Combine professionalism with passion

Every business owner I’ve ever met wants their employees not only to be consummate professionals but also to have that nagging burning in the belly that’s driven by a deep-rooted passion for the organization.

I knew one over-the-top executive who attempted to accelerate the motivation process by distributing T-shirts emblazoned with such mottos as “To Die for the Company Cause is to Live Forever!” and “Losing is Never an Option.”

In reality, professionalism comes from training and personal values. Raw passion, however, comes from the soul and is an emotion instilled over time by one’s thorough commitment to the mission.

Having an employee become personally involved couples the organization’s goals with the individual’s personal objectives. These positive outcomes range from better serving the customer to rewarding stakeholders to simply creating a better mousetrap with product and service innovations. Everyone has their own hot buttons; the trick is to align them with the company’s modus operandi and goals.

It is nave to expect a new person to come on board and instantaneously be imbued with passion. Unfortunately, passion cannot be administered intravenously or mandated. It is a leader’s job to nurture the neophyte through education, action and example.

Don’t be fooled by self-promoters who always seem to say the right thing, expecting the boss will believe they have become overnight converts just waiting to be the first to volunteer to drink the company’s Kool-Aid.

Signs of passion impersonators, who only want to expedite their career paths, include being the first to offer to work weekends, nonchalantly stating, “No problem, I’ll just miss my son’s junior high school graduation. He’ll do it again in four years.” Or, “I don’t need to go to my best friend’s wedding. After all, there’s a 50-50 chance she’ll have another in a few years.”

When these types of off-the-wall assertions of devotion are uttered, you must immediately recognize you have a chameleon on your team who changes direction based on political circumstances as many times a day as Imelda Marcos changed her shoes.

The passion litmus test is when associates do the right thing consistently for the company, the customer or the stakeholder, always putting their own agenda well behind those they serve.

Don’t become disillusioned if your new employee doesn’t immediately internalize your organization’s mantra. This process, like a fine wine, must ferment over time. Of course, it’s easier when the goals are compelling, such as finding a cure to a dreaded malady, or when the product or service generates heart-warming results.

So how does an executive motivate a new team member to hit the ground running and start producing before passion kicks in?

The first step is to hire the right person for the right reasons. At the top of my “must possess” list is a sense of professionalism and the need to internally recognize the obligation that comes with taking on a job and giving it one’s all.

True professionals, whether they intellectualize it or not, are often hired guns brought in to accomplish specific objectives. The one common thread, as corny as it sounds, is that the real professional was raised to understand the simple obligation of giving an honest day’s work for a day’s pay.

It’s as basic as that. Over the years, I have been associated with many talented people who held themselves to this standard, and I was seldom disappointed by the quality and quantity of their work. Apathy is a killer in any business.

Whenever employees respond to your request with an indifferent shrug, mumbling “whatever,” it’s a sure signal that the person is just going through the motions without the pride of doing the job right for either the company or their own self-esteem.

The best of the best always have an internal barometer that measures success, and when you give them the appropriate direction, that barometer will work 99 percent of the time.

When they first begin the job, they may go home at night and be able to turn it off more easily than one who is emotionally committed. However, if you provide a new hire with the proper orientation and guidance, lone day training and know-how will intersect with emotions.

This is the magical point you’ve worked toward, when your student achieves the delicate balance of combining professionalism with passion, which makes doing the work as fulfilling as reaching the goal.

Michael Feuer is co-founder of OfficeMax, which he started in 1988 with one store and $20,000 of his own money, along with a then-partner and group of private investors. During 16 years as CEO, he grew the company to almost 1,000 stores with sales approximating $5 billion before selling it for almost $1.5 billion in 2003 to Boise Cascade Corp. In 2004, Feuer launched another start-up, Max-Ventures, a venture capital operating firm that focuses on buying control and/or making substantial investments in retail-oriented businesses and businesses that serve retail. Reach Feuer with comments at [email protected].

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