It seems a lot of people are using the term passion to describe ideal employees. The word carries a lot of imagery and meaning, but let’s try to be a bit more precise. Leaders everywhere want highly engaged people with passion at work.  And truly great leaders define passion, then recognize and reward it when they see it. How do you define passion at work?

Passion is a strong like for something—an enthusiasm usually rooted in personal values, identity and cultural preferences. The term is often used in context with strong beliefs: religious fervor, political views or desire for another’s love. We are also passionate about our leisure activities.

In the context of work, passion refers to strong emotions that drive energy and engagement. To foster passion, leaders must set the stage by openly sharing their own desires and emotional interests. When leaders are unafraid to show their own excitement, others will follow suit. Great leaders recognize and reward people whose passion drives them beyond basic job requirements.

When employees openly express passion for their work, you must recognize and honor it; otherwise, you risk losing it. In a truly engaged workplace, everyone relies on peers for praise and acknowledgment. A leader must encourage this.

When an employee goes above and beyond expectations, make sure others find out about it. A company intranet or bulletin board is a great way to spread and share kudos.

Company Culture, Events and Team Projects

You can reinforce your company’s culture and brand in many ways, but the most important may be trumpeting grass-roots ideas.

“Once you give power to the community [of workers] to make decisions, its members begin to apply that responsibility in interesting and powerful ways. ~ Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, in The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015)

When people offer their ideas, make sure they’re heard and responded to within a reasonable time frame. Emails should never be ignored or delayed. If you want people to be creative and innovative, you must listen to their contributions and give them freedom to take action.

Reinforce company values and purpose, and let staff organize themselves to explore projects. Provide a platform to celebrate events and achievements. Equip staff to plan celebrations to acknowledge hard work, success and initiative.

If your company sponsors charities or donates to a cause, let employees choose which ones to support and how they wish to participate. Even when there’s executive involvement in setting budgets, let associates run the program.

Each time you listen to individuals and teams is an opportunity to reinforce values, purpose and passion, thereby ensuring that employees connect emotionally to goals and plans.

Connecting personal interests to company purpose can be tricky. It won’t happen without frequent discussions among staff and leaders. Some experts say a message must be heard five times before people actually hear it and incorporate it into memory.

What’s been your experience? Does your company reward passion with responsibilities? I’d love to hear what you think. You can contact me here or on LinkedIn.