Personal Passion: The Art of Business
by Ronald C. Lazof

Personal Passion is not about science or numbers and cannot be adequately measured or quantified. Yet, without passion every business will achieve only average performance at best, and at worst, only failure. While the nature of business demands attention to systems, formalities, numbers and the science of business, Planned Performance cannot be achieved by the application of scientific methods alone. The creation and maintenance of a passionate business environment is a high art form that requires talent study and purposeful action. Mere formulaic adherence to the concepts and precepts of business science will not result in success and More Money for all of the stakeholders unless attention is also paid to the art of business. Art and science in business are the yin and the yang of all truly successful enterprises.

The art of creating and maintaining personal passion in business, as in all human endeavors, is dependent upon nurturing an environment in which systems, attitude and culture continuously engender and promote positive feelings akin to love for the company, as well as its products, services, employees, customers and other stakeholders.

Perhaps the best place to start is with a recipe for passion in the business world? The recipe requires that we begin with visceral excitement, and add a firm link to basic human belief systems and finish with a healthy dash of personal self-interest. Bring to a boil in a business culture infused with respect, appreciation, and praise and serve with a sense of a community of interest. When properly cooked this mighty elixir is self-propagating and like sourdough starter just gets better with age and continuous repetition. Its presence creates a focus on the needs of the business as being aligned perfectly with the needs, desires, expectations and ambitions of a company's stakeholders.

Employees with Personal Passion know they will be praised, appreciated, promoted and incentivized to do their best. They are motivated beyond simply showing up and punching in, but rather they focus on the positive aspects of what they do and how they do it. Physical labor, though necessary and appreciated, becomes a secondary contribution, as their thoughts, suggestions and practical experiences are recognized for their independent value. This sets the stage for a culture resulting in continuous improvement, added profits (More Money), and greater security for all of the stakeholders. While we may not be able to measure Personal Passion with precision against a scale, its absence is easily detected. If your employees show up late, are chronically absent, use all their personal leave/sick days, punch out at the earliest possible time and never miss a break, a lunch or a vacation, this is probably a pretty good indication that the business lacks a shared passion. If your suggestion box is filled with candy wrappers and your company meetings are directive lectures with no participation, no dialog, and no questions asked or answers given,--- well you get the picture.

Conversely, when your employees are always on time, excited about the opportunities presented by each days work experience for personal growth, advancement and increased self worth, through participation in the pulse of a successful enterprise. When the company's every action imparts dignity and respect to and for its employees and shows how their contributions are valued by your enterprise, this is very good evidence of the presence of an environment managed by leaders with Personal Passion. Then, and only then, will you and your management team and each member of the company engaged in the enterprise produce action moving towards clearly defined objectives and goals, the attainment of which will provide immediate and clear personal and collective benefits both to the individual employees and the company as a whole; by virtue of the perfect and absolute alignment of company and stakeholder interests. That is the basis for a passionate environment, which is the first requirement for creating a passionate company, where passion becomes virulently contagious.

It is easy to determine whether the company's non-employee stakeholders (customers, suppliers, vendors, stockholders, lenders, etc.) have passion for the business. Customers who have Personal Passion for their suppliers (hopefully your company) know that they will be cared for, appreciated, and provided with the highest quality and most timely service available in order that they be able to maximize their own gross margins - enlightened self interest. These customers are certain that any and all information generated in the process will not only be exclusively and proprietarily available to them, but also will be utilized and provided in appropriate forms to maximize their market position. If your customers routinely and regularly contact your company, as opposed to your competitors, in order to solve their problems and regard their relationship with your company as unique and special and indeed one of their key assets they have and are exhibiting Personal Passion for your company. In fact with enough Personal Passion they may even actually allow for pricing which provides a return not only on the products and services rendered to the marketplace in competition with your peers, but which also recognizes the special values added by the relationship itself. In other words, your companies repeated and demonstrated willingness to "go the extra mile" in order to facilitate and resolve your customer's special needs when, and as, they arise without necessarily maximizing the company's short term return is ample evidence that your customers have caught the Personal Passion fever.

For example, when one of my client's key customers had a quality issue with some of the components of a competitor's product line, that (a) the competitor could not seem to remedy, and (b) had never presented a problem to our client - the customer requested that our client and their competitor work together in solving the problem. Now this may, at first blush, seem like a request against self-interest, but a more thoughtful and long-term view indicated that the action should be immediately taken and would further the client's own long-term interests. The customer considered the competitor's products a necessity in the marketing mix and our research validated that the competitive brand's inclusion in the customer's product line added perceived value to my client's product offering as a "move up" brand. After a relatively short review and analysis of the problem, without the expenditure of vast resources by my client, the cause of the quality defect was identified and suggestions were made as to its remedy. Of course, the process had the immediate advantage of affording our client an in depth view of our competitor's manufacturing and supply chain process - wonderful competitive intelligence. But, more importantly it demonstrated to our client's customer why the company was special and deserved special treatment at the customer's hands. The company went the extra mile to solve the customer's problem. The company made the customer's problem it's own even at the apparent immediate cost of making the company's competitor stronger.

Suppliers, lenders (another form of supplier providing financial requirements), and vendors will also be appreciated, valued, and incented so as to provide the company with services and products which when combined with the company's internally generated creativity engenders and provides products and services to the marketplace with inherent value and clear differentiation. When a key supplier develops a new product or process, where and how does that supplier introduce its innovation to the marketplace? The desired answer and the explicit, continuing request to all suppliers must be :(a) bring all of your innovations and value added ideas, products, processes and services to us first, let us partner with you in their testing an marketing and; b) give us a period of market exclusivity, lead time to maximize our joint economic benefit. Once the innovation is introduced and recognized by the market, we or the supplier and the company, will have shared the "first to market advantage". Then the supplier is free to capitalize on its now proven innovation and maximize its own economic advantage. However, the marketplace will long remember who was first to market with the value added innovation. And that adds valuable luster to your brand.

