Passion vs. Productivity

May 28, 2012 by Jonathan Becher 0

At our recent annual user conference, I caught up with another senior executive who told me about a new technique his company was using to motivate employees. The idea was to go beyond traditional motivational techniques to cultivate passionate employees who believe in what they are doing with an almost religious zeal. Passionate employees, he claimed, are more likely to do a good job.

Given my performance management background, I wasn’t convinced that passion necessarily leads to better results. I agree passionate employees are usually motivated to work harder which can improve activity metrics. But if the passion is misdirected, employees might be working on the wrong activities and become less productive. In the language of the logic model, passionate activities increase outputs but don’t necessarily lead to the right outcome.

Passion or productivity? Apparently I’m not the only one to wonder about this trade-off. David Armano writes:

There are actually few organizations that can support passionate employees—even if they say they want them. That’s because the original industrial revolution was designed to support productivity […] Managers want passionate employees, but don’t always know how to manage them. Passionate employees question things, probe and push. Who’s got the time to deal with that? Productive employees get things done. No questions asked.

I can’t say I agree with the sentiment but it’s certainly a provocative idea. Managers say we want people to think outside the box, to have an entrepreneurial mindset, and a relentless search for the better way. But maybe, deep down, we just want them to do what we say.

I’m left thinking that it’s good to follow your passion. But you need to make sure the passion is productive. What do you think?

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