Passion In The Workplace

Following Your Passion

Christy Mori & Dr. Josephine Palermo continue the chat of passion and its place in the workplace including how leaders can cultivate a passionate culture and how jobseekers and employees can ask the right questions in choosing a company that values passion.

Please send your questions or comments to [email protected].

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Intro  0:17 

Welcome to Gears, Action, Growth: Shifting business culture one conversation at a time. This is part two of debunking myths of passion, specifically in the workplace. My name is Christy Mori, and I’m joining Dr. Josephine Palermo, whose superpower is to create business cultures that transform organizations team by team.

Christy  0:43 

Alright, so how are you this week, Joe?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  0:45 

I’m really good, Christy. I’m hanging in there in lockdown.

Christy  0:50 

Yeah, we all are, huh. So we’re continuing this conversation on passion in the workplace. So today we’ll be discussing level of importance passion holds in the workplace, personal experience with passion, how a business can cultivate passion, and lessons learned from work cultures that did not have passion. So starting off, should we talk about how passion should be an important thing, instead of a byproduct? And how important is passion personally for you?

The importance of passion in the workplace

Dr. Josephine Palermo  1:21 

You know, passion is, when we think about what passion is, it’s an intense interest or desire. And if you have people in your company, who have an intense interest in desire in what your purpose is, or what the company purpose is, then they will go above and beyond for you. So yes, it is absolutely important. And it’s linked to ensuring that you’re really leveraging people’s interests. And that you know what people are interested in, and that you’re as much as possible aligning what they are being asked to do accordingly to that. So passion can be the difference between a good company and a great company. You know, think about your iconic brands, think about some of the iconic sports brands like Nike, think about the iconic, digital brands like Google. Yeah. And when we see people who work in those companies, they are pumped, they’re excited, they are really passionate about their workplace. And they’re really passionate about what the company’s purpose is so it is important. And it’s something that’s important to me because I value autonomy in my work so some people will be very driven by autonomy. Not everybody but some people in particular will be very driven by it. And for them in particular, it’s important that they’re very passionate about what they’re doing to maintain their interest and maintain their drive in the workplace.

Christy  3:06 

So how do you gather passionate people? They need to work with you.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  3:14 

That’s a really good question. Firstly, you need to make sure that at a company level, you’re really clear about your purpose, and that you articulate that, and the leaders of your company know how to talk about that. And they themselves are passionate. And what that will do is draw other people to you. And it’ll draw the kinds of people who also have that interest and so your purpose and their interest is aligning. And then hopefully, your culture is demonstrating to them that you’re kind of walking the talk, so that the culture is also aligned to that purpose. Because the worst thing you can do is bring a really passionate person in who’s very aligned to your purpose into a culture that doesn’t make sense, that doesn’t align to the passion. That doesn’t also demonstrate to them that the leaders of that company and people who have also worked there are really passionate about what they say they’re passionate about.

Christy  4:22 

And that happens sometimes, doesn’t it? Actually, more than sometimes where a passionate person goes in somewhere and then it’s not really cultivating the culture of passion.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  4:35 

Exactly. So their expectations are that they’re going to see a particular way of working that aligns to that particular purpose that they’re going to be developed and acknowledged for their own unique sort of skills and talents and that will be cultivated, and that other people in the workplace will equally have interests and passions, and that they’ll get along. Oh, even if they debate, they’ll find like-minded people who are equally interested and passionate. And if that doesn’t happen, they very quickly will be disillusioned.

Christy 5:13 

So how does a company keep this cultivation continually and practically of passion?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  5:20 

So what you’ve got to ensure is that you understand what motivates your people. So motivation can be different for different people. But it will usually fall into three buckets. So people are usually motivated by a sense of autonomy, like me. I like to do it my way. I like to think through things and then implement things in a way that’s maybe novel. Having a sense of autonomy for me is really important. I don’t flourish in cultures where there’s lots of rules that I don’t necessarily align to.

Christy  6:04 

Like micromanaging.

Personal experience with passion

Dr. Josephine Palermo  6:05 

Yeah, exactly. I flourish where I’m allowed to flex and grow. Many people on the planet are like me. Or many people on the planet are also motivated by a sense of competency and mastery. So they want to be acknowledged for their skills. They want to ensure that there are opportunities to develop and get better at what they do. And so they’re going to be motivated when they’re given a chance to do that in the workplace, where they can see a lot of training, a lot of development, where they’re maybe if they do a job really well, that they’re praised for that, that they get rewarded for that. So for them, that’s going to be really important. And then other people on the planet are also motivated by a sense of belonging. So they’re going to be more motivated and really passionate about a company and a culture that fosters a sense of family, that loyalty around really getting to know other people in the organization that fosters relationships. So what they’re going to be expecting is a culture where people care about each other and they can see that demonstrated. So once you understand what motivates people, then aligning them to your purpose needs to be through those motivational drivers. And that’s how you will sustain passion for your purpose in the organization. And that’s how you’ll attract people. So, for example, if I had heard a lot about a company because I’m also passionate about that particular thing that they do I might be passionate about, for example, ensuring that everyone in the country has equal access to products that help them connect through the internet. So I might be attracted to telecommunications type or technology companies that are really talking a lot about giving everyone access to new digital technologies, because they see that as a kind of leveling field. And if you don’t have access to those technologies, you’re going to be left behind. And we see countries where some people at particular parts of society don’t have access to digital technology, and they are left behind in terms of education, in terms of opportunities. So if I have a real passion for that, and I value that, and then I go into an organization like that where management, very top down, it’s a very hierarchical culture, people are not treated fairly, then that culture is going to be what I’m experiencing, it’s very jarring to what the company said they were about. And I’m not necessarily going to maintain my drive to do a good job in that context.

