5 Ways for Mid-Market CEOs to Build Passion into Employees

Savvy CEOs understand that compensation and advancement alone typically aren’t enough to motivate employees these days, especially millennials who would prefer a higher purpose in their work.

That’s why many CEOs nowadays focus on inciting outright passion in their employees, a factor that many business experts believe sets companies apart and makes them outstanding performers collectively.

“People want to be passionate about what they do, and they want to be surrounded by people who are also passionate about what they do,” wrote Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat, a leader in open-source digital technology, in Harvard Business Review.

“People want to be passionate about what they do, and they want to be surrounded by people who are also passionate about what they do.”

He defined a “passionate” employee as someone who “pays attention to the whats and hows of the company’s strategies and tactics, someone who is involved and curious and who constantly questions what the company is doing and their own role in making it successful. And they do that not because someone ordered them to, but because they want to.”

Whitehurst offers 5 ways CEOs can foster “the kind of passion that fuels great performance” in employees.

1) Let people show their emotions. Inspiration, enthusiasm, motivation and excitement are positive emotions that help employers tap into employees’ passions, so CEOs shouldn’t ask them to check their emotions at the door.

2) Hire referred people. Ask current employees to refer people they want to work with to get more passionate people into the organization, and create a flexible incentive program that rewards people for bringing in others that are a perfect fit for the culture.

3) Fan the flames. Find ways to share and celebrate the passion of employees and the teams they form. This could take the form of a company digital newsletter that features videos of employees in action, or “culture-inspired parties to celebrate your joint accomplishments.”

4) Don’t sedate your rock stars. Give people the autonomy to do the work that interests them. “Then watch what happens when they put their energy and talent into whatever role they operate in,” Whitehurst said.

5) Share context. Mission statements and corporate purpose declarations often do little to drive purpose or passion within a company. “The leader’s job is to create context by connecting our associates’ job functions to the organization’s broader mission—why we do what we do,” Whitehurst said. “When you can make the connection between passion and mission, you can truly propel your organization to a new level of performance.”


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