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The Danger of Loving Where You Work

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Lorraine Ball of Indianapolis marketing firm Roundpeg added a brief post to her company blog. She believes “when [your] employees love your company your customers will too!”

The full contents of the post are worth a quick read. Here’s an excerpt:

I have always believed if you want to create customer evangelists, (customers who care passionately about your brand) you need to start with employee evangelists. Every day, your employees go into the community. What do they say when asked about where they work? Do they say they love it or say, it’s ok? Do they passionately endorse your products? Do you know?

Happy Employees

© Flickr user daniel-wehner

The supposed value of “passionate employees” is a longtime business staple. Apple engineers on the original Macintosh computer made sweatshirts that read “90 Hours a Week and Loving it!” The founder and former leader of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, famously placed employees first, customers second and shareholders third. The SAS Institute built a landscaped campus with private schools so employees could feel engaged and supremely respected. Passion at Work is even the title of a 2005 bestselling book by Lawler Kang.

Not everyone, however, is sold on passion. Authors Kathy Sierra and Dan Russell warn against asking employees to be passionate.

They write:

People ask me, “How can I get our employees to be passionate about the company?” Wrong question. Passion for our employer, manager, current job? Irrelevant. Passion for our profession and the kind of work we do? Crucial. If I own company FOO, I don’t need employees with a passion for FOO. I want those with a passion for the work they’re doing. The company should behave just like a good user interface — support people in doing what they’re trying to do … the best company is one in which the employees are so engaged in their work that the company fades into the background.

They even provide a precise list for identifying the difference between people who have passion for their employer and people who have passion for their work:

Passionate about the company:

  • The ultimate team player who goes along with the group rather than voice dissent
  • Works late nights and weekends because “everyone needs to pitch in on this project”
  • Defends the company to anyone, anywhere that criticizes or questions its products, policies, or practices
  • Puts responsibility to employer above responsibility to customers, without question
  • Questions, but does not challenge the status quo
  • Is well-liked because they do whatever is asked, enthusiastically
  • Accepts (and uses) phrases like, “this is what corporate needs us to do.”
  • Cares a lot about his career path in the company; focused on getting management recognition.

Passionate about the work:

  • Scores well on the 4-question test:
    • keeps up with trade/professional journals
    • knows who the key people in the industry are
    • would spend his own money, if necessary, for better tools
    • if they were NOT doing this as their job, they would still do something related to it as a hobby
  • Works late nights when, “I’m just one-compile away from this awesome refactoring that’s going to make this thing run 40% faster.” In other words, they work late when they’re driven by something they know they can do better on.
  • Defends the quality of his own work.
  • Puts responsibility to his own ethics and values—especially related to quality of work—over responsibility to employer.
  • May not be extremely well-liked, but is highly respected and tolerated because he’s known as one who, “cares deeply about doing the best possible job, and is very good at what he does.” 
  • Does not accept, “this is what corporate needs us to do” when it conflicts with quality and ethics. Must be given a good reason why a corporate decision is worth the downsides.
  • Does not care about upward mobility in the company. Cares about doing fabulous work and possibly the recognition of his peers in the industry. May strive for professional recognition.

Employees with professional passion, especially if that passion is driven toward using and improving the systems, procedures and quality of the work, will become more productive. However, hiring passionate employees is not enough. Companies must ensure that everyone is empowered to improve process. If you are frustrated at work and have trouble applying your passion, or if you are concerned that employees are working with inefficient systems that limit their desire to do great work, contact AccelaWork. We help to diagnose workflow challenges and help companies to work smarter.

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