How can businesses cultivate passion?

Christy 9:05 

So I’ve been in some workplaces that didn’t value passion, but they valued other things like money or power, and what kind of lessons can we learn from those kinds of experiences?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  9:21 

Christy, I’ve been in some organizations like that, too and I don’t last very long.

Christy  9:27 

I didn’t either.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  9:28 

Yes, and there we go. That’s the lesson. So, there is, especially right now, companies are really fighting for talent. We have a shortage of skills and talent in Australia and in some areas, and in particular, companies always fight for exceptional talent. So you will never achieve greatness in an organization or a company if you don’t have people driving and really passionate people in an organization who are driving in the same direction to get the best results for their customers or clients and to innovate, etc. And so I think that if your culture values status and the only reward that company is leveraging or levering is monetary reward, then what you’re actually going to get is a workplace that has high turnover. Also, it might be a workplace where you do have people that stay, but they’re staying in some ways for the wrong reasons, you will have people who stay because they value the rewards that they’re getting, and that’s fine. But they may not necessarily go above and beyond. They may not necessarily be thinking about how to innovate. You might be missing a whole proportion of the population that think differently, and therefore, they may not be ready to adapt to new demands from customers, or clients. And so, there can be a risk in sort of not having innovation in a company like that. You may also have people who are achieving results, but not in the way that is sustainable. So they may be achieving results because they get rewarded for it, but they might be taking shortcuts, or they might be doing it with less care. And in the end, companies like that are not going to be attractive to some customers who, right now, are really using their consumer power in a way to choose certain companies over others. So we know that for example, in consumer research, that customers are likely just to spend their consumer dollar on companies that align with their values around, for example, it could be sustainability of the planet, it could be sustainability and equity. Values are becoming more and more important. So they may choose a company that is more ethically aligned to them versus another company. I guess the other impact is that when you have status, and power, and monetary rewards as the only things that are driving behavior in an organization, you may also have a certain part of that workforce that are just going to kind of fly under the radar because they don’t want to risk, I guess, being acknowledged for doing something that is going to upset the chances they can get that reward. So you see this, for example, when you have executives who have bonuses in particular areas that are tied to particular key results, and they will really drive hard an organization to achieve that result and it could be that they achieve that result at the expense of other aspects that they should be achieving. So it could be that they burned through employees, they’re not fostering talent, they’re achieving that result, but they’re really screwing down their suppliers in a really terrible way. And so their suppliers are suffering. So you get a lot of behavior that might be really misaligned to making sure that their company has a sustainable future and a sustainable supply chain, for example. So there are lots of consequences because at an organization like that, you may end up in a kind of cycle of just achieving results for the sake of it.

Christy  14:10 

What you’re saying is those kinds of companies never really make it to the forefront of you know, innovation and things like that.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  14:19 

Yes. That’s right. So while they might be maintaining, they might maintain a market share, they might maintain their position. It’ll be a defensive position in the market, though, that it’s very hard for organizations like that to innovate. You need people to be free to think differently in order to innovate, and you need structures in place. Like even reward structures that encourage that. Encourage people to go above and beyond in terms of what they’re thinking and they’re doing in relation to forming new relationships, in relation to forming new ideas. And if you have an organization that is just heavily controlled in that way and that’s because the culture is a symptom of that, then you’re less likely to have those free thinkers come in and give you ideas and innovate.

Christy  15:14 

So it’s really, really harmful actually, when people don’t value passion in the workplace. Can you share with us, just to wrap up, about a company or group that you previously worked with, and it could be unnamed, and that actually was the opposite? They let people have autonomy, they exuded passion, and you like going to work every day and so did everybody else?

