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
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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“The only thing I know is that I do not know it all.” -- Socrates