By Jill Morin, Executive Office at Kahler Slater, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Being creative and innovative day in and day out is hard work; but it's damn near impossible if you're not seriously passionate about what you're doing. (Just ask Steve Jobs.)
I think it's fair to say that passion was what transformed our 103-year-old company Kahler Slater from our beginnings as a small architecture firm in Milwaukee serving local clients, to the global design enterprise where I'm an executive officer today. Years ago, we noticed that when our employees were doing work they were passionate about, our clients benefitted because they got to work with highly motivated and enthusiastic people. The staff benefitted because they were working on projects that excited them.
So we decided to sit down with everyone and find out what exactly got them excited at work. Armed with that information we spent almost a full year coming up with a vision for the business that would reflect our mutual passions. As a result, we created entirely new business teams and redefined the kind of clients we wanted to serve: Several people told us they wanted to work on projects that promoted healing, so our health care team was born; others wanted to go beyond our core brick-and-mortar business, so we launched a new focus in multimedia design.
The result? Hugely successful projects. The firm itself prospered because the recognition and resulting repeat business (upwards of 90% annually) allowed us to do more work -- and to reinvest our increasing profits in our people. Supporting this passion quickly became a key business strategy.
Here are five tips we've learned over the years to inspire, ignite or re-ignite passion amongst our employees for what they do and how they do it:
1. Always ask potential new hires what they're passionate about -- and how they can apply that passion to the work they want to do for your organization. A woman who interviewed for an executive assistant position responded to the passion question by calling herself a "neat freak." She described her joy in keeping things organized and under control at all times. Today, she's the assistant of a creative, but rather unorganized executive at our firm. And they're perfect for each other.
2. Give employees the opportunity to share what they're passionate about. At Kahler Slater, we hold Creativity Fire Drills. Toward the end of a workday, staff are asked to pin up whatever it is they're working on and excited about. They get to talk about what's inspiring them, and by extension, they inspire other staff with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm.
3. Provide time for passion to take root and grow. All of our staff are required to record at least nine hours of "creativity time" each year on their timesheets. (One person took a food styling course; others attended our monthly morning movies, where we show things like TED videos.) The idea is that employees use the time however they'd like to become inspired and keep their creative juices flowing.
4. Support passions that aren't related to work. For some of our staff, their families are their passion. So, we don't think twice about letting them work from home or work flexible schedules. Some employees even occasionally bring their kids to work. An employee who is sitting at his desk fretting that he's missing his daughter's basketball game is most likely pretty unproductive at that moment. As long as the work gets done and the needs of clients and fellow team members are met, we trust our employees to honor their commitments at work while they're keeping their commitments at home.
5. Relax. It's hard to be passionate about anything every waking hour. Taking time to recharge is critical. Hold spontaneous late afternoon gatherings with free cocktails and favorite snacks. Celebrate a holiday, a big client win, or the fact that it's a Friday. Passion, like any other organizational value, needs time and attention to continue to grow.
In truth, sometimes our employees' passions lead them to other opportunities, like when one of our architects Jeff Neidorfler and his wife and interior designer, Misha, decided to pursue their love of baking and open up a bakery and gourmet coffee shop in Traverse City, Michigan. In fact, asking our staff what they're passionate about has led to a number of new businesses over the years -- architecture, graphic design, consulting, even bakeries. Sure, that means we might lose our colleagues across the hall, but more often than not, it means we find new ways to support each other, whether it's through business counsel or referrals. We all benefit.
How do you keep your passionate employees inspired?