The Productivity of Passion

By Lawler Kang

Why do some people, teams, and even entire organizations seem to excel, particularly in the face of daunting odds? They may not have the best product or service on the market (yet); they may be in the midst of that cantankerous process of trying to figure, or re-figure, what their life or work niche might be.

So what is it that can generate that glow that seems to envelop their respective bodies? What is the secret that can keep people merrily working until all hours of the night, that can transcend all the petty in-fighting and time-sucking political maneuvering that plagues most organizations? What causes the coalescence of enterprise thought, the dismantling of silos, and the ability to happily report to your matrix?

Intuitively, you know the answer (without even reading the title of this piece). Having and instilling a passion for your work (and life) is a surefire way to draw on your and your team’s best efforts. And framing these passions in the context of a personal and corporate mission only removes another layer of obliqueness from the filters of your Life’s Work.

Why does passion play such a role in increasing productivity? There are a few reasons. First, and not to belabor the obvious: passionate people are, for the most part, happy. From a workplace and “workmind” standpoint, being happy is worth its weight in oil. Do you think your performance would increase if Peg around the corner would simply stop nagging you about her boss? If your team meetings carried an air of optimism in lieu of that uncanny glum feeling of “I’d rather be anywhere, even a tax audit, than here”? Happiness breeds happiness and team happiness breeds performance of a multiplicative scale.

Another productive benefit of working your passions is focus. You have mooted out or de-prioritized the bevy of ‘things that must get done or the sky will fall.’ (And to my knowledge, no skies have fallen, save a few raindrops in Los Angeles, as of the time this piece was written). You know what is important to you and your team and you are pushing forward with the strength of Goliath and the precision of David. What a powerful combination! 

A final performance booster generated by swallowing the passion pill is that your personal and team goals will be as closely aligned as they ever can be. This interplay between matching your personal passions with the objectives of your group is the application that kills moribund results.

Here are two questions you can ask yourself – right now – to spark your synapses into impassioned action and generate better productivity in your organization:

  • Are we on the same page?  Do your reports share your personal and corporate goals? How aligned are their passions, proficiencies, values and priorities with the demands of your objectives and your own assets and liabilities as a manager? Have you noticed tensions that can only be partially explained, even by conjecture, that are impeding your team’s progress?

If so, you need to do some digging to first unearth these potential misalignments and then bury them in the fertile earth of reality, and this can mean making some objective decisions about who you want and need working with you. Remember, the flipside of this argument is also true: low passion encourages and enables low productivity.

  • How can I leverage my colleague’s collective passions, proficiencies and priorities?   First, you must identify what they are for each individual and then run them through a reality check for good measure.

What you discover may be surprising. Passions you never expected people to manifest explode from their casings. Proficiencies – both strengths and weaknesses – are understood and compared (remember, you want teams whose strengths in aggregate are fit for the task). Rich life experiences your employees can contribute and even a glimpse of their dreams come to light. And what is important to them in life, work and compensation are clarified.

Having access to this information can be incredibly powerful in a variety of contexts. Harnessing their passions with flexible straps will have a pronounced effect on their performance. Matching their assets and downplaying their liabilities also helps. Being able to reward them in a variety of means that are specific to their individual desires doesn’t hurt either. A case of wine or a day at the spa can produce much more than mere drunken relaxation.

  • Let your employee’s passions shine. Encourage them to bring something in that represents their passions and start off your weekly check-in meeting with a quick, five minute show and tell as to the finer points of macramé, cooking, fishing or surfing. You can also look to see how you might be able to incorporate even the slightest nuance of their passions into their personal and team’s daily lives, communications and surroundings: a nickname, new award, art on a wall, dedication of a particular process devised by the employee after his favorite fishing hole, etc. Get your team’s creative juices flowing!

What is truly noteworthy is how the mere fact you are going through this process with your employees and your willingness to incorporate their inputs into their working environment creates a gravity around meeting your (in the plural sense) targets that is hard to pull away from.

This last point deserves some additional support. Going through these processes can be a testing and trying process; things oftentimes need to get ‘worse’ before they get better, though without getting ‘worse’ they will never improve. Attrition spanning the range of performance review results may increase in the short-term and nobody but a few blessed and masochistic souls really enjoys change, no matter what they say.

The support is this: we all should, and dare I say MUST think hard about integrating the productive power of our passions into our work. Our economy is not growing by gains in our export sector, and there is only so much increase in productivity that can be wreaked from IT advances, down and out-sizing, and mobile working. It is the passions of the American workforce, whose education, fortitude and resources are the envy of the world, and their creative uses that will be a significant factor in keeping our nation’s economy, and our way of life, under our control.

Read other articles and learn more about Lawler Kang.

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