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What's Love Got to Do With It?

Heather Hughes

Without a doubt, managers can create amazing changes by learning, living, and leading the vision of a better workplace—somewhere people can make their best contributions.

The ‘L’ theme is an intriguing one that brought a stream of other HR words to mind, but love stuck.

Really? Yes, love is a powerful driver, though not a word which surfaces often enough in business.

Does ‘love’ belong in the workplace?

As Tina Turner asked, “What’s love got to do with it?” Can ‘love’ ignite a passion for work? Are the two interchangeable? These are the questions more organizations are asking, and there are lessons to be learned from how passion has permeated the industrial workplace and gained international attention.

Ipsos, one of the world’s leading survey-based marketing research firms describes an engaged employee (pdf) as “fully involved in and enthusiastic about their work. Engaged employees are committed, passionate and inspired—and they inspire others by example. They care about the future of the company and are willing to invest the discretionary effort to see that the organization succeeds. They are willing to go ‘above and beyond’ as a standard practice.”

Sounds like love, doesn’t it?

Leaders, Love and Vision

Love makes people excited; they look ahead eagerly, anticipating a better, happier future, one in which they will reap great joy. They conjure up images of a future to be created and talk endlessly about it to anyone who will listen.

Leaders in successful organizations do the same.

These leaders hold tightly to their vision of what that bright future will look like, and describe it to others in the hopes of stirring excitement and passion in them too.

Not Your Average Run of the Mill

I worked with just such a leader in a BC sawmill many years ago, and the warmth of his smile, his firm handshake and small yet comfortable office remain with me today. One day I popped into his office and he spoke quite breathlessly about a vision he had for his mill. “It’s going to be the best darn mill on the island”, he exclaimed. “Our people will be at the top of their game, raising the bar for everyone in the industry.”

He was beaming. He was serious. He was passionate. I tentatively asked how he would know his mill was the best. Without missing a beat, he assured me he was going to be running 24/7, doubling his profits with superior quality and safety would be exemplary—all because his people ‘loved’ his plan.

While on a tour in Asia, he saw the opportunity to cut specialty lumber for temples. The precise demands of the Asian clients would challenge his staff, but when he had told them about this chance, they were all ‘fired up’ about the opportunity to notch up their skills to meet the demand.

He was beaming. He was serious. He was passionate.

Passion Builds a Temple

I spent the morning with that manager and saw how his passion spilled over to others. It was infectious. He told me, grinning like a love-struck teenager, that he’d called his senior team together and asked them if they would help him re-inject a passion for sawmill excellence into their workforce—a team of some 130 mature and well entrenched unionized employees. He told me they’d looked stunned, but he said he would take the lead if they would just follow along, and to that they happily agreed.

He planned to talk with a few more people that day, so he set off into the operation, taking a team leader and me along. One-on-one and in small groups, he talked to everyone we met; he sat in the lunchroom, met people in the parking lot and hung out at the dock where ships were being loaded.

This is what I heard him say. “We have been given a unique opportunity to help build beautiful temples with BC wood cut in our mill; the clients trust us to give them the very best timbers, cut and packaged to meet very demanding specifications. Will you help us do that?”

All day long he talked excitedly, passionately about his vision, conveying this love of the idea and his belief in his people to pull it off. Soon I noticed his team leader joining in, selling the idea of being the flagship mill for their international parent company.

Clearly the mill manager was ‘in love’ with this idea and his passion and enthusiasm oozed from every pore and with every conversation.

‘We’re helping to build temples’ proved a more inspiring mantra than ‘we cut lumber’

Love Always Takes Work

Regardless, it wasn’t straightforward. It required hard work and a diligence on everyone’s part to meet the client’s exacting standards. Some improvements were quick and easy, others much more challenging. It was a path fraught with challenges to be overcome.

Quality became important to everyone, but production output originally suffered. In time, the client’s exacting standards became their own exacting standards; more than production picked up.

Pride took hold, and the language of the workplace changed. ‘We’re helping to build temples’ proved a more inspiring mantra than ‘we cut lumber’. That same leader asked the union executive to ‘trust us’ when their own members insisted that setting up cameras was the only way to learn about another team’s amazing production results.

The mill manager’s passion and vision rippled through the entire operation. “I love working here”, a front line supervisor told me one day. “It’s great to have a challenge and to know my job is important.”

High Engagement Requires Clear Path

When I talked with the HR department I heard about their contributions to the mill and how they too had evolved. Initially their role was to listen, learn, then lead the changes needed to free people up to innovate. The changes were made to policies and practices deemed to be a hindrance, so they were modified or scrapped.

The HR team then latched on to the passion for excellence and examined their own role. They determined they could take the lead on building the knowledge and skills of the employees. Budgets were adjusted, notice boards were installed and daily results were posted at the mill entrance. People were recognized for any contribution they made that got the mill closer to its vision. HR staff saw a role for themselves and strode ahead, ‘bushwhacking’ their way through red tape, and found little difficulty in selling the improvements to team leaders, union reps and frontline employees.

Bringing the Love Home to Work

Managers have a lot of power over engagement. As you look at your role, question everything. Ask. Probe. Challenge. Test the validity of the status quo.

  • Why do we still do it this way?
  • Is this helping or hindering our people?
  • Do these policies support our vision?
  • Isn’t it time to review and re-write old practices?

Then you can tell Tina—love has everything to do with it!

Temple Photo: Kumar Appaiah via Compfight cc
Sunset Photo: gr0uch0 via Compfight cc


The thought that we could live in this ideal world is fantastic, but when it comes to real life the mighty dollar is still the major modivation tool in all business at the present time ,which we hopefully will change?

By Dave C on 2015/04/03

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