I recently attended Inc.'s fantastic GrowCo conference in Las Vegas as a speaker.
I really enjoy these conferences because I meet great people and find myself attending many other seminars as a spectator. I always want to learn, and I pay attention to the concerns of fellow entrepreneurs who come looking for fresh advice and insight into the running of (mostly) new startups.
At the end of one of the seminars I was attending, a frustrated CEO sitting in the audience addressed the group with this very important question:
"When I first started the company, the employees were full of passion. Over time, I expanded and hired new people who now don't seem as passionate about the product. Somehow, we have lost the mojo of the first employees. How do I teach the new ones passion?"
True, passion is the life force and commerce of brand new companies when money is scarce and the driving force behind the new product/service is the creator. It's their job to convince the world that this new idea is something special and will succeed. That well of passion is absolutely necessary in the early stages when a belief system has to be in place in order to overcome the obstacles of a newly created business. But, once the business is up and running, the mechanics of the day-to-day operations take over and for that, an employee has to provide excellence on the job.
From the outside, one would think that working as a roadie with Twisted Sister on the stage/production crew would be a party 24/7. Not true. My crew works on a timing pattern that belies our abilities to be able to perform in front of crowds of 40,000 to 80,000 people. We have to be perfect every time. My crew consists of guys who joined earlier on (when passion was necessary) along with guys who came on much later and brought with them only their expertise. Yet, there are some nights the crew just doesn't perform at the level we need. Why? Because a certain complacency tends to occur in companies when things seem to be going well, regardless of what's happening internally.
We, the band members--the owners--have the unique ability to turn production problems into performance art that gets us through the toughest of times, and likely because we have more than 9,000 shows under our belt. The crew is used to us winning every night. There were, however, nights when things had the potential to go wrong--and they did. Like, when the monitors were not set up correctly so we couldn't hear each other; or the stage set was several inches off target; or the guitars were not staying in tune; or the lights were not corresponding to the music correctly. The list goes on.
Because we always played on rental gear as we flew in to do shows, it means the crew has roughly 30 to 45 minutes to turn the stage and equipment over to us from the previous act so we can be ready. This has to happen every night. It's always a game of precision timing and having to quickly become familiar with different surroundings on a daily basis. It means having absolute focus on the job.
A couple of years ago in Sweden, and for the first time that I can remember, I called for a crew production meeting while we were on tour. It was probably the first time for most of my guys to see me at a production meeting as we have a stage production crew chief whose job it is to run these kind of meetings. I had to speak on behalf of the band members and remind the crew about the high-stakes game we play. As much as these guys are pros, their excellence slipped away momentarily. It didn't matter how much they loved the band or believed in us, what mattered most was that we expect them to do their job perfectly, and they knew they let us down. But the meeting was a wake-up call.
"I can tell you unequivocally that passion is overrated," I said to the CEO at GrowCo. "You can't teach passion but you can teach excellence!"
It starts at the top--lead by example and then accept nothing less. Your employees will respond in kind.