Passionate employees are more likely to take risks, be flexible, and contribute to an organization’s long-term performance improvement. How can CIOs cultivate a workforce that enthusiastically steps up to tomorrow’s challenges?

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In a business environment defined by rapidly changing technologies and, in many industries, revenue models, companies are seeking employees who can tackle unfamiliar challenges, learn quickly, and create innovative tools and approaches. Many workers, however, are under significant pressure just to perform; they face the disappearance of some jobs and transitions to others that require new skills and understanding. At the same time, many workers are feeling the effects as companies react to competitive pressures with cost-cutting, tighter controls, and intense focus on short-term results.

Passion, or what we call “the passion of the explorer,” is an antidote to the defensive reactions, at both the individual and organizational levels, that can undermine a company’s ability to respond effectively to mounting performance pressures. The world is changing too quickly for many organizations to predict the shape of the next challenge or all the skills employees may need. However, by cultivating passion in the workforce, companies can develop employees who can spot new opportunities and quickly acquire the skills needed to pursue them.

Workers with passion typically demonstrate:

  • A long-term commitment to making a significant impact in a domain
  • A questing disposition that actively seeks out new challenges
  • A connecting disposition that seeks to build trust-based relationships.

Individuals with all three attributes are surprisingly rare among U.S. employees. According to a recent Deloitte survey, only 13 percent of workers have the passion of the explorer. An additional 39 percent demonstrate one or two attributes of passion. While this can be helpful, the combination of all three creates a drive that can be particularly suited to succeeding in today’s changing environment.

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To activate passion in their workforces, CIOs and other business leaders can consider three strategies:

Lead by example. Leading with passion can create a culture that encourages employees to embrace difficult problems and take risks. Passionate leaders also tend to attract others of like mind from across the organization; they can draw support from each other and share approaches for addressing obstacles. Leaders who haven’t found their passion yet can still seek to surround themselves with others who are passionate and learn from the ways they handle problems and opportunities. They can consider questions such as: What would motivate me the same way these people are motivated? What would inspire the same level of commitment from me?

Provide focus and perspective. One way to help employees embrace their freedom to explore is by providing a better understanding of what matters—not just to the customer or the company, but also to partners, collaborators, and society. Managers can seek to give employees a sense of the organization beyond their day-to-day tasks—explaining how their work fits into the unit’s goals and how the work of the unit aligns with the company’s goals. Leaders also can create opportunities for cross-functional work and more direct collaboration with internal and external customers; doing so can give employees insights into why their individual projects matter.

Create the environment. Consider how to remove behaviors that squelch passion, such as micromanagement and overly prescriptive processes or reporting requirements. By relinquishing some control, leaders can give teams more autonomy to achieve the organization’s goals and obtain better results. This approach can allow managers, especially those middle- and front-line managers who tend to lag in passion, to take on coaching roles and help their teams learn how to experiment and explore more effectively. Leaders can also provide more opportunities for learning and connect employees to role models who can share knowledge and facilitate networking.


For organizations facing rapid technological change and global competition for talent, capital, and customers, the answer to improving performance is likely not to squeeze harder. Instead, companies can seek to empower employees to learn faster and create new knowledge. The three attributes of worker passion can drive the risk-taking needed for this type of learning. They can be crucial for fostering a workforce that can think flexibly, learn quickly, and create new tools and approaches in a fast-moving, always-changing business environment.

—John Hagel, co-chairman; John Seely Brown, independent co-chairman; and Maggie Wooll, head of eminence, Deloitte LLP’s Center for the Edge

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