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Strategy & Innovation

The Myth of Hiring Passionate Employees

Posted by on 05 November 2012
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Often, I hear companies talk about wanting to hire passionate people who care deeply about the company's aims and mission, and for a good reason. Passionate employees are more likely to lend a helping hand, put in more hours, and generally go the extra mile. They are also less likely to take vacations and sick leave, and are more likely to stay with the company. The key word here is likely, and all of these points presume that any passion the employees bring in can actually survive in the firm.

That is, what matters more than a potential hire's passion is whether the company stokes passion:

  • Does the company have an inspiring mission?
  • Do managers encourage their employees to go the extra mile and give them the resources and autonomy to do so?
  • Is failure acceptable so that people don't feel punished for a well-intentioned (and well-reasoned!) attempt to be helpful?
  • Are people rewarded for taking initiative?
  • Can employees see the meaning of their work and the impact they make?

Note that all of these questions have everything to do with the culture of the company and nearly nothing to do with the employee. Some companies think that if they just hire a critical mass of passionate people that things will get done, but this is hardly going to ring true unless the culture, and especially the management, makes getting things done a possibility.

What really facilitates the benefits of having a passionate employee is rolling out the red CARPET:

Challenges -- an employee can use his/her skills to the fullest, such that (s)he must do her best every day
Autonomy -- an employee has the freedom to act in accordance with his/her passion
Resources -- an employee has the wherewithal to go the extra mile
Professional development -- an employee has opportunities to learn and grow in/with the company
Enthusiasm -- an employee can share his/her enthusiasm with others and have it reciprocated
Tangible impact -- an employee can tell that what (s)he is doing is meaningful and valuable

Without these six items, an applicant's passion matters only with regard to how miserable (s)he will be at the job, as there is nothing worse for a passionate employee than having their gung-ho spirit crushed in a choking office culture.

Thus, rather than hiring for passion, a company's primary focus needs to be on rolling out the red CARPET to create a passion-rich environment for its employees. After that, the firm need only look for applicants who fit the company culture, secure in the knowledge that any such hire it makes will be a innovative contributor.

Orin C. Davis is the first person to earn a doctorate in positive psychology. His research focuses on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring, and it spans both the workplace and daily life. He is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and a freelance consultant who helps companies maximize their human capital and become better places to work.
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