May 2014

Shared Passion as an Organizational Force

by Sarah Thrift on May 15, 2014

Take a moment to think about the things in your life that you are passionate about.

Now imagine you could be doing one of those things right now. How do you feel?

Most likely you feel good, energized. If you were feeling tired, then maybe that lifted as you felt the excitement of doing something you love. In a recent survey conducted by Phillips, over 90% of the study’s participants said that being able to connect their passions and personal interests with their work would motivate them to care more about their work and to work harder¹.


Having a passion for something is like a magic spark, igniting us to achieve things we could not otherwise do. We only need to look at great sportspeople or writers or businesspeople to see how a love for what they are doing has fueled their journey.

I love working with people who are passionate about what they are doing. Their passion is infectious. Work doesn’t feel like work, but an expression of what we care about and who we are.
Working with a global humanitarian organization, I was struck by how passionate people were. I was inspired, carried on a whirlwind of excitement generated by the new people I was meeting every day.
Quite quickly though, something else started to emerge. I continued to meet people who were as least as passionate and inspiring. But as I got to understand their passions in more detail, I began to see how these passions led in quite different directions and rarely truly aligned with the organization’s goals. One person’s passions might have only slightly deviated from the organization’s mission and strategy, but iterate these small differences across hundreds of people throughout an organization and the impact was devastating. Passion, instead of propelling the organization forward, was destructively pulling it in conflicting directions.

Having passion is not enough. To fulfill its promise, passion needs to transcend an individual’s personal interests. It needs to create bridges between people. And it needs to inspire actions in service of the organization’s goals.

A first step toward this is for each team member to understand their colleague’s passions. By delving below the surface and appreciating what makes a person love what they love, unexpected areas of shared interest and passion can emerge.

The same approach can be taken with aligning to an organization‘s goals: understanding why they are what they are and seeking ways to meet these goals that build on shared interests. At times, this will mean discontinuing our pet projects in service of a greater goal. But if passion is to be a force for good in our organizations, it also needs to be one which aligns and unites us.