Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Don't ask employees to be passionate about the company!
People ask me, "How can I get our employees to be passionate about the company?" Wrong question. Passion for our employer, manager, current job? Irrelevant. Passion for our profession and the kind of work we do? Crucial. If I own company FOO, I don't need employees with a passion for FOO. I want those with a passion for the work they're doing. The company should behave just like a good user interface -- support people in doing what they're trying to do, and stay the hell out of their way. Applying the employer-as-UI model, the best company is one in which the employees are so engaged in their work that the company fades into the background.
Given a choice, I would work ONLY on projects that followed a Hollywood Model, where people come together with their respective skills and talents, and DO something. Make a web app. Create a book. Build a game. Develop and deliver learning experiences. The happiest moments of my work life were on projects where we pulled all-nighters because we wanted to, not because the corporate culture said we weren't a true team-player/trooper if we didn't.
Employees shouldn't be sleeping in cubes to prove they're "passionate employees." I want to work with people who have a particular set of skills (and interests) who view themselves and one another as either professionals/craftspeople (programmers, designers, engineers, animators, editors, scientists, authors, educators, architects, entertainers, etc.) or as producers and assistant producers (the people who pull it all together, support the craftspeople, and make it happen).
I realize these aren't mutually exclusive--one can be passionate about their employer and the work they do, but it's a matter of which one employers value. And all too often, it's the wrong one.
The simple 4-quesetion test to see if someone has a passion for their work:
* When was the last time you read a trade/professional journal or book related to your work? (can substitute "attended an industry conference or took a course")
* Name at least two of the key people in your field.
* If you had to, would you spend your own money to buy tools or other materials that would improve the quality of your work?
* If you did not do this for work, would you still do it (or something related to it) as a hobby?