous period of time. In other words, it wore you out repeatedly.  Our jobs have become less physical in a grueling sense over time, which would leave you to believe that passion would also be heightened.  Instead, workplace passion has declined.  There will be organizations that discover how to bring passion back into work and the true power of doing so.  They will be very successful in the low physical effort – high knowledge application workplace.

The connection to industrial engineering is obvious.  As people with industrial engineering skills, we can greatly affect workplace design and the daily tasks people have to do (willing do?).  This is especially true for those of us who have industrial engineering skills and serve in leadership roles.  If we are passionate about our profession, we should also be improving systems and processes to help others feel more passionate about their jobs.  We know how to make work better, and we know how powerful system changes can be in driving behavior change (commitment, not compliance).

Having passion towards one’s work cannot be dictated – it has to come from within.  We can however create an environment that encourages, rather than suppresses or drives out, passion at work.  We can also look within in ourselves to determine the changes we need personally need to make in order to more closely align our jobs with what we really enjoy doing.  In order to bring more passion into the workplace, you first have to find out where it currently is. Where’s your passion?

Consider these two questions.  Where are business people willing to spend or invest large sums of money in people?  What area of personal learning and development do most male executives invest the most in personally each year?  One only has to look at the world of sports to find the answers.  The world of sports is full of both positive emotion and passion.  It is perhaps the only place where many of us have ever felt intense passion and excitement in the presence of many others.  One could argue that the nature of the sports marketplace is what has driven the outrageous investment in human skills that we see in sports, but how about that second question?

If we ever conducted an official study, we would most likely find that male executives easily spend more time and money each year improving their golf skills than they do improving any type of work-related skill.  The results of the comparison would not even be close.  Before you hop on my side of the fence on this one however, think about yourself.  Where do you invest the most time and money for your own skill development?  Where is your passion?

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Last Revised - March 2, 2015