Sunday, November 29, 2009

Passion: The Defining Success Factor in the 21st Century?

The business world is changing.  Where once people horded information in the belief (conscious or otherwise) doing so bestowed power, we are now seeing a Social Media revolution within the corporate world.  The same tools that consumers use to tweet, share, network, rate, and friend each other are becoming commonplace inside organizations.  This is more than just a change of tools and software;  it is a revolution in the way people work, collaborate, and manage their careers.

Increasingly, it no longer pays to protect and manage information--knowledge withheld is no better than a lack of knowledge in the first place.  Instead, employees are now promoting themselves and increasing their networks by sharing what they know, contributing where they can, and increasing their knowledge via interactions and experiences throughout the enterprise.

While the transparency of knowledge and information is increasing within organizations, we are also seeing transparency increase outside the organization.  Employees are not employees only between 8 and 5--their  actions on social networks are visible to peers, bosses, business leaders, competitors, and customers.  The things people say and do "personally" are no longer just personal, and we've seen instances of employees helping and hindering both their own careers and their employers' objectives as a result of tweets, status updates, and other activities on social networks.

In an age of transparency--where information is more available and your personal and work selves are more intertwined than ever--what will define success for individuals in their careers?

Education?  As the downturn and executive layoffs have demonstrated, a degree is no guarantee of success; employers want to know not just what degree you earned but how you've applied that education to deliver results.

Communication skills?  Certainly folks who can express themselves, communicate effectively, and know their way around LinkedIn and other social networks are in demand, but these are not difficult skills to find nowadays.  Within most organizations, communication skills are table stakes and not the differentiating factor for success.

I'd propose that the defining factor for success will become passion.  Passionate people are committed not because they get a paycheck but because they believe in what they do;  passionate people don't keep their skills up to date because they are told to but because standing still simply is not an option; and passionate people are driven by what they possess inside rather than what happens around them.  Passionate people see things others do not, stretch to get the job done, are more willing to embrace risks, and are their own harshest critics.

Frank Eliason is a passionate guy.  Eighteen months ago he had some free time during a weekend, and rather than watching football he instead checked his email and monitored Twitter for what was being said about his employer, Comcast.  Eliason famously intercepted tweets from tech blogger Michael Arrington, and rather than wait until Monday or pass along the problem to someone working, Eliason instead picked up the phone, called Arrington, and resolved both an individual's technical problem and a potentially damaging PR problem for Comcast.  His passion has earned him and his program, ComcastCares, wide media attention and his CEO notes that Eliason's work on Twitter has "changed the culture of our company".  The brightest and most educated dispassionate clock puncher couldn't hope to achieve a fraction of what Frank has.

Another favorite example of mine is Mary Moss, a McDonald's drive-thru employee in Chandler, AZ.  She considers working at McDonald's more than just a job, and when she takes vacation, she misses her customers-- "My children are grown and gone, and my customers have really become my family."  She says when people come through her window, "it's my mission to make them smile."  Passionate people have missions--not just jobs--and Mary's mission has made her famous (including a Facebook fan group and news reports about this lovely woman) and McDonald's "management loves the business she brings in."

The passion of people like Frank and Mary don't just result in a job well done; their contributions transcend their jobs.  These two individuals have had a disproportionately positively impact upon their customers, business, and even the brand image of their employers.  Imagine the effect an army of Frank's or Mary's could have upon your organization.

Are you a Frank or Mary?  Are you passionate about your work, industry, employer, or career?  Does it show?  When potential employers visit your Twitter stream or Facebook page, will they see more passion for drinks on Saturday night, Mafia Wars, or a favorite sports team than they will for your profession?   Or does your Social Media profile demonstrate you to be someone who can't leave his or her job at work, is always sharing links and news about their industry, and builds positive relationships with peers and friends?

Education grows stale.  Skills come and go.  Hard work is commonplace and expected.  Passion is the only consistent and differentiating factor.  And in a transparent world, one's passion (or lack thereof) cannot be hidden, faked (for very long), or manufactured.

What are you passionate about?

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4 comments:

Sue Spaight said...

Great post. I am passionate about this paragraph:

"Passionate people are committed not because they get a paycheck but because they believe in what they do; passionate people don't keep their skills up to date because they are told to but because standing still simply is not an option; and passionate people are driven by what they possess inside rather than what happens around them. Passionate people see things others do not, stretch to get the job done, are more willing to embrace risks, and are their own harshest critics."

The fact that passionate people do stretch, take risks, and constantly push for greatness is - in the best circumstances - contagious. What client or customer doesn't want to work with passionate partners?

I agree with you wholeheartedly, and believe that cultures of passion - e.g. Zappos - create a considerable competitive advantage for themselves.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Sue Spaight

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Sue.

Since I posted my article, I've been left with two remaining questions (perhaps for future posts):

- What happens to people who just aren't passionate or can't find something to be passionate about? (Can we require passion? If it's contagious--as you suggested--can people catch it from each other?)

- How can we institutionalize this? Employment folks love knowledge, skills and abilities--they are (largely) quantitative and easy to determine; but what about passionate, which is qualitative? How do we fashion hiring, training, and promotion processes in a way that recognizes the need for passion?

Thoughts?

ascottallison said...

Spot on. This is what has made companies like Zappos so successful. Passion, transparency and authenticity. For some strong views on the importance of passion just listen to what Gary Vaynerchuk has to say about it.

bali villa rental said...

I agree - when hiring, one of the most important elements is "is this person passionate for this job?" In the end, passion will triumph over everything - if a person is passionate, they will make those extra steps necessary to go from meeting the requirements to exceeding the requirements.