Learning to be passionate about your work

Can passion be learned? One training guru thinks so.

Highly successful people tend to have one thing in common: they are passionate about what they do. Would, for example, foul-mouthed über-chef Gordon Ramsey have achieved fame and fortune without being passionate about cooking, food and swearing?

Now just imagine what your business could achieve if even just one-quarter of your workforce were as passionate about what they did.

Recognising the potential power of passion in business, training company Illumine has launched a course, PassionWorks, to help companies and individuals uncover what fires enthusiasm. It is based on research by David Jones, a trainer at Canadian firm Passionworks, who set out to understand the nature of passion in the workplace and determine the factors that could positively or adversely affect it.

“Passion is a strong emotion that happens within each of us when we are doing meaningful work that makes us feel better about ourselves at a pace that feels like real progress,” he says.

Jones came up with this definition after interviewing more than 200 people identified by their co-workers as being passionate about their job.

Interviewees came from a range of occupations – scientists, artists, bakers and accountants. Some were bosses, some were near the bottom of the organisation ages ranged from 20-somethings to people nearingretirement, and while some had larger-than-life personalities, others were quiet and subdued. But a pattern emerged, and Jones says this enabled him to create a simple equation: passion = meaning x progress.

Passion killers

To feel passion at work, we need to believe in what we’re doing and feel that our actions are getting us somewhere.

There are many passion killers. You could be working for a charity, but if you don’t feel your efforts are reaching your personal or organisational goals, then your passion will be quickly smothered. Someaning is high, but progress is poor.

“People need to be able to see they are making progress on things that have meaning for them,” says Ilumine managing director Clive Lewis.

Equally, you may be working hard and making progress, but if you don’t believe in what you are doing, then your passion is likely to be low. You’re simply going through the motions with the result that progress is high, but meaning is poor.

Personal values

We each find meaning and passion in different activities and they tend to be closely linked to our personal values. Illumine’s course aims to help people identify those personal values and the kind of work that supports them.

“It’s about exploring for yourself, so you understand what gives you passion in your work, and it explores the meaning and process in doing this,” says Lewis.

The training also claims to pinpoint which work mode people are in. No-one can be in ‘passion flow’ all the time. Inevitably, there will be routine admin tasks or projects that don’t seem to have much meaning or link into personal values. The key is to recognise when you’re in one of these bored, coasting or griping phases (see below), and work out how to change the situation to get those passion juices flowing again.

Finding out your personal passion pushers is one thing, but leaders also need to consider what motivates their staff.

“This is a model for leaders, as some struggle when they have employees whose motivations are different from their own,” says Lewis.”It teaches them how to have that discussion.”

Two-day courses tailored for leaders, managers or teams within an organisation will begin next year. Public courses will also be available.

If people are passionate about what they do, they’ll be happier and more productive. Just as importantly, they’ll infect customers and co-workers with their positive attitude and stay longer with the company. What employer – even the notoriously hard to please Gordon Ramsey – could ask for more?

Passion killers and boosters

Before the course, delegates fill in an online questionnaire to help uncover which of eight work phases described below they are in:

Low on meaning, progress and action – Boring: Work has no meaning and you are not taking any action to change that. Or Resting: You’re recharging your batteries.

High on meaning, low on action or progress – Dreaming: A lack of action means low commitment – working for a dreaming boss can promote cynicism as staff realise that despite the bluster, nothing actually gets done. Or Griping: You are committed to what you want to do, but bureaucracy, internal politics or lack of resources stop you making progress. This can be destructive on an individual and organisational level.

Medium action, low meaning – Coasting: You see work as a necessary evil.

High action without progress and low meaning – Rushing: You care deeply about what you’re doing, but if you’re spreading yourself too thinly, then the meaning of what you’re doing can be lost.

Very high meaning, very high action/progress – Obsessing: Work becomes your all.

Meaning and high progress – Passion flowing: Your work is completely matched with your personal values and interests and you feel you are making progress and changing things for the better.

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