November 6, 2015

Passion in the workplace

Sadly, this post will not be as steamy as the title implies. Though I did meet my husband at work, and I've heard of more than one rendezvous in the server room, that's not the kind of passion I'm talking about.

I recently had the opportunity to volunteer with a company called Toolworks in San Francisco. The organization provides many services, including employent, for adults with disabilities, as well as those who are homeless or at-risk. They also run a bakery that not only employs some of their clients, but also brings in money for the organization.

As part of a skills-based volunteering program at work, I spent a week last summer at Toolworks. I and two co-workers spent a week at Toolworks redoing the website for Hayes Valley Bakeworks and setting up some analytics and search advertising campaigns for them.

There tends to be an arrogance in corporate American, and especially in Silicon Valley. We think that somehow we're smarter than the rest of the world. We think about what corporations can teach nonprofits about how to run more efficient businesses. I came away from my week at Toolworks thinking also about what nonprofits can teach corporate American. Here are a couple of those lessons. I'm sure there are more.

You've done enough today. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed with the amount of work there is to be done at my job. Silicon Valley tech companies like to try to solve big problems. And we need to do it faster and better than anyone else. But the work we have, with seemingly endless resources at our disposal, is not nearly as difficult as the type of work nonprofits have to do. These organizations serve populations who have the greatest level of need and the fewest resources. Caring for people who are homeless, who struggle with mental illness or developmental disabilities is a really hard job, and no one's getting rich doing it.

I met one of the Toolwork's clients, who has a full time aide provided by the organization. Because of her help, this client is able to live in an apartment with a roommate, communicate with others, and live as a part of the community. No one organization is going to solve homelessness or the housing crisis. Sometimes the small picture is what's important. Make an impact every day.

Passion: I do not think it means what you think it means. In Silicon Valley, we talk a lot about passion. Interview candidates are often rejected because "they're just not passionate about" television, or cell phones, or B2B cloud solutions, or whatever the company is doing. Is that what we want people to be passionate about?

I really love my job. I think the work we're doing has value, and it's exciting being around new technology. My company makes a thermostat. Am I passionate about thermostats? Not really. But I do think climate change is something to throw some passionate energy behind. People at my company are doing all kinds of projects around topics worth getting passionate over like equal access to information and improving healthcare.

Not everyone can be passionate about what they are doing at work, and that's fine. If you are happy and do a good job, I really don't care if you're passionate about analytics or advertising or meeting fourth quarter expectations. But if you are going to be passionate about something, or if we're going to demand passion from employees, make the work matter.

1 comment:

I love comments! Respectful disagreement always encouraged.


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