Want passionate users? Get passionate employees first, and nurture their passion

James Governor pointed me at this Kathy Sierra post before I’d trundled my way there (Thanks, James!).

The picture below says it all:


Kathy’s one of those people who creates extreme reactions amongst her readers, and I’ve seen raging arguments about some of her earlier posts. I can’t help but feel that at least some of the reactions are because she touches raw nerves. Which is why I love reading her stuff.
Three quotes stand out for me:

“If that person shakes us up, gets us to rethink, creates a little tension, well that’s a Good Thing”, the CEO says. riiiiiiiiiight. While I believe most CEOs do think this way, wow, that attitude reverses itself quite dramatically the futher you reach down the org chart. There’s a canyon-sized gap between what company heads say they want (brave, bold, innovative) and what their own middle management seems to prefer (yes-men, worker bees, team players). “

The management-middle management gap/reversion is something that has been commented on in depth before, and is by itself nothing new. What makes it new is that we have three new(ish, anyway) factors acting on the enterprise: a real war for talent; a real move from hierarchy to network; a real battle between professions as historical lines continue to blur. On to quote 2:

Of course some argue that exuberance on the job is not necessarily a good thing. That too much passion leads to problems. I say BS on that one. Real passion means you love the profession, the craft, the domain you’re in.

And I guess this is where the problem becomes more acute, as Abbott’s System of Professions evolves into its not-so-subtle conflicts. No single profession has an inalienable right to passionate people; middle management tends to be full of “professional” people; the passion for their profession creates considerable conflict, and can result in their looking for robotic slaves out of sheer frustration. And so to quote 3:

If you knock out exuberance, you knock out curiosity, and curiosity is the single most important attribute in a world that requires continuous learning and unlearning just to keep up. If we knock out their exuberance, we’ve also killed their desire to learn, grow, adapt, innovate, and care. So why do we do it?

Maybe we do it because we can’t find a way out of the professional conflicts and tensions Abbott refers to.
All is not lost. Kathy herself provides the answer, as much in her blog as in her post. Create passionate users.
We need to find a way to unite the professions. And there is a way. We’re just not very good at it, and keep getting in our own way.

Don’t focus on the profession. Don’t even focus on the firm. Focus on the customer. Focus on the customer. Focus on the customer.

A firm that unites around the customer unites all it does.  And becomes a formidable force.

5 thoughts on “Want passionate users? Get passionate employees first, and nurture their passion”

  1. on quote 2: there’s a fine line between being passionate about a solution and being emotionally committed. if your org is filled with the latter, imagine a group of people all with varying beliefs on a future state, each 100% convinced that there’s is the ‘one truth’ and all too dogmatic in their belief to negotiate toward a state of collaboration. Would progress ever be achieved?

  2. I can tell you from personal experience that she is right. I found that this disconnect happens when the top management is unaware or unwilling to follow through with their expectations. It can also be compounded by so called professional middle managers who should never be allowed to manage people in the first place. Their idea of motivation is either intimidation, holding back information or having pet subordinates. This has the effect of sucking the energy out of any motivated employee.

    Most employees can be motivated to different degrees to collaborate, put the customer first etc. But when their immediate bosses “translate” the goals and objectives to their liking it no longer resembles what the CEO laid out. Its no wonder that the employees roll their eyes when they watch yet another presentation from the CEO.

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