Thursday, April 29, 2010

Does Passion Alignment Affect Trust?

I have become convinced that there is a correlation between employee passion alignment and trust. Even in teams where there is strong ethical values, competence with task, and a high degree of openness, trust can still be lacking due to passion dis-alignment.

Last week I was having a discussion with an executive I know. We were discussing employee passions and how one of her direct report's greatest passion was to be an artist. The employee, I will call him Jim, was quite talented and had actually shown his art work at several events. However, his talent did not translate into a good income stream and so Jim had decided that he would have dual careers. Painting at night and working for the company during the day. He is a good performer at the company, slightly above average. When asked during his performance review what his passion was and where he saw his future going at the company, Jim gave a standard statement.. "I am committed to becoming the best salesperson you have.." but the executive could tell.. it wasn't a passion... just a purpose to getting paid. She knew about his art and had even considered buying a piece from him. Jim had simply told her what he thought his passion should be! Jim has a passion dis-alignment. Most of his job is not really connected in any way to his passion in life. And although he won't be punished for his passion statement, my friend the executive has little trust in the idea of Jim becoming her best salesperson. This dis-alignment is a trust killer.

Now, what is really interesting, is this passion disconnection affects trust over time. The more we trust each other, the easier it is to trust at even higher levels. Likewise, even minor reductions in trust can lead to increasingly levels of distrust. Jim will sense the decline and respond in kind. Over time, trust levels will continue to decline, especially when Jim is forced to choose between his true passion (art) and his necessary passion (sales). One other concern: The trust decline also affects the team. Such a minor disconnect, but everyone will sense the shifts.

What is the implication for my friend the executive. Here was my response to her:

Have you asked him why he wants to be the best salesperson? Maybe that will help him and you to have an authentic discussion on passion. For example, maybe he believes that being the best salesperson will translate into more money to support his passion for art. That might work in the short term. but eventually passionless work is a grind. I would seek to explore why Jim has a passion about art and see if there are roles he can be more passionate about. Ultimately, you need to have a candid discussion about how Jim can build his true passion into his work. Jim might be more suited to designing sales materials, or experimental sales approaches.