Encourage More Bitching

Do You Want Passionate Employees or Not?

One of my all-time favorite topics is “passion” at work. Ranks right up there with “fun” on the things-management-doesn't-understand-o-meter. We have passionate employees who do their jobs passionately. What’s wrong Anderson, you lose your passion for answering random, idiotic questions all day? Have you ever looked up the meaning of the word? Here, I’ll do it. Passion: 1). Strong and barely controllable emotion, 2). The suffering and death of Jesus. OK, I don’t want either of those going on in my office, but I’m assuming the Chief Talent Officer is talking about the first definition. Barely controllable? Yep, that sounds like us. We are a hair’s breath from full scale Armageddon if Tim sends one more of his asinine questions in here about templates… I swear to God, I’m going to go ape shit. Yep, barely controllable.

Assuming companies use the word passion to mean enthusiasm or engagement (for the rest of you, that’s the feeling of NOT hating everyone, and everything), I think of passion in more pedestrian terms — “giving a shit.” When you give a shit, you don’t spend the company’s money on steak dinners, or boondoggles to Mexico. When you give a shit, you try to do your best work, and expect others to do the same. When you give a shit, you want your work to mean something, have an impact, and be recognized for your contributions. When you give a shit, it kind of pisses you off when you work hard and others fuck around. When you give a shit, it bothers you that the company didn't pay out annual bonuses but just spent $100K to send the top performing (a.k.a. top paid) sales reps in the company to Admiral’s Club, because, you know, morale. When you give a shit, you get frustrated. When you give a shit, you take things personally. Isn't that what you all wanted?

I can’t tell you how many times I've sat in leadership meetings where some windbag throws around words like passion, ownership, engagement, and commitment. I mean first off, most people are more like meh, whatever… than passionately engaged in their work. But you don’t really want passionate employees, you want zombies. Passion is dangerous. Passion is ugly, messy… hell one definition even says “fury.” Goddam fury right there in the office. What you want is some good old-fashioned submission, some smile-on-your-face, don’t-make-waves capitulation, some honest just-act-like-it’s-all-good surrender.

If you really want people who give a shit, you’re going to have to get comfortable with more bitching. Yep, bitch, bitch, bitch with complaining and commiserating on the side. You’re going to have to get comfortable with your team saying things like, “this is the stupidest shit I think I’ve ever seen in my life,” and “Is Dan high? He just suggested that we let IT run the project.”

Now granted, nobody should have to put up with whining and junior high drama all damn day, so smack that shit down fast. Can’t get along with your co-worker? Nobody said you had to. Figure out how to hoist up your big boy pants and get your job done or go find somewhere else to work out your special brand of crazy.

But when one of your people comes to you with a legitimate beef, and is red-faced, had-it-up-to-here going off, embrace it! Hell, egg it on. I’ll sometimes just get out my Costco-sized jigger of salt and pour it straight into that open wound. Well, no shit the project is behind schedule, I heard the R&D team took the afternoon off to go bowling. As she storms through the office looking to impale the head of R&D, I get a warm feeling knowing she cares.

The flip side of passion isn't bitching, it’s apathy.

When the passion is gone, the complaining is gone, the frustration is gone, the fire is gone. At this point, you or your employee becomes a desk. Desks are great; they hold papers, computers, and the occasional bobble head of the CEO, and do a fine job at all things desky. Desks don’t complain about other desks, they just do their desking and don’t make waves. And talk about retention — a good desk will stick around for a dozen or more years before anyone even wonders if maybe a new desk might be worth considering. And no way is a desk is going to ask for more money, or more responsibility, or for a “leave of absence” to go on some mid-life vision quest.

But you don’t want desks. You want fire-spitting, wrapped-around-the-axle, twisted-in-knots, up-all-night-pacing-the-floor maniacs who give a shit. In my life there a few things I give a shit about, you probably the same. Family, integrity, and the Giants (SF, not NY) to name a few. Mess up any of these and we might be fighting. This isn’t some macho in-your-face challenge; it’s just me saying I will cut you if you fuck up my program. I am passionate about you not fucking up my program.

And I know you feel the same way that I do. If I grab your new pitching wedge and snap it over my knee, I fully expect a reaction. I’m guessing negative. If I tell you the sound of your voice makes me want to vomit, I’ll assume unpleasantries are afoot.

But I’m just supposed to accept the fact that you didn't attend any of the planning meetings and are now sending idiotic emails that can only be answered using a fucking time machine; and I’m supposed to do that with the understanding and patience of a saint. Or, that when I've sent you a half dozen emails — none of which you've read — explaining exactly why the department is in chaos and you ask me if there’s an odd vibe in the office, you expect me to calmly talk you through the past six months. Fuck that. I’m passionate about you paying attention to me, and my team not thinking I’m a complete tool, so settle in Chief, this is going to take a while. It’s called a rant, and good ones are spectacular!

Make up your mind, do you want passionate employees or not?