Some years ago, we hired a young lady as a general office manager. Suzanne* arranged the meeting rooms, catering, travel arrangements and so on. She was hardworking but reserved – she quietly got on with the job and largely kept to herself. In her spare time, she loved singing.
The end-of-year function was coming up, and the CEO was looking to save costs. Someone suggested that we could save on the entertainment bill by asking Suzanne to perform a few songs. She readily agreed.
When it came time for Suzanne to perform, people weren’t expecting much. She was very shy around the office, and people couldn’t imagine her outside of that context. How wrong they were! She came out on stage and totally blew people away with her talent. (By the way, I switched on the TV five years later to see Suzanne as one of the top 10 finalists on Idols, so she truly was talented).
What was really amazing about this performance was the impact it had when Suzanne went back to work the next Monday. People looked at her with a new-found respect. People who didn’t even know she existed before now actively engaged her in conversation. And her self-confidence soared. It was incredible to see.
What if we could scale this up? What if we gave every employee the opportunity to bring their passion into the workplace? What if this was encouraged, even expected? Imagine the impact it would have on the way people feel about each other and the company.
The power of passion
Unfortunately, very few people can say that their work is their passion. Work is something you have to do – following your passion is something you love to do.
Whenever I interview potential employees, I always ask them what they’re passionate about. The reason is that if I can align the job vacancy with the candidate’s true passion, then the employee will feel that the work is meaningful, he or she will bring greater energy and enthusiasm to the job, and loyalty will increase. Of course, this is not always possible. For example, it’s difficult to align a passion for painting with a job as a filing clerk. However, if we could somehow bring their passion into the workplace – not necessarily into their everyday job function – then we might be able to tap into some of the benefits mentioned above.
Adapting a precedent
Google famously pioneered a policy called 20% Innovation Time, where engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on work-related projects that interest them but are not necessarily in their job descriptions. Incredibly, this policy has led to nearly half of all new product launches (including such services as Gmail, Google News and Adsense).
What if we adapted this policy into “10% Passion Time” – where employees are given the freedom to spend 10% of their work-time bringing their passions into the workplace. The passion doesn’t have to be work-related at all, as long as it can be brought into the work environment or involve fellow employees.
A cynic might argue that this idea will result in 10% lower productivity, since people now have 10% less time to do their jobs. In practice, however, it is likely to make people more productive. Yes, they will have less time to do their jobs. But the extra energy and enthusiasm that they bring to the other 90% should more than compensate. In addition, it should lead to greater loyalty and lower turnover.
How could this work in practice?
Each employee would firstly specify what their passion is. They would then be encouraged to think how to bring that passion into the workplace, and given the freedom to practise it.
So the filing clerk who is passionate about painting might arrange an exhibition of her work in the company foyer. The accountant who is passionate about cooking might arrange a cooking demo in the company kitchen for whoever is interested. The brand manager who is passionate about helping underprivileged kids might form a group of like-minded people in the company and start a company volunteer programme. And so on.
People would start thinking differently about their jobs, the company, and each other. Worth a try?**
* Not her real name.
** If you do give it a try, let me know how it goes at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Gavin Symanowitz is the founder of FeedbackRocket.com, an award-winning online innovation that enables management feedback.