Passion - Romantic Notion or Sound Business Principle?
Posted by
Donna-Rae Patricios at 08:00

A recent study by the Gallup organization states that disengaged workers costs the U.S. economy $350 billion a year in lost productivity! I admit to expecting a similarly gloomy picture on our shores, if the faces of many customer facing employees I regularly experience are anything to go by. So perhaps you will share my surprise to learn, that according to the iOpener Institute for People and Performance, about half of South Africans are particularly positive about the impact and meaning of their work.

This has led me to wonder whether I have been consistently unlucky to interact with the 50% who are clearly dissatisfied with their jobs, or whether feeling positive about one's role is simply not enough - that something more than job security and personal affirmation is required to turn a competent and even happy employee on survey paper, into an enthusiastic brand ambassador.

I suspect Donald Trump is on the money with his observation that, 'without passion you don't have energy, and without energy you have nothing'.

Companies typically spend much time and money implementing cost-cutting efficiency measures to improve their performance. These efforts are important, but often businesses overlook the one thing that can enhance focus, improve alignment, refine implementation and as a consequence - deliver results. That one thing is passion.

Passion is magnetic. It inspires people to care, and in my experience, it's the glue that keeps everything together. Consider for a moment whether you would prefer to spend your time with someone who is lukewarm on all matters, or with someone who has passion? Are employees more likely to consistently go beyond the requirements of their KPIs as a result of a carrot or stick - or because they have passion? Are the most successful brands in the world supported by a community of customers united by need, or passion? The answer is easy - passion wins every time.

Passion transforms work into much more than a job -  and people with passion for their work engage each other - and crucially, engage their customers.

I have never had the opportunity to fly Southwest Airlines - but this is a brand consistently held up as a shining example of passion in full flight. Known for their fun-loving attitude and by many as 'the love airline', it is safe to say that Southwest is a collection of happy and passionate employees. But is this purely a romantic, albeit captivating brand story that ultimately falls short of the bottom line? Quite the contrary. At a time when many airlines are filing for bankruptcy, Southwest continues to be one of the world's most profitable airlines. 2012 in fact, marked its 40th year of consecutive profitability - a claim no other U.S. airline can make. This success has furthermore been achieved without retrenchments, salary cuts or employee benefit cuts - which other airlines have been forced to adopt. On top of this, Southwest has consistently held one of the top rankings in customer satisfaction and are repeatedly ranked as one of the best places to work.

Their secret, and one shared by many equally successful and well-loved brands who continue to hold their own in these turbulent times?

Jackie Freiberg author of a book on Southwest says, "In the majority of businesses that are truly successful today, they've got a really definitive cause that everybody rallies around and believes in and serves towards, and works hard for. A shared passion for their purpose is critical. Southwest got this 34 years ago".

I couldn't agree more. I spend a great deal of time in boardrooms fine tuning brand positionings, polishing identities and developing marketing strategies. If there's one thing I've learnt, it's that the surest predictor of how successful any of these will be is the degree to which they are linked to a clear and inspiring organizational purpose that is fuelled by passion. Without passion, the very best strategies in the world are nothing more than good ideas on paper. It is the power of passionate emotion that brings them to their most exceptional life. 

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