Unbridled passion is counter-productive
An important lesson learned from Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept (2004) is that passion alone is not enough. Passion is an important starting point, as we’ve written previously, and a prerequisite to motivating the organization. But when passion becomes unbridled and unstructured, it becomes difficult to establish a structural change – one that is sustainable, relevant, and impactful in our modern, volatile world. You don’t want to be a one-hit wonder, after all.
The trick is putting the passion up against your competencies and the strengths of your (disruptive) business model. But even if you’re running a volunteer organization, you’ll need to stay realistic.
Get a reality check
Assessing your competencies and what you excel at is the first reality check. This helps expose the difference between dreaming and doing. It also communicates a message like “stick to what you’re good at”. This is the transition from passion to plan. A plan has to be driven by passion, and the planning process helps to channel that passion constructively.
Passion is essential, but remember who you are
How can you channel your passion without losing sight of what you do best? Ask yourself in which areas your expertise and skills are best put to use. Resist the urge to go on adventures to places you’ve never been, areas where you’re not skilled or experienced. Know yourself and don’t stray too far from your core competencies.
Create a base of support by communicating clearly
Communication and interaction are crucial in making your passion and plan a reality. Without commitment, you can put all the energy you want into your plan, but it won’t take off. If you don’t communicate, or communicate too late, ineffectively, or about the wrong things, your base of support will quickly erode.
Having a lot of ideas isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you can’t turn every idea into a plan
Prevent a deluge of ideas
Some organizations are overflowing with passion, generating a constant stream of unfocused ideas. Having a lot of ideas isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you can’t turn every idea into a plan. Stay focused on your areas of expertise.
Find the biggest common denominator
When people want to turn their ideas into plans, there are several things to consider:
- there are usually all kinds of initiatives happening within organizations. Try to link the plan to one of those.
- plot the plan from A to Z (consider phasing, personnel, freeing up human resources, but also the criteria for a “go-no go”, scaling up, risk management, etc.)
- always gauge the plan with your target audience.
- create a base of support across all levels of the organization, especially with the teams in the workplace.
In short: a good plan is the result of the largest common denominator of all the passions present in the organization.
Continuous improvement and passion are often embedded in the genes
The higher goal that Martin Smeekes of the North-Holland North Safety Region committed to was very clear: reducing the time between the first emergency call of a heart patient and the time that the most crucial medical treatment was started. The faster the better. He has a passion for continuous improvement.
The same goes for the ice skaters. While I was writing my book, the Olympics in South-Korea were underway. I was glued to the television watching ice skating, watching Sven Kramer and Ireen Wüst write history.
Even viewers are filled with passion, because it’s easy to identify with the sport. The rules are simple, the goal crystal clear: be as fast as possible, skating 1500, 3000, 5000, or 10,000 meters. The fastest person wins. Continuous improvement is embedded in the skaters’ genes.
Besides passion, what’s the higher goal?
In other organizations, it can be hard to determine when someone’s doing a good job. What, for example, is the higher purpose for a municipality? Making sure that passports are ready for pickup as quickly as possible? Or sorting out a building permit in an afternoon?
No, for municipal services speed alone isn’t a KPI requirement. Providing these services as fast as humanly possible will mostly just cost a lot of taxpayer money. Or it could lead to a less fair process.
Passion as a driver of continuous improvement
It’s hard to develop a passion for a vague higher goal or purpose. But passion remains a driver for continuous improvement. In organizations with a less singular goal, it also starts with passion. The drive to improve starts with questions like: what can we achieve and what can we promise the customer? But it doesn’t stop there.
Passion remains the driver for the desire to continuously improve. People have to keep continuously searching for improvements at all levels. How can we perform even better than our competitor? If next-day delivery is the standard, the question is what’s stopping us from working towards same-day delivery. What do we need to achieve that, and what processes or links in the chain are preventing us from achieving this improvement?
5 pitfalls in the integration of planning and passion
The organization’s ability to change and continuously improve depends on many factors. Aside from unbridled passion or the plan alone, it’s essential to win people over to leverage their passion as a driver for continuous improvement. And that’s a challenge for many organizations. How can you apply this cycle sustainably without falling into the following pitfalls:
- planning without passion
- unfocused passion
- a plan without context
- one-time improvements
- a forced change
Planning without passion
A big pitfall of implementing plans is doing so without involving people’s passion. The plan becomes an end unto itself. People become pawns for the plan’s execution. The master plan gets more attention than the passion of the people who made the plan in the first place.
In practice, you can find examples of upper management developing plans that don’t match the needs of the organization’s employees. Upper management simply passes down its plans from on high and is then surprised that the plans don’t land.
People in the workplace can respond to that by working hard with different ideas and intentions than management. Or employees quickly revert back to business as usual.
Try to bridge the gap
A lot can go wrong in the trickling down of plans from management to its employees. The organization often fails to bridge this gap, instead enlarging it by only focusing on plans instead of people and passion.
Beware unfocused passion
Passion comes from an ideal (positively) or a frustration (negatively). In the latter case, there’s a desire to want to improve things in order to escape the current, undesired situation.
