John Hagel – The need for instilling passion

From my point of view, instilling passion in companies is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities. We’ve done a lot of research around passion and from our perspective passion becomes important not just for the kind of human potential dimensions, but focusing on just business performance if you want performance in your business and in an environment where we have increasing pressure, I think all of us need performance and a rapidly improving performance. And from our research at least you don’t get that without high degrees of passion among your employees, among your workers. So I think part of it has to do with nurturing passion that already exist. There are workers who are passionate about what they do and yet they often find their passion is discouraged and suppressed as opposed to embraced and rewarded.

And they become examples to other people. If somebody with passion is put down or disillusioned as a result of pursuing their passion, other people take notice and say, “Well, that’s not good. It doesn’t help to advance you if you have passion.” So I think part of it is encouraging those who already have passion. Part of it is finding ways to re-define jobs. One of the things I’ve encountered around passion is people say, “Well yes, you can be passionate if you’re a software engineer or if you’re product designer but if you’re doing very mundane repetitive tasks like the frontline of an assembly manufacturing operation, how could you every be a passionate about that kind of work? That’s not reasonable. It’s not feasible.” And yet the example I’d like to give is what Toyota did in their assembly line operations where they redefined the job and they said yes, you have some repetitive tasks that is part of the job but you’re real job is to identify problems. There are problems that surface all the time, everyday on the assembly line. Your job is to identify those problems and to solve those problems and you’ll be recognized for doing that.

And by the way if you can’t solve the problem we will put a pull cord next to your station and you’d pull that cord if you cannot solve the problem. The entire assembly line will stop and we will bring together a team of people to work with you to solve that problem, and you will be a hero for having pulled that cord because you’ve identified a problem. And passion levels went way up in the Toyota assembly line because now people saw themselves as creative problem solvers who were making a difference to the operation of the company; they could stop the entire assembly line. And so I think there’s a major lesson there that you can develop passion in people who may not have it to begin with and you can develop passion in virtually any worker in any part of the company. It’s not just the creative knowledge workers.

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