Today, most large companies carefully track employee engagement. While definitions can differ, engagement broadly focuses on whether employees like the work they are doing and the people they work with, and whether they respect the company they are working for.
Research shows that engaged employees perform at a higher level than those who are not engaged. In communication, engagement helps employees frame inspiring messages and to be authentic and committed when delivering those messages.
However, in a world of mounting performance pressure and accelerating change, is engagement enough? My research suggests we are in the early stages of a Big Shift, driven by long-term forces that are reshaping our global economy and society, creating increasing pressure on all of us.
Because engaged employees like the work they’re doing, they often can be resistant to efforts to change, and they try to avoid unexpected challenges that might disrupt their work. They also are not necessarily driven to constantly seek higher levels of impact — they’re happy with what they’re doing.
In the Big Shift, we need to aim higher. Rather than just seeking employee engagement, we need to draw out and cultivate a very specific form of passion — that of the explorer. This insight emerged from research on environments where we see sustained extreme performance improvement. Despite the diversity of these environments, I found that the participants shared the passion of the explorer.
The Passion of the Explorer
What are the attributes of the passion of the explorer? These people have a long-term commitment to achieving increasing impact in a domain that excites them. They also have questing and connecting dispositions. They thrive in solving unexpected challenges, and when faced in such situations, their first reaction is to ask who else they can get in touch with to develop better answers faster.
These are the people who welcome change as an opportunity to achieve even higher impact. They are driven to communicate with others, and their excitement about challenges becomes contagious. They also build deep trust because they will freely admit that they don’t yet have an answer to a challenge and that they need help.
How many employees have this kind of passion today? My research indicates that, at best, only 14% of employees in the U.S. have this form of passion about their work. Why is this so low? Part of the reason is that few companies actively encourage this form of passion, as they are more focused on employee engagement.
But, there’s a deeper issue. In many companies, this form of passion is deeply suspect. Passionate employees ask a lot of questions. They are risk-takers and often deviate from the script.
There’s a significant opportunity to draw out and cultivate this passion among more workers, however. This is where business communication leaders can make a decisive difference.
The Role of the Business Communicator
How can business communication professionals work to cultivate this passion? Consider this example scenario. Let’s assume that a company is experiencing lower customer satisfaction because its call center operators are not effectively responding to the needs of customers.
Business communication professionals can begin by framing powerful questions to the call center operators. For example, they could ask them how they might harness technology to respond more quickly to routine questions from customers. Then, they could ask about the most unexpected and challenging issues that customers are presenting and how they might respond more effectively to those issues.
This could set in motion a series of initiatives. First, the call center operators could be inspired to connect with the IT department to explore how routine customer questions could be offloaded from their desks and handled through automated procedures. This would then free them up to spend more time identifying the most challenging problems presented by customers and coming up with creative ways to address them.
Done right, this will help more and more workers move beyond engagement in the form of liking their work and draw out excitement about evolving it so they can make a more meaningful impact. They will also connect more deeply with others because they will be excited about the opportunity to have even more impact by coming together to address challenging questions.
As more and more workers make this journey from engagement to passion, the rewards for the company will be enormous. The paradox of the Big Shift is that the same forces that are creating mounting performance pressure are also creating exponentially expanding opportunity. It is now possible to create more value more quickly, and with far fewer resources, than would have been imaginable a decade or two ago.
To address that exponentially expanding opportunity, we have to be excited by it. People with the passion of the explorer are driven to find and address those opportunities. Business communication professionals are a powerful catalyst in drawing out that passion and spreading it throughout the company.
John Hagel is a strategist, futurist and trusted advisor to leaders of companies around the world. He has just published his eighth book, “The Journey Beyond Fear: Leverage the Three Pillars of Positivity to Build Your Success.” Meet Hagel at www.johnhagel.com.