Shareholders also must know and accept that their interests are carefully guarded and indeed constitute the fulcrum upon which the business rests such that the maximization of shareholder value is in fact the central focus of the business enterprise. Perhaps it is only with your shareholder stakeholders that the degree of Personal Passion can actually be qualified. Why do some enterprises with identical earnings per share ("EPS"), operating in the same marketplace, with a similar offering of products and services command higher price/earnings ("P/E") multiples? The obvious answer is that they are more desirable - but why? If the numbers are similar should not their opportunities also be similar? The answer is clearly and empirically: "NO!" Some enterprises make more out of less - you might call it focus or intensity - I call it Personal Passion.

Like almost everything creating Personal Passion for your business starts with you, the leader. If you do not absolutely love, yes love, the time you spend in your enterprise, for the participation itself and not just the rewards, then you cannot expect others to feel the passion. But if you do then you have the second requirement for creating a business rich with Personal Passion. Which is a "gut level" throbbing, beating, ever present, pulse of excitement and participation, in a GREAT common enterprise full of humanity and, personal satisfaction and enjoyment. Here's an easy test: do you get up early full of ideas and thoughts about making your business better, is going to work, for you, in at least the top two things you like to do with your time? Is it always rewarding? Does it make you feel like a winner? If these feelings, and emotions are present odds are that you feel passion for your business.

Being a winner is in fact part and parcel of personal passion. The only thing that is better than being a winner is being on a winning team. Because when your are on a winning team, every time you celebrate a team member's success you are able to vicariously participate in the success of the whole team which of course is in part a self-declaration of your own feelings of achievement and worth.

The third and only other thing needed when you have the right environment and a leader with passion is a great system for consistently communicating the leader's Personal Passion to all of the enterprises' stakeholders. Communication, it must be remembered takes place not only orally and in writing, but most importantly and visibly through your actions. Do you consistently seek out and celebrate your stakeholders' individual victories frequently and publicly in a manner sharing both the benefits and the feelings of success with all the stakeholders who have contributed. Do you engage all of your employees and show appreciation for all their efforts beyond salary and bonus? And most importantly, do you find a way to praise performance loudly and publicly but uniformly provide criticisms sparingly, positively and in private? In order to celebrate, you must trust your employees because you will most probably be communicating potentially valuable competitive and, harmful information to them. But the evidence of your trust in them will be immediately felt by them - they will respect your confidence in them - and they will swell with pride not only at your joint accomplishment, but also at the knowledge that you, a respected business leader, trust your employees and treat them with the respect due each of them by sharing this information. It does not matter whether it is a new sales goal achieved, a new manufacturing process, or a new and higher quality standard reached the point well be intuitively understood, and more importantly, felt with powerful emotional impact.

Every time a milestone is reached whether it is a company wide milestone, a department milestone, a team milestone or an individual milestone, it affords an opportunity for a celebration. The milestones can be significant as in most products shipped in a year, month, a week, a day, or even an hour, or relatively insignificant, but if you look hard enough you can almost always, on a daily basis, find a cause for celebration. In companies I have managed we have celebrated profits, sales, safety, shipments, employee longevity, new employee hires, reductions in turn over, attendance, training, and just about every other thing you can imagine.

The celebration itself can be as simple as a public congratulations and a handshake or it can take place of an awards banquet. Both have been used successfully. When possible I believe it is a good idea to provide a tangible reminder of successes achieved. These can be as simple as certificates and plaques, or baseball caps and tee shirts, but by having these tangible representations of success continually visible, other members of your stakeholder group will be incented to extraordinary efforts in order to achieve similar recognition by peers and superiors. One of the most successful success recognition programs that I am aware was instituted years ago and takes the form of a jacket awarded to employees who achieve an extraordinary amount of a highly desirable productive activity in a single month (repeat awards result in jacket patches being added). In order that the award have value it was early established that the only way to procure a jacket of this type was to achieve this specific performance goal and not even the President and C.E.O. of the company could obtain one because it was recognized that to do so would diminish the award's value in the eyes of those who achieved the performance and earned the award and the respect and envy of their peers and the respect and appreciation of the company's leaders.

In short, if you have Personal Passion from every stakeholder in your business, cherish it, respect it, and work hard to maintain and enhance its vigor. If you have Personal Passion from some of, but not all of, your stakeholders learn from those with the Passion and enlist them in spreading your joint Personal Passion to everyone in the company. If you do not have Personal Passion for your business, or have it and can't communicate it or don't have an environment amenable to its continual and constant propagation - sell the business - quick - because your competitors will sense this weakness and maximize their competitive advantage by exalting THEIR Personal Passion in the marketplace to your company's immediate and ruinous detriment!

Ronald C. Lazof currently serves as a managing director of Prism Advisors, LLC, a management advisory and consulting organization. Prism focuses its attention on the entrepreneurial, emerging growth and mid-sized privately held corporate markets. Mr. Lazof served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Behr Process Corporation from 1996 to August 2001, playing a key role in the company's move from a private family held business to a publicly held multi-plant manufacturer and distributor of paints and coatings. Contact Ronald by e-mail: and visit .

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Copyright 2004 by Ronald C. Lazof. All rights reserved.

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