Profit from passion

Two studies show that people work better if they believe in what they are doing and are emotionally engaged with the company they work for. Roger Trapp reports
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Managers must always have sought magic formulae and clever techniques in the battle to push their companies ahead of their rivals. But in recent years, with consultants preaching the line that business has never been more competitive, the flow of new solutions has become increasingly rapid.

Many of the fads - even those that sound absurd - are grounded in common sense. But in this relentless chase after some sort of Holy Grail it is possible to overlook the obvious fact that people are likely to work better if they believe in what they are doing.

Though it is tempting to believe that everybody in business - particularly those labouring in big corporations - is like some character out of a Dilbert cartoon, concentrating more on who gets the corner office than on how to improve the product or service, there are in fact many people in industry who care deeply about what they do.

You see this most obviously in the most successful parts of the creative industries. For example, John Hegarty of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the advertising agency behind memorable commercials for Levi's jeans and Audi cars, still sounds excited about his job years after making a name for himself. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs' vision of accessible technology has been largely responsible for making Apple more than just another computer company.

Similarly, customers of the Body Shop, for instance, can be left in little doubt about founder Anita Roddick's concerns, while Julian Metcalfe, co- founder of the sandwich bar chain Pret a Manger, even goes so far as to put the slogan "Passionate about Food" on his carrier bags.

Lately, the people who run some of the world's most successful high-tech companies are demonstrating that - while they might have been regarded as nerds while at school - they can arouse deep human feelings. A manager of one of Britain's best-known companies recently said -- with more than a trace of envy and amazement in his voice - that just one word summed up what he felt on a trip around the computer company Cisco: passion.

The same word is central to Kevin Thomson's thesis for what creates success in the modern workplace - for both individuals and organisations. The chairman of the Marketing and Communication Agency is a leading UK expert on internal marketing and communication, and sums up his thinking in two books published in parallel this month.

Emotional Capital is his attempt to give what he calls the obverse side to knowledge management, the management concept that is probably responsible for more business conferences than anything else today.

Pointing out that very few companies know how to capitalise on the power of an asset they glibly describe as their "most valuable" (see panel), he says that they instead seek to value and capture "know how", or "intellectual capital", as the measure that truly defines the effectiveness of a workforce in any company.

But this is a fallacy, he argues. "Harnessing and managing knowledge is one thing, but organisations need to manage the emotions, feelings and beliefs that motivate people to apply that knowledge constructively. Then, and only then, can a company's lifeblood - emotional capital - make an impact on financial performance."

As evidence of this he points to "the enormous financial power of properly harnessed emotional capital" that is already evident in the growth of technology stocks led by Microsoft and Intel - both of which, incidentally, boast inspirational and passionate leaders in Bill Gates and Andy Grove.

But it is one thing to observe this in one company - as did that middle manager touring the Cisco operations - and quite another to instill it in your own.

However, Thomson, who is convinced that "in time emotional capital will arrive, as did goodwill and brand values, on the balance sheet", believes that effective communication can make the difference.

And in the sister book, Passion at Work, he aims to help people help their organisations become more passionate through being their own marketers.

"Everyone has the facility to market themselves as Me plc and achieve buy-in from colleagues that is of mutual benefit," he says. "This inter- relationship marketing is developed using the principles of marketing, communication and basic psychology."

Emphasising how people subconsciously acknowledge the power of his approach through their constant use of such words as "feel", "believe" or "sense", he adds: "Passion is the key emotion that drives innovation and is now recognised as a statistically reliable measure when it comes to customer satisfaction and financial performance."

The problem is unleashing it, which is where the book comes in. He claims that by showing employees how they can influence colleagues using "easily understood communication techniques", and applying positive thinking and action in their working relationships, "the passion that leads to innovation and enhanced profit can be released in the workplace."

`Emotional Capital' and `Passion at Work' are published by Capstone at pounds 16.99 and pounds 12.99 respectively.