- The work itself,
- the boss,
- the organization’s culture,
- the organization’s financial structure (capitalization and cash flow),
- the organization’s social capital (Brand, reputation, employment brand)
- the organization’s market position and
- 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.