Engagement and Passion

On September 11, 2013, in Analytics, Big Data, HRExaminer, by John Sumser

In other words, the two hippest ideas in the current HR play book (engagement and finding the work you love) are more than a little tenuous. The worst job in a fast growing company can be astonishing because of the freedom and authority that emerge there.

In other words, the two hippest ideas in the current HR play book (engagement and finding the work you love) are more than a little tenuous. The worst job in a fast growing company can be astonishing because of the freedom and authority that emerge there.

There are seven basic elements of any job.

  1. The work itself,
  2. the boss,
  3. the organization’s culture,
  4. the organization’s financial structure (capitalization and cash flow),
  5. the organization’s social capital (Brand, reputation, employment brand)
  6. the organization’s market position and
  7. the economy

If the work you love is happpening in an organization where the other six things are off kilter, you are not going to have fun. Being a mechanical engineer in a dying company will be unpleasant no matter how much you love mechanical engineering. You can be a great mortician but if the company can’t get credit to buy caskets and supplies, there won’t be much business. If you love recruiting and the economy goes south, the pickings will be slim. Being a great petroleum engineer may not be all that cool at a place with a reputation like BP.

In other words, the two hippest ideas in the current HR play book (engagement and finding the work you love) are more than a little tenuous. The worst job in a fast growing company can be astonishing because of the freedom and authority that emerge there. When growth flattens and things tighten up, it’s a different story.

Engagement is every bit as much a personal choice as it is a consequence of the employer. One can choose to love one’s work regardless of the setting and even the work itself.

I got to thinking about this as I had coffee after shopping in the Nordstrom in downtown Seattle.

Brian Campbell, a gregarious 6’5″ black man was working the men’s underwear counter. Underline that. The men’s underwear counter. He asked what I wanted. I said “a brown belt and a couple of shirts for a tall guy. They have to have eight buttons on the front.”

It was an amazing experience as he matched the belt to the shoes I’d just purchased. Then he rushed into the backroom to find shirts in my size. He returned with a cornucopia of choice.

The entire time, he made my experience a delight. As we chatted during the checkout process, he confided in me. “This job has a lot of pressure. It’s driven by numbers. Lots of pressure on the numbers. One day, I just decided to focus on delivering the best customer experience I could. I love giving people great experiences. I let the numbers fall where they may.”

In other words, he made the decision to love his job. Nordstom is a pretty god place to work but the sort of performance Brian delivered is above and beyond. The system can make it possible for Brians to succeed. But they have to choose to do it.

Brian’s success depended on a boss with enough sense to let him work; a culture that encouraged great service; belts and shirts to choose from; a chain that isn’t convinced that retail has died; a brand that made me choose it over the Macy’s next door; and, a Seattle economy that’s heating up.

Engagement is nothing without an aligned infrastructure. Passion is a choice. Great places to work have all of these things firing on time, in the right sequence.

Here’s hoping that China Gorman will (in her new job) broaden the conversation on what makes a great place to work beyond its simplistic current form.

 
  • Rayanne Thorn

    Great post, John – these are actually my favorite kind.
    One of my favorite quotes, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do…” (Steve Jobs)

    I used to direct quite a bit of local theater and one thing I always told my actors was, “If you don’t love the line (you are delivering) the audience will know it and they will no longer believe in your character. Comprehend what the playwright meant and learn to love the line.”

    The same applies to our daily grind – learn to love it or you will never do great work. It may be mediocre or sufficient, but it will never be great. Find something, anything to love about it and then use that as your springboard past the mundane and “things you hate” about your job – and we all have things we hate about our jobs. As a dental assistant for a children’s dentist – I hated when the children cried or dealing with incommunicable parent. As a recruiter, I hated telling candidates they didn’t get the job. As a marketer, I hate when I the slow process of buy-in and confirmation for a particular campaign or project. Very few things to hate when I consider how mush I loved telling a child good job when they didn’t throw up during dental x-rays, or telling a candidate he DID get the job, or having a campaign skyrocket off the charts meeting the high expectations I had set. You learn to love what you don’t so you can really enjoy what you do.

    Brian Campbell is a perfect example of “Until the job means more than the money, the money will never come.” Love those kinds of service experiences. Long may they wave.

    Thanks again!

  • waqueau

    Reminds me of my college class in Existentialism. The instructor was trying to explain what it meant to “live in the moment,” one of the fundamentals of living an authentic existence. He used the example of a waiter. (Several of us in the class could identify.) If you’re waiting tables just to earn money, you will at best do OK. But if you set your goal on being the best possible waiter and giving your customers an unforgettable, wonderful experience, you will not only be happier but richer. Who knew? It worked.

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  • Tarik Taman

    John, thanks for stripping away the emperor’s new clothes about some of the flakiness going on in current HR talk. Your seven point list is a great one for any manager or executive. But most of all I like your final phrase “passion is indeed a choice”.

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