If You’re Not Passionate About Your Work…

English: en:Julie Bishop, Deputy Leader of the...

I met with the Honourable Ms Julie Bishop shortly before Christmas. She is the current Australian Federal Opposition Deputy Leader and, if polls are a good predictor, possibly the next Deputy Prime Minister of Australia later this year. I and a number of other business-people in Perth had an informal and very personal breakfast with her in this, her hometown. Ms Bishop was charming (an advantage for any politician), unguarded and totally engaging with everyone around her. She responded very personally and frankly to our discussions and questions and came across as disarmingly genuine. Everyone was suitably impressed and delighted.

I was most impressed, however, with her response when someone asked why she gets up every morning to do what she does under the spotlight and glare of national and, as the shadow minister for foreign affairs, international media and pressure. Her response was unequivocal and emotional: “I really love what I do. I love serving my area, my state and my nation and I get up with an intense passion and drive to do that every day. There are bad days and moments, but on the whole I love what I get to do to serve the public!”

I define passion as being devoted to something to which you believe you can apply your talents and skills in such a way that you can enjoy the process and, if you’re active in the field, make a difference. It’s an alignment between your interests, your purpose and your gifts, enabling you to devote your whole self to something.

When coaching, I often find that people have lost their passion at work or find it being overwhelmed with the trivialities of the daily grind. I understand that. I’ve been there too. When I last changed my career, I found that the barriers to performing well and to feeling that my talents were being used and appreciated (whether by me or by my clients) were too great to overcome. So I changed course in order to use them more. My wife commented instantly on the change: I was “back” to “her” Peter. I was energetic, engaged, creative. I was happier and more talkative at home. Less grumpy. You know the drill…

For years now, I’ve been helping people to rediscover that passion in their own work or to branch out to find new ways to develop a passion. There are ways to overcome the barriers within your workplace. Often, my organisational work involves restructuring or removing barriers to performance within the workplace. Even working on bringing in more money for the business can have a profound impact on your ability to perform well.

It was Abraham Maslow who pointed out that, in an organisational context, people’s need to provide for their own basic security was a prime driver and motivator. But high levels of performance come at the much higher levels of need – belonging, respect, accomplishment, self-actualisation and the actualisation of others.

In my studies of gifted professionals, I found that they were wholeheartedly engaged in their profession and achieved great success as a result. When their passion wavered, so did their results.

We are just starting 2013. There’s no time to waste. If you’re not passionate about your work, then you have to make efforts to find, rediscover or re-orient that passion. Don’t allow your life, your family and your career to languish, because there is so much that you can do to utilise your talents to their greatest. If you’re in a capacity to do so, you can make sure that the people around you are able to do likewise. Like Julie Bishop, we can be excited and thrilled with the work we’re doing and really “love it.”

How Not to Drive High Performance

High performance doesn’t get much higher than Formula 1 racing. These people push their cars, drivers and teams to the limit to win.

So you would think, when looking at their team performance, they would have all kinds of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to measure success, yes? A colleague of mine, Andrew Seinor, is the MD at Incommand. He provides corporate advisory, accounting and financial services and business analysis software that includes tools for implementing and measuring KPIs. So he’s right into them and has a very keen interest in companies using them. Yet, Andrew was telling me the other day that he agrees that you can take your eyes off the ball by insisting on KPIs that don’t matter.

McLaren-Mercedes have consistently hit the top 3 every year they’ve run a team for the past 8 years and started off the 2012 season with a win in Australia and are currently in 1st place. That’s an exceptionally high record of performance – better all round than any of the other teams. So that KPI is certainly a winner for them.

I will write in another post about ways that formula one teams have been used to learn some things about high performance, but it bears saying:

Are you sure that your KPIs are the ones that matter? Don’t overload yourself or your people – focus on what’s important and drive relentlessly for it.

Too many managers and professions think that they create higher performance by measuring a whole raft of KPIs. I am not suggesting that KPIs should not be considered in detail and decided on with proper investigation, but too many organisations literally miss creating results and meeting deadlines while they’re busy measuring the minutiae. See the start line, know the course, know how to push your car and how your team can cope and then race for the finish!

Interval Training for Businesses

I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation by David Beard of Executive Endurance (lifelongfitness.net). He is an exercise physiologist who runs fitness training for businesses and specialises in aged fitness development.

Amongst other things, David was commenting on the benefits of high intensity interval training. He mentioned studies in which people were able to replace 20 minutes of sustained intensity aerobic exercise with several 40-60 second bursts of high intensity workout, interspersed with lower intensity “rest” periods. Training studies have determined for years now that such training can lead to the same gains in performance, strength and endurance as traditional aerobic exercise regimes. Thus people are able to be more time efficient, have higher motivation and better improvement over time.

This same kind of high intensity interval training can be applied to the performance of your own people or business. Some people think that continuous high performance is a laudable and even attainable goal. But the reality is that high performance teams (and individuals) do not perform at their highest levels all day every day. Eventually they burn out. Being able to perform highly for brief bursts, along with the opportunity to perform at more moderate levels for other periods, is more time efficient and more productive in the long run.

I was coaching a team who had been pulled from all around the world to put together an IT and analytical system for a client and they had a two week window to accomplish what would usually have taken 4-6 months of setup. By the time I came to the team, they had been at their peak for several days straight, with very little sleep. They were facing their deadline the following day. The danger was that they would be ready for the client, but would limp to the finish line and make a bad impression.

I worked with the team leader and members to prepare them for the performance drop and to develop strategies for unifying the team’s message and service to its client. We focused on what would be strategically important to the client, targetted points for team members, outlined strategies to revive energy and briefed the team leader on tactics to keep the team at peak performance. When I had seen them the day before the deadline, they were squeaking in with the technical requirements of the project. They had two more intense days of working with the client after the deadline and due to our work they were able to work extremely well with the clients and make an outstanding impression.

After the fact, they dispersed to the four winds and doubtless slept for a whole week.

It was high intensity interval performance and you would be crazy to expect it all the time.

Here are a few questions to consider for “interval training” your people:

  1. Do you clearly assess what are the necessary ingredients for high performance?
  2. Do you leave an intentional ongoing performance requirement gap so that people have the flexibility to relax a little at some times and perform at higher levels at others?
  3. Do you train your people in performing at higher bursts for short periods?
  4. Do you keep increasing the performance capability of your people, so that they can perform at higher levels as required?
  5. Do you have capacity to cope with unanticipated need, while making optimal use of your resources in the meantime?

What do you do to prepare yourself and your people for high performance in your business?