NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF PASSION

Nietzsche (or Madam de Stael or someone called Angela Monet) said “Those who dance are always considered crazy by those who can’t hear the music”.

I was recently contacted by an ex colleague who wanted to know if I still had the notes of a speech that I had made some 10 years ago during my time at SAP, when I had stated that SAP stood for “Strength Action Passion”. I had always preferred this particular interpretation (or Software and People) during my time there, rather than the actual German “Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte in der Datenverarbeitung” (Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing), as despite this accurate acronym being possibly quite catchy in German, it was hard to use it as the core of a stirring speech to staff.

Author: amadeusm; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: amadeusm; via Wikimedia Commons


I didn’t have the notes requested, but it did enable us to have an electronic conversation about the importance of passionate employees in delivering business success.

I had always tended to agree with French writer and philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784) who said “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things”, so was somewhat surprised to hear that there are many managers who believe that passionate employees are more of a pain than a pleasure, and that they would prefer to have employees who just want to come to work and do a good job.

As I have often said (somewhat tongue in cheek) that the test of a good manager is whether his people will get up on a Monday morning at 6.00am on a cold, wet winter day and say “thank goodness the weekend is now over and I can get back to work”, I have long been an advocate of the importance of creating passionate employees, rather than just expecting people to do their job well.

But now I was starting to wonder whether I had been over-romanticising the whole idea of passionate employees. Could a manager actually cope with a team of 10 or 20 people who were all wildly passionate about what they were doing ? How much passion did people need to be successful ?

Living in the Bordeaux region, I have many friends who are winemakers. Some are wildly passionate about wine and talk about nothing else, and others are clever business people who see the whole wine industry as a way of making a good living and supporting an interesting and rewarding lifestyle, these “producteurs” being enthusiastic rather than passionate. In most cases (pun intended) the “wine passionatas” are generally less successful than the “business enthusiasts”. Those driven by passion can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to achieve miniscule improvements in their wines, often well beyond the tasting skills of their consumer market, whereas the business people make great and saleable wine, and then focus their time on trying to build their penetration and sales in their markets, in what is an increasingly competitive business environment.

Author: Benjamin Zingg; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Benjamin Zingg; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons


In the wine industry, one needs to be enthusiastic about wine, but in the end it will be those who understand that to survive and prosper, as in all other industries, any business success is much more multifaceted than just a love and a passion for the product.

The dictionary defines passion as “A strong and extravagant enthusiasm, fondness, love or desire for something”.

I have no issue with the definition, but I am a bit bothered by the use of the word “extravagant”.

Some of the most annoying people I have known, and worked with, had an “extravagant enthusiasm” for what they were doing, whenever and however they were doing it. One I have never forgotten was at that time my west coast State manager who would often call me with his latest and greatest idea, late at night his time, with no regard for the fact that I was 3 hours ahead of him on the east coast. No matter how many times I told him not to call me after 11.00pm east coast time, he continued to call whenever his passion for his own brilliance overpowered his understanding of time or tolerance. He exhibited this same level of passion in everything that he did.

He was a highly successful manager, and I did not want to dampen his enthusiasm, but there is no way that I could have been successful, nor could I have stayed sane and survived, had my entire team of about 15 direct reports possessed this same level of passion. I was more than content to mainly have a hard working, and enthusiastic team who did what was needed and a bit more.

The question is “at what point does passion morph into fanaticism and obsession, and how much can any manager or organisation handle successfully ?”

For companies to be successful, I believe that they do need some passionate employees, as passionate people tend to be unreasonable and it is unreasonable people who drive change.

However, organisations also need people who are just seriously committed to doing a great job and are enthusiastic about what they do, even if they hate getting up at 6.00am on a wet Monday morning to start the work week, and take the time to understand the world’s different time zones.

I have come to the conclusion that it is exciting to have some passionate people in our lives, and that we should all at least be enthusiastic about many things, whether it is work, sport, hobbies or our families, but that being surrounded by only seriously passionate people would be more than most of us could bear.

On this subject, I do like the words of a founding father of the USA, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins”.

