The disappearance of engagement and passion

Next months, these posts deal with the challenges of Earthlings of bringing humane cities closer. These posts represent the most important findings of my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful, updates and supplements included. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free here and the Dutch version here.  

For centuries, entrepreneurship has been motivated by craftsmen’s passion. In less than one century this kind of entrepreneurship disappeared. The fascination of making new things still can be found incidentally in small and medium-sized businesses operating. In large companies a new generation of managers has taken possession of the boardroom, who are motivated by financial incentives in the first place. This applies to most employees too. Let’s face the facts.

Engagement

Each year, Gallup collects data worldwide about the engagement of the workforce in companies and organizations with more than 50 employees. These are characterized as ‘engaged’, ‘actively not engaged’ and ‘passively not engaged’. The table below provides an overview, showing that in any country only a minority of this group is ‘actively engaged’. This means that they are enthusiastic about their work, their colleagues, praise their company, and do not worry if they have to work overtime. 

Percentages of actively engaged (green), passively not engaged (gray) and actively not engaged (black) of employees in different parts of the world.

Lack of engagement correlates strongly with the ‘low strain’ character of many jobs, but also with the management style of most bosses.

Companies want to increase the engagement of their employees as the level of engagement correlates with productivity. Therefore, worldwide they spend billions on this goal and to train managers to support it. Without much result.

Engagement is not enough

According to John Hagel, managers are heading in the wrong direction by focusing on engagement alone. After studying individuals who are exceptionally productive in a wide range of professions, he concluded that what they have in common is ‘the passion of an explorer’. 

Passion does not mean that these people are overly gifted, diligent, hardworking or smart. Instead, they are determined to achieve their goal in a certain domain, are excited when faced with challenges, and seek collaboration with others who can support them. Passion is the main driver of entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately, the number of employees with passion is even lower than the number of engaged ones. The latest US survey of passionate employees shows that up to 13% of the workforce (managers included) have each of the three aforementioned attributes. An additional 39% have one or two attributes. 64% of all employees and managers are neither engaged nor passionate, or in other words they lack the essence of entrepreneurial behaviour.

This lack of engagement and passion entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship is understandable. The 20th century companies have organized their production according to principles of scalable efficiency and a system of planning and control, top-down assessment based on performance indicators and quarterly reporting to the next boss in hierarchy. Consequently, room for initiative is limited, neither expected nor desired. At the same time making money became the ultimate objective of most companies and the top management made large efforts to satisfy the shareholders and their own monetary ambitions.

Self-organization and interpreneurship

There are strong arguments for self-organization and -management by employees, just think of the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. However, little research has been done into the relationship between self-management, entrepreneurial behaviour and performance. The recently published HOW-report has changed this. Research in 17 countries (among others the Netherlands, Germany, the USA, India, Russia, China and Japan) showed that organizations based on self-government performed better in all respects.

The superiority of self-governed organizations. The gray bar refers at organizations in which employee’s influence depend on their rank and authority. The black organisations are the dominant type, based on hierarchical assignment of tasks, planning and control and the red ones are based on self-government.

The superiority of the scores of self-governed organizations is clear. The HOW-report has delved into the distinguishing characteristics of employees of these companies. These are: more trust, willingness to take risk, celebration of success as collective achievement, collaboration and mutual assistance, sharing information, and respect for personal judgement. 

In order to survive, companies should digest these data, but managers will not be happy with them. They undermine their position and huge financial benefits.  Time will learn whether the many new start-ups are wiser, or whether they become ‘takers’ instead of ‘makers’ as well, to use Joseph Stiglitz words.


One Reply to “The disappearance of engagement and passion”

  1. Creating an environment that leaves room for the possibility of failure might be an easier pill to swallow if we took the time to understand what it means to experiment effectively, with a goal in mind—to take risks intelligently and to fail productively.

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