Building passion for results is critical

Most leaders I speak with are now engaged in one or more types of transformation. Their business has changed, they are responding or getting ahead, but many are not seeing the expected transformation results. Why?

An often-overlooked fact is that a successful transformation requires passion. 

I think we can all agree that thanks to Covid, passion has been difficult to sustain and is now at a low ebb. This is partly due to worker fatigue, and leaders face the challenge of rebuilding when many of our people are exhausted, and we may still face years of uncertainty. However, it is no small challenge and must be high on the leadership agenda.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with some expert researchers from The Ken Blanchard Companies who have studied employee engagement for more than 15 years, and they helped me reframe my understanding. Passion is more important than engagement, they told me.

Leadership and HR sites have been aflame with articles about employee engagement for the last couple of years. We have heard so much about how employee engagement would be a crucial differentiator. But many experts failed to mention how critical passion for work is. Many organisations do not understand that if your people are passionate, they trust their leaders, endorse your organisation, and go above and beyond. In times like these, this is the differentiator.

The pandemic has meant that leaders have had to shift business models and ways of working often and immediately. All this took a toll on culture and passion. Dobie Huson, a senior researcher on employee engagement, shared during a recent expert panel on this subject that 2 out of 3 organisations globally are focusing on building a more robust culture.

Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers agrees with this. A lack of passion, and the ability to build it, kills productivity and potential. Research by Gallup has also found that this inability costs US$350 billion in lost productivity per year. 

The next question is what drives passion, and what can leaders do about it? Will it require passionate appeals and speeches by senior leaders or clever internal marketing campaigns? No. Research suggests strategic leadership has only an indirect effect on passion. It is the activities and perceptions of your operational leadership that make the difference here.

Operational leaders are the ones who have a massive direct impact on employee work passion and customer devotion. Think about it. We may think that it’s over the top but look at the experiences provided by Apple and Starbucks. There is no denying that passionate people treat customers better and bring them back.

Passion goes way beyond the so-called critical employee engagement. Engagement is important for creating a satisfied workforce. But when leaders need more (like now), and people have already given so much, engagement alone will not produce the behaviours your business needs.

Leaders need to build passion at multiple levels. Exactly how you can do this will depend on your organisation, industry and, to some extent, your organisational DNA. However, passion for work comes from how well employees understand what is going on in your culture, what they see happening — or not happening. If they like what they see, they will be impassioned. If they do not, they will stay as they are. Leaders can approach passion building by:

  • Ensuring your people see purpose in their work and have the freedom to as much as possible decide how they can make a difference. Additionally, ensure jobs are varied, and everyone perceives work is shared fairly and equitably. A perception of playing favourites will kill passion across the workforce quickly.
  • Ensuring your people see some potential to grow in their roles and careers with you (especially in times like these), are clear on expectations, and again believe all are treated equally positively is essential.
  • Ensuring your people get feedback that helps them improve, and connect to their leaders and the people they work with is important. This is a challenge at a time when collaboration has become more complicated but more essential than ever.

Where to start? Start by having conversations that answer the above. You cannot change results until you build a passion for action. The results you are getting are a result of your people’s passion. Look at what is going on in your organisation to see what is blocking change, creativity, innovation and passion.

The blocks as well as the cures are already in place, but it will take multiple dialogues to set your people free. Use the considerations above to judge how passionate your people are feeling. Use the insights they share to identify what needs doing to make them even more passionate.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Talk to us about how SEAC can help your business during times of uncertainty at

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