Author: Joseph Siffred Duplessis; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Joseph Siffred Duplessis; via Wikimedia Commons


HUMAN ENERGY IS THE GREATEST RENEWABLE RESOURCE

The dictionary defines renewable energy as “any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy, such as biomass, solar, wind, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric powerthat is not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel.”

I was in India last year running some management development programmes at SAP Labs in Bangalore. One group of young managers were incredibly enthusiastic and threw themselves into the programme with passion and high energy, and were thrilled that we were going to have a follow-up session the next morning. When I told them that the only way we could get through the agenda of the next day’s session would be to start at 6.00am, the drop in enthusiasm and energy in the room was immediately visible, as many of them would have to get up at 4.00am to be able to be in the office on time, which meant that they would only get about 4 hours sleep that night. The relief in the room was immediate and visible when I told them that I was just kidding and that we would actually be starting at 9.00am.

Author: Amol.Gaitonde (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


I pointed out to them that if instead of saying that they would have to get up at 4.00am to attend some management training, I had invited them to have breakfast at my hotel with me at 6.00am, and that my special guests would be Aishwarya Rai (Miss World 1994) or Shilpa Shetty (stunning Bollywood star), or even more importantly Sourav Ganguly, India’s most successful cricket captain ever, they would have reacted totally differently.

Author: Aishwarya_rai_1.jpg: lifi crystal; via Wikimedia Commons


Instead of the immediate drop in energy there would have actually been a palpable surge of energy and excitement, and that instead of worrying about only getting 4 hours sleep most of them would have spent the night sitting wide awake in my hotel lobby to make sure that they were at the breakfast on time.

Human energy is a wonderful, renewable and almost limitless resource.

We live in a world beset with energy issues, struggling with our dependence on fossil fuels and our nervousness about nuclear power, yet not moving quickly enough to replace these with sustainable energy sources, resulting in ever climbing energy costs. As a result most companies have implemented major programmes to cut their energy usage based on their commitment to being good citizens and their contribution to “save the planet”, and the simple truth that it makes really good business sense to save money on energy use. For example, I am aware that SAP has a programme to cut their energy costs by 50% by 2015. As a shareholder I heartily approve of this initiative.

Author: Kwerdenker (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


As a frequent traveller, I do however find it a source of amusement that hotels ask you to reuse your towels to help the environment, rather than the fact that they have worked out what it actually costs to wash a towel every day, and it makes seriously good business sense to save money wherever you can. The latter reasoning would actually convince me more to not drop my towels on the floor after use.

I find all these moves to save money on energy use highly laudable, and it’s one of the reasons that I serve on the boards of both Carbon Guerrilla and PE International, both being companies that are focussed on helping their customers to achieve this.

What I don’t understand is that so few companies have programmes to try at the same time to increase the energy outputs of their people, as the returns to the business could be even greater if management understood how to harness this limitless source of energy.

Whilst I do not question its importance I am not talking specifically just about passion in this instance, as I have seen people who can show awe inspiring passion for 2 hours every week while lounging on their sofa in front of their TV to watch their sports team play, but who show very little real energy in their lives.

I am also sure that there are many people who can show passion when talking about their employer, particularly when things are going well and the share price is strong, and that there are a lot of people who work more than the required weekly hours as defined by unions and/or government, but energy is more than about working long hours and having pride in one’s company.

The challenge is … How can a manager build the sort of energetic commitment that most people can exhibit which results in them having no problem getting up at 5.00am for something like a round of golf, but then struggle to get out of bed on a workday ?

How do we create, sustain and build up the same high level of excitement, fun, pleasure, commitmentand feeling of achievement at work that people can find with little effort outside of it ?

I have always believed that the only role of management is to create an environment where people can be unbelievably successful, in whichever way that individuals variably define “success”. However this means that we have to be able to create a work environment that people find as attractive as their leisure alternatives, which means they need to be able to get up on a wet Monday morning in the depths of winter and think “thank goodness the weekend is over and I can now spend 5 days at work”.

I have only 3 criteria that serve as a starting point for this state of nirvana.
– Only do a job you love
– Only work for a boss you can respect
– Only work for a company you can be proud of

The role of management is to ensure that people are able to achieve these, as only then can you have the springboard to develop the passion, engagement and commitment in your people which will then give you a chance to harness the unlimited energy source that exists in humans.