The new CEO, Richard made his first speech to the assembled crowd and outlined his vision of where the company was going. It was a good speech, he had a comprehensive nine-point plan, threw in a little bit of humour and gave everyone in the room his idea of where the company was heading. Following his conclusion, there was a polite amount of applause and Richard offered an invitation for any questions.
What we heard next should have scared the crap out of poor Richard. It wasn’t violent abuse from the crowd. It wasn’t Joel, the anal-retentive nerd from accounting wanting to argue about point No.6.
It was silence…….
…..tumbleweeds could have rolled past. Nothing from the crowd! Zip…Nada!
“OK” said Richard, feeling happy his well rehearsed speech had explained everything perfectly. He gave his thanks and the state manager dismissed everyone for morning tea.
He didn’t know it at the time, but Richard had inherited a Passion Vacuum. Decades of “us and them” management, apathy and distrust had created a culture of helplessness. This helplessness breeds a particularly noxious form of apathy. It breeds a “why bother?….nothing is going to change!” mentality.
Apathy is what happens when you have no “care factor”. You get an assumption that things won’t change and so “why bother?” It appears as if everything is OK, no-one is yelling and screaming and no-one appears too stressed. Why? Because caring is hard when you keep running into walls. Eventually our self preservation mechanisms kick in and it becomes easier and less stressful to stop caring.
If an organisation is a passion vacuum, it needs a shot of stress. It needs to put a cat amongst the pigeons and it needs to fire people up with some productive stress. Stress that generates change, stress that cultivates creativity.
Passionate, motivated people are always looking for new, better ways of doing things. They love to challenge the status quo and they CARE about the business so they love to toss around new ideas. Passionate, motivated people even love to debate with people with an opposite view. That’s where great ideas are born.
Great leaders cultivate these passionate opinions (even if they disagree). Great leaders invite and accept criticism of themselves and learn from it. Great leaders meet stress head-on. They embrace it and utilise it.
If the passionate ones have gone quiet, they often need to discuss their issues before being able to move on. This can hurt, but it’s vital to reset the balance and show people that, as leaders, they do CARE.
Being motivated and passionate is contagious. When people see motivated workmates, it can have the effect of igniting their own passion and that’s when the ripple effect sends positivity through the entire organisation. (Unfortunately, the ripple effect happens with negative, demotivated people as well)
What is needed to get the passionate ones vocal again?
- They need to feel their ideas are valued and listened to. All the ideas do not need to be implemented but they need to be heard.
- POSSIBILITY of change. Nothing creates helplessness like rigidity and knowing an organisation can’t or wont change.
- Autonomy. Passionate people need the autonomy to chart their own course. In a large corporation, “pilot” initiatives are the best way to give autonomy without creating mayhem.
- A clear vision that inspires to the greater good not just company profits. Everyone wants to help the world be a better place.
- Fairness. Nothing demotivates quicker than inequality and double standards.
If you are a leader of an organisation, you must do everything in your power to get the motivated ones vocal. This includes the naturally shy, quieter, motivated people. They may not yell from the roof tops, but motivated introverts can be an organisation’s greatest untapped potential. You just have to get them talking and, for introverts, that usually means 1 on 1 or in small groups.
One way a lot of companies try to get people talking is with a survey. It has it’s place, sure. But, to me, a survey screams that “we know we have to ask your opinion, but we want to get it with as little effort as possible”. Getting passionate people talking is about TALKING. You can’t do it with an email or a survey. Passionate people want feedback, they want to be challenged on their ideas and they long to make a difference. It has to be done in person.
I can hear CEOs wiggling in their seat as they read this. They are thinking “I don’t have time to listen to every nut-case in my organisation”. And you don’t. But you have to have time to listen to the ones who will inspire the others.
What larger organisations need is empowered, intelligent middle management that talk to those on the coal-face and share their ideas. Get like minded people together and facilitate conversations. Middle management are the people who need to get people together and get them talking. They need to have people’s respect and trust and they need to have the power to effect change. They are the glue of any big organisation.
We all have a PRIMAL need to contribute, to grow and to have some control over our destiny. If these primal needs aren’t met, great people go quiet.
This can’t be allowed to happen.