Several years ago, we ran a series of staff focus groups for a professional services firm that was struggling to engage its staff. It wasn’t a sweatshop by any means. The culture was best described as:
(1) high on accountability — aka measurement,
(2) driven by utilization — aka hours, and
(3) heavily crediting tenure — aka promotions below the partner level depended more on years in the role, rather than on adding genuine value to clients.
When I presented the feedback to the managing partner, his immediate response was: “We’ve forgotten how to have fun. We need to fix that in a hurry.” What followed was a change in strategy, focusing on bringing passion back to the work. We called it “passion for client value.” That was the outward message to staff. The private message to partners was: “take a passion pill each morning and make sure it’s a 12-hour pill. :)”
Don’t confuse passion with a visible display of enthusiasm or sheer extroverted energy. Passion means genuine dedication to the job, to clients and to people. Passionate people wake up each morning excited to go to work and are energized by what they do; adding real value to their clients, not just putting in measured hours. They may be calm and thoughtful, or they may be dramatic and vocal. What they have in common is a deep belief in the importance of their efforts, evidenced by dedication and focused hard work. And they smile which makes their energy contagious.
Passion cascades quickly through levels of a firm. When a firm’s partners are passionate, its staff will be passionate and visa versa. That was the problem with the firm for which we did the staff focus groups. Partners walked around like their work was drudgery, burdening their lives with what they needed to do to make a living. Our job was to help the partners change this behavior, and they did over the next year. It was one of the most exciting turnarounds I’ve ever seen. And it was quickly reflected in business results, decreased staff turnover and higher staff engagement. Bravo for the leaders of that firm! They had real courage.