We all know that it’s important to ignite passion in a business organization, but we don’t all know that it’s equally important not to generate too much passion. There’s a direct relationship between passion and the propensity for chaos, so the more passion you ignite, the more governance you need to effectively channel the energy.
Not all missions require a high level of passion. Transformation, or the creation of something new, requires a high degree of physical and emotional energy, but maintaining an established business does not. If you don’t need a high level of passion, don’t generate it because in the worst case it will cause chaos and in the best it will demand increased management oversight.
We’ve all seen organizations that don’t have enough energy to accomplish their mission. Those are the ones that eventually get overtaken in the market. But have you ever seen an organization with too much energy and passion? I once mistakenly created this dynamic. A Fortune 500 company brought me in to transform their Information Technology (IT) organization because their services had fallen behind the industry. We were able to arouse a high level of passion in the group by defining a compelling purpose of technology transformation that would benefit customers and internal users. The problem was that we created the passion before we had all of the governing mechanisms in place. As a result, some teams and individuals went off in frenzied directions, pursuing technologies that weren’t part of our standard architecture and solutions that weren’t part of our plans. I remember one team in particular that spent several months writing an application in a language that they knew well and could rapidly write, yet it didn’t integrate with anything else we were using. Although they thought they were helping to achieve our mission, they were spending valuable time and money going in a contrary direction. We had to quickly put better governance in place.
When there is a high level of intensity in an organization, a high level of direction is needed to keep it orderly. This direction is needed to ensure that each individual’s expenditure of energy is coordinated, modulated and targeted toward the group’s objectives, rather than dissipated in other irrelevant or detrimental activity.
In the company described above, we also struggled with employees whose jobs didn’t provide an adequate outlet for their passion. While employees who were working on development efforts were able to channel their passion into creating new solutions, the personnel who were supporting the old legacy systems didn’t have a way to channel or use their passion. Although they felt the desire to be part of the transformation, their jobs didn’t provide the creative outlet. Many of these people suddenly became frustrated and disruptive. They started trying to find ways to become more important in the organization by hoarding information and trying to look like heroes, and some even became actively belligerent and disrespectful of the accomplishments of others. We eventually redesigned their jobs so that they were doing development work in addition to support, and this solved the problem.
When higher levels of passion are needed, using a compelling common purpose to spark an increase in energy will activate individuals by exciting emotions, and it will help channel the energy. However, purpose will help channel the energy only when employees are clear about how to execute their job in a way that fulfills the purpose, and only for employees whose jobs align to the purpose. Organizations in which employees are highly energized by a common purpose must also establish solid boundaries and standards for performance, as well as a tight system of management that ensures energy is directed toward realizing the purpose. And again, if you don’t need a high level of energy in your organization, don’t spark passion and thereby spare yourself the chaos and management overhead that can accompany it.
As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, including research references, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.Share