Lessons learned when businesses don’t value passion

Dr. Josephine Palermo  15:40 

You know, I don’t need to hide their name. I spent a lot of my time working at Telstra in a senior position and managing strategic change. And at the time that I joined Telstra, David Thodey was the CEO and he had a new strategy which was to really focus on customer advocacy. And this was at a time where Telstra was getting a lot of feedback from their customers, that their customer service was just not up to par. And there were a lot of new telecommunications companies coming up, they had just deregulated in Australia, so there was more competition. And consumers, as they do, were taking their consumer dollar elsewhere, because they just weren’t getting what they needed from Telstra. But David had a great passion for customers. He had been actually an executive at Telstra for a long time and as soon as he kind of got into that CEO seat, he was one-eyed about it, and he was driven. And what he proceeded to do was really drive that passion for the customer all the way down the organization, and myself with many other people in the team, joined him in helping people to think differently about the customer, and create mindset shifts so that people working right across the organization had the customer top of mind. And for example, I was working in kind of the back operations part of Telstra, so I was working in customer service areas. But you know, the operations part of that. And I was working with networks, or engineers, and people in I.T. You know, all of those enablement functions that enabled the people on the front line in the stores and in the retail areas to do their job. So for many years, these people didn’t even think about the customer, because they didn’t have that direct line to the customer. They never talked to a customer. And so what we did, because we had the permission from the CEO, is we had great programs that we developed, which brought those people in direct line of sight with their customer. We actually had workshops where we talked about their line of sight, we gave them permission to take customer queries on so a lot of our staff would, you know, for example, go to barbecues, and their friends and family would really have very negative things to say about Telstra. And so our staff were getting to a point where they were embarrassed to say that they worked for Telstra. So what we did is we gave them permission to take on a customer complaint. So we created an app. And, for example, I’ll give you an example. One of my very favorite aunties unfortunately passed away and she was another second cousin. So I didn’t know a lot of the extended family and I went to the wake with my mother, and was, you know, meeting some new sort of extended family there. And one of them said,  “Oh, so what do you do?” And I said, “Well, I work at Telstra.” And he went, “Ugh!” and that was off.

Christy  19:07 

Is it good?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  19:08 

No, it was a really bad reaction.

Christy  19:10 

No, okay.

No, it was like, “Ugh, you know, I’ve had an ongoing dispute with them.” And normally, this would have been the experience of many employees. And normally, they would have, like myself, I would have said to him, “Well, I don’t really work in retail, so I can’t help you.” But instead, I took out my phone, I took out the app, and I said, “You know what? I can help you. I’ll take your details, and we’ll get a case manager for you, and then I’ll be on the other end of that.” And we did this for hundreds and thousands of customers because employees suddenly, didn’t matter where they worked in the organization, could advocate for customers. And so we did that, as well as many other things, in the customer advocacy program, including changing the key metrics that executives paid attention to. And what we do has really turn that around and we turned around the culture that Telstra had, but we also turned around some of their customers who hadn’t been advocates to advocates. And of course, that’s not perfect. Like, if I look at Telstra today, there are still issues because it’s a national carrier. And customers will have issues from time to time, but what we were able to do was make huge improvements to the customer experience. We were able to reduce also the amount of time that customers take between ordering a product and getting a product, because that was a real pain point for a lot of customers. And so there were a lot of innovative ways in which Telstra improved that customer experience because they were solely focused on that. So, and for me, I am very passionate about ensuring that the people that I work with are passionate about what they do. And I’m very passionate about people, as you know, Christy. So for me, I actually stayed at Telstra much longer than I thought I would in management because I was very much on board with this strategy and very much on board with the purpose. I was working with people that are very passionate. And to give you an example of how that affects you at a team level, the people that I was leading at that time, we still get together. And many of us had left Telstra now but we still get together and we have a whatsapp group. And we call that whatsapp group, “Best team in the world.” So we’re still connected to each other because we had such a great experience.

Christy  21:54 

Wow. And that extends beyond workplace. You’re just friends now.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  21:59 

And we’re friends beyond it. Exactly.

Christy  22:01 

Wow. So this kind of brings me to a wrap up question which is, especially at this time where people are looking for work, and they’re probably just wanting to get work. Is there something that you can advise people to do when they are looking for work not to be desperate to just go into a bad company culture?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  22:27 

Yeah. Look, I think that it’s always tricky, isn’t it? Because if you’re looking for it, there’s a need there that you have. And so you want to be able to fulfill that need and quickly. You need to take care of your family or yourself. But having said that, I think that during the recruitment stage, or during the interview stage, you can actually ask questions, and I would be always recommending that people ask questions about the culture of the organization. And if you want to really get a sense of how culture is is sort of demonstrated in an organization, you can ask someone, “Tell me what an average day looks like in this roll.” Or, “Tell me what you care about during your day in this workplace.” So because culture is actually about the way things are done, and they’re often all the small intangible interactions that you have in a workplace that gives you a sense of what the culture is like. And so if someone can answer that quickly, you get a view of what experience is like working for them.

Christy  22:30 

That’s such a good question. I’ve never actually asked that specific one. Which do you care about in your day?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  23:48 


Christy  23:49 

What are you supposed to care about in the day?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  23:51 

Yeah, exactly.

Outro  23:52 That’s so good. Well, everybody, hopefully that will help you in your journey towards finding a passionate workplace or creating a passionate work culture. And we just thank you for listening, and looking forward to connecting with you next time. Please send us your questions and what you might want to hear more of in the series. And let us know about your experiences and working in great cultures or bad cultures at [email protected], which is in the description below, and we’ll talk to you next week. Take care everybody. Bye.



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