When there’s no clear plan to streamline the passion, frustration, or ideal, there’s no focus. It’s essential to match everyone’s passion to the company’s goals. Unfocused passion can lead to more frustration. People feel even further removed from their ideals.
Practical example: a mental healthcare institute isn’t a business
Take a mental healthcare institute in the Netherlands. Management developed a passion to lead the institute like a business.
That seemed to lead to very focused actions: they invested a lot of money in a management information system, for example. The first “KPI” the organization employed was “costs”. In the final annual balance sheet, they operated on a five million euro loss. The cause: too many empty beds (process-oriented KPI), partly because the waiting lists had “dried out” (market-oriented KPI).
In this case, the unfocused passion to want to manage the organization like a business was at fault. People lost their focus and the perspective of what really mattered to this institute.
This is also a good example of why KPIs are never purely financial. In order to focus passion, it’s necessary to clearly indicate where the sense of urgency is located. That’s how you can bring passion and planning in line with each other again.
Passion and plans can be united with genuine KPIs. But what are your organization’s KPIs? Almost all organizations and managers have trouble stating their KPIs, if they even have genuine KPIs and use them to manage effectively in the first place. What’s important when it comes to KPIs? Find out using our SMART KPI Toolbox.
A plan without context
In some organizations, plans become a kind of dogma. Meanwhile, the plan is losing its value. Consider the mantra “our organization is customer-focused”, without management having any idea what this actually means for the workplace and in its contact with customers.
A plan without context can come into being because it has been repeated for too long, while reality has already overtaken the plan. Plans without context have lost the link to their original intention somewhere in the process.
Always link the large and small PDCA cycles
Many organizations execute plans without context. That dynamic is especially prevalent when KPIs are only implemented on a departmental level.
The account managers might have a KPI to recruit 10% more customers per quarter, while this KPI no longer matches the reorganization that has taken place in the production department.
This is a classic example of how a small PDCA cycle can lead to improvements on the team level, but those improvements are no longer desirable on an organizational level. That’s why the large and small PDCA cycles always have to be linked.
Organizations are frequently reactive, negligent, short-sighted, irresponsible, and ineffective
Organizations are short-sighted and reactive
Research has shown that 70 to 80 percent of people in organizations don’t work with a clear plan or towards a higher goal. How can you tackle this complex problem? There’s a world of issues behind this symptom. These organizations are frequently reactive, negligent, short-sighted, irresponsible, and ineffective.
How can you motivate and inspire people who work in such an unhealthy environment to implement continuous improvement in practice? That seems like an impossible task, but you have to start somewhere, no matter how small. People have to be inspired.
Get the right people on the bus
Real leaders know how to inspire their people. It’s the most important leadership quality in the Plan phase. Leaders also know how to get the right people on board and keep them. Get the right people on the bus, in the right place.
Routine is the killer of passion
When the PDCA cycle hasn’t properly been embedded in the organization there’s a chance that a passionate plan can lead to one run of the PDCA cycle, but after the Act phase it’s back to business as usual.
One-time improvements are not the way forward
Consider the one-time adjustment of job descriptions, or the one-time move, or the one-time transition from one computer system to another. In these cases you may have technically completed one PDCA cycle, but this change did not provide input to another cycle. So the improvements, in these cases, are implemented statically and almost linearly, after which the organization returns to business as usual. The PDCA cycle is stunted.
The trick is starting a continuous improvement process, where the adjustment (Act phase) automatically provides an impulse for the next learning cycle. Not linear, but cyclical. Learning through a PDCA cycle is never finished. It’s called a continuous improvement process for a reason.
A mandated change
The last pitfall when integrating planning and passion is that the passion comes from the employee, but all the plans come from management. In these cases it’s only a matter of coincidence if management’s plans match the passion, frustration, or ideals of the employee.
Don’t just work on management’s pet project
Thinking from a data-driven PDCA cycle means that management doesn’t have to be responsible for every single change. The transparent data gives professionals the input they need to arrive at changes they deem relevant and essential. These improvements can also be monitored.
This framework makes it so that a plurality of changes are made in parallel and from the bottom up instead of always working on management’s pet project.
Plan phase and reason versus passion and intuition
The above is not a plea to totally filter out intuition and ban emotion in decision-making. Especially in the Plan phase. A rule of thumb: the Plan phase provides reason, but the passion that jump-starts the Plan phase runs largely on intuition and emotion.
Practical example: Google’s intuition
Google’s founders largely followed their intuition when they started their scientific hobby project: building a search engine. They went against the grain. Where other search engines tried to retain the user’s attention as long as possible, Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted to send the user on their way as simply and quickly as possible.
In short: Google thought about the question “what does the user really want”, instead of clinging to outdated best practices.
Finally: make your own luck
What does that mean? Google definitely had a luck factor, but without a clear vision and good product, all the luck in the world means nothing. Luck only benefits those who are in a position to use it.
In the Plan phase, make clear, inspiring, and considered choices based on passion and facts. Get behind these choices and take charge of their implementation. The rest of the PDCA cycle will go much smoother, guaranteed.