New Research from Deloitte Suggests That Organizations Need to Tap Into Existing Passionate Workers for Sustained Performance Improvement

Oct 08, 2014, 08:00 ET from Deloitte

SAN JOSE, Calif., Oct. 8, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Companies need passionate workers because these workers can drive extreme and sustained performance improvement, yet, up to 88 percent of America's workforce is unable to contribute to their full potential because they don't have passion for their work. This means that only 12 percent of the workforce possesses the attributes of worker passion. According to a new report from Deloitte's Center for the Edge entitled "Passion at work: Cultivating worker passion as a cornerstone of talent development," not only do many companies not recognize the value of worker passion, they view it with suspicion.

The survey shows that only 12 percent of the United States workforce exhibits all of the attributes that define the "Passion of the Explorer": commitment to domain (those that are committed to having an increasing impact over the long-term in a specific domain like an industry or functional area), questing (those that embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and get stronger), and connecting (those that seek to build strong, trust-based relationships as they tackle the challenges they encounter). Within a typical organizational structure, these attributes are most prominent across multiple levels of management (with executives topping the list at 20 percent), while non-management accounted for only 7 percent of the distribution of passionate worker characteristics.

While there has been a marginal increase in the percentage of passionate workers over the previous year (from 11 percent to 12 percent), passionate workers remain a tiny minority of the overall workforce. On a more positive note, of the 88 percent of workers who lack the full attributes of worker passion, about half have one or two defining attributes. These individuals are the source of tremendous untapped potential if organizations can better amplify the attributes of passion they have and cultivate those that they do not yet possess.

"In a world of mounting performance pressure, companies need to find ways to accelerate performance improvement on a sustained basis," said John Hagel, director, Deloitte Consulting LLP and co-chairman, Center for the Edge. "CEOs need to move beyond short term solutions that offer one-time performance bumps including giving a bonus or implementing an employee engagement program. Instead leaders should focus on identifying and cultivating the untapped talent of their existing workers to achieve a longer term performance improvement. The fact that passion levels are so low in the workforce should be a wake-up call to senior executives."

Cultivating Worker Passion
When it comes to cultivating worker passion, some of the actions employers can take are surprising, according to the report. It isn't increased compensation or bonuses or even necessarily recognition that drives passion. In fact, encouraging people to work cross-functionally and allowing people to work on projects outside of their direct job description can both boost the chances that someone is passionate about their work (40 percent and 34 percent increases respectively). Given 88 percent of the workforce isn't currently exhibiting worker passion, companies might be best served by looking to the work environment to boost passion in their existing workforce.

The survey also suggests that the current focus of many companies on building employee engagement may not be sufficient. If employees are more engaged in their work they are likely to perform at a higher level than workers who are not engaged. Typical measures of worker engagement do not look at attributes that make up the passion of the Explorer including a commitment to driving increasing performance improvement, excitement about engaging on new challenges or eagerness to take on those challenges by working closely with others. These attributes, currently off the radar screen of most companies, are much more likely to accelerate performance improvement.

Identifying Behaviors of a Passionate Worker
Workers who have the passion of the Explorer differ from non-passionate workers in a number of ways. Explorers, on average, work five hours more per week than workers who are not Explorers and are more likely to report being available 24/7 (18 percent more Explorers than non-Explorers claim around-the-clock availability). Explorers are also more likely to switch jobs frequently (an Explorer is 18 percent more likely to report switching jobs frequently in their careers than non-Explorers). Additionally, 45 percent of Explorers report that they are in their dream jobs at their dream companies. Also, despite their tremendous value to the organization, Explorers are not driven by income.

Explorers are also significantly more likely to take risks to improve their performance versus workers without passion. According to the survey, 46 percent of Explorers identified themselves as being very willing to take significant risks. Explorers' propensity to take risks at work, such as embracing challenging tasks and taking on projects that require new skills, is three times that of workers who have no passionate dispositions. Explorers also report innovating twice as frequently (37 percent) as non-passionate workers.

Debunking the Myths
Attacking the gaps in worker passion starts at debunking the myths surrounding them. The report discusses five myths about passion impeding most organizations today in their efforts to maximize the potential of worker passion.

  • Myth 1: Age matters - Age does not have a statistically significant impact on worker passion. Workers exhibiting the attributes of the passion of the Explorer can be found at all ages. There is no significant difference between the average age of the Explorers (48.7 years) and the rest of the workforce (48.4 years), nor are Explorers disproportionately concentrated in any age group.
  • Myth 2: Firm size matters - Large firms are just as effective, or ineffective, at cultivating passion in the workforce as smaller firms. Of the survey respondents, 12.5 percent at smaller firms (those with less than 1000 employees) were Explorers, while 12 percent of the respondents at large firms (those with more than 1,000 employees) were Explorers.
  • Myth 3: Only certain groups of people can have passion - A worker's place of residence does not influence their likelihood of being passionate, at least not within the U.S. So, while factors such as the presence of skilled labor will continue to be important in site selection, companies should expect to be able to find and cultivate Explorers regardless of the particular region of the country where they are doing business.
  • Myth 4: Educational attainment determines passion - Despite Explorers having a slightly higher educational attainment at the post-graduate level (28 percent of Explorers versus 23 percent of all workers), educational attainment overall does not have a statistically significant impact on having the passion of the Explorer.
  • Myth 5: Only knowledge workers can be passionate. While Explorers are overrepresented at higher corporate levels, even some front-line workers reported being passionate.

"The key message from our work is that workers of all types and in all locations have the potential to be passionate – it's not limited to a privileged few," concludes Hagel. "Rather than just focusing on recruiting more passionate workers, the big opportunity is to look at the existing workforce and create environments that can tap into, nurture and amplify the passion of every worker already on the job. Without the right work environments, efforts to recruit additional passionate workers will likely be undermined as those new workers become frustrated in environments that do not support passion."

Connect with us on Twitter: @DeloitteTMT and #workerpassion.

About Deloitte's Technology, Media and Telecommunications practice
Deloitte's technology, media and telecommunications practice serves more than 1,400 clients in the U.S., including the vast majority of market category leaders across all sector segments. Deloitte practitioners, many with direct industry experience, deliver a breadth of services including professional audit, consulting, enterprise risk management, financial advisory and tax. The practice is also home to the Deloitte Center for the Edge, which conducts original research and develops substantive points of view for new corporate growth. The Silicon Valley-based Center helps senior executives make sense of and profit from emerging opportunities on the edge of business and technology.

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