Is your work turning into a passion-killer?

Passion-killer workplace, fire-heart, www.labourflaws.comJust the other day, I’ve heard someone say that the definition of a great culture and a happy workplace is people laughing together.

I say, that’s not it.

To define a workplace as happy because there is much joviality is the same as saying your company culture is great because there is a ping-pong table at work.

Laughter is not what is at the core of a happy workplace. Laughter is the result of something else.

It’s the result of a workplace with little control. It’s the result of a workplace that is fueled by passion.

Don’t control people. Control outcomes.

90% of companies measure performance by numbers. Measuring by numbers necessitates control: Control of every team’s output, control of every individual’s performance, control of your KPIs and KPAs. Now I’m not saying that control is wrong. Just don’t control people. Control outcomes. Ask your employee what it is that makes her heart sing, and tap into that passion in order to improve on your desired outcome.

Let me explain this with an example:

OKRs (objectives and key results) are one of the most popular ways to measure performance. OKRs are like happiness steroids: they boost an employee’s control over their own actions, as they include a healthy portion of self-measurement and flexibility.

You don’t have to reach each goal (objective) at 100%, as a matter of fact, you are expected not to, so there is always room for improvement. (The dangling carrot?) This gives you the flexibility to perhaps dedicate more time to a goal that you are more passionate about, without your manager controlling each one of your objectives and taking you off the list for Friday drinks if you don’t reach them all at 100%.

The key results are like the stepping stones you take to achieve your goal. You break down your goal into bite-size chunks, basically. Your colleagues also have their own OKRs, and your combined OKRs are funneled into the bigger, company-wide goals. Every individual feels like they contribute to the bigger picture and that they are needed. So far, so good.

But OKRs still measure numbers, even if they award you more flexibility and self-control than many other performance tools. They, too, lack passion.

They measure WHAT you do, and not HOW you do it.

Don’t live by a tick list. Live by passion.

Take the example above. Now imagine you have achieved a 80% completion rate for 4 out of 5 of your individual goals for the first quarter of the year. Well done. Are you happy because you can tick them off your list? Or are you happy because you feel passionate about how you achieved your goals; because you found a new way of doing things, which you’d like to share with others? Because you were inspired to go beyond your goals, perhaps help someone else achieve theirs?

Imagine we measured HOW something was done, and not just, IF it was done.  Did I bring a lot of passion to everything I do, and was that seen? Or do only my numbers count? If I applied little passion to achieving my goals, how can I change my attitude towards work?  Or should some of these goals be assigned to someone else?

Perhaps you are just totally depleted of passion. It’s the thing you felt when you got your first job, but now you’re like a deflated rubber duck barely floating above water?

What makes your heart sing?

There are those among us who are just passionate beings. They light up a room. They sink their teeth and hearts into work. They go the extra mile because they feel motivated and ecstatic. If they are not employed, they are probably fantastic TED Speakers in the making. But most of us, even if we start off work passionately, are eventually absorbed by the general mood around us. The mood at work is directly dependent on a number of factors, for instance: how charismatic your leaders are; if your manager praises you; if others ask for your opinion; if you are micromanaged or given room to grow.

Passion can be brought back into the workplace by defining our desired key outcomes not just in numbers, but in what makes our hearts sing. It’s a simple, but effective way – and it’s all about how we use language.

Look at this:

Annual company goal #1: “Increase the number of new customers by 70% year-on-year.”

How can we re-word this to reflect passion?

We want to be that company that clients want to buy from, because they can see and feel the positive energy that goes into everything we do. Let’s see by how much we can increase our new customer-base if we create a workplace that we jump out of bed for, one that makes our hearts sing.”

And HOW would we achieve this, and our other goals? By creating a workplace that runs on rewarding each other; one that offers space for development; one where ideas are heard, needs are met. A workplace that is transparent, and doesn’t shift goal-posts unless everyone agrees. A workplace where meetings are chaired on a rotational basis, and held in a park or on the rooftop; where joy of learning and self-management are company perks; one where if we enter a room as a team, the whole world lights up.

So, why did you laugh at work today? Was it because of a joke a colleague made? Or was it because you feel free, appreciated, and passionate about what you and your company do?


©Barbara du Preez-Ulmi,, 21 February 2020

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