HR: Where’s the passion..?

This is one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite movies – Serendipity – I know, I know, but what can I say? Im a sucker for a love story 😉 The quote is from the scene when Dean reads out a make believe Obituary:

 “The Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: Did he have passion?”

I was reminded of this word twice today, firstly by my 12 year old daughter. To say she is passionate about the environment is an understatement. She constantly follows us around the house, turning off the lights as she goes, or bursting into tears if I leave the car running for a nanosecond more than is absolutely necessary! Today, without any thought about the risk, she remonstrated with a man in his car because he threw his litter out of the window. Passion in overdrive! You can’t knock it though, we need more like her if we are going to really save the planet. But I digress…

The second was when I read this excellent post from Sukh Pabial, @naturalgrump on twitter. It was his review of the CIPD’s #hrd12 conference and is an excellent read. He makes some great observations and also gives credit where it’s due. The comment stream is also great which is a testament to the value of the post. I could feel the passion coming through from Sukh. Yes, the conference fell short of his expectations in some ways, but he cares, and genuinely want’s it to get better.  If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have invested his personal time in writing about it.

However, the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that the HR profession lacks some of this passion. That’s not to say there are not any passionate people in HR – the people I have met through ConnectingHR and twitter are great examples, and there are too many to list here. But the list is small overall. When I consider the profession as a whole, the picture looks very different. I see process, detail, procedure, caution, data, metrics, jargon and a good dose of angst. Plenty of other things, very little passion. I can also say that in my 8 years at Courtenay HR, meeting HR folk as a day job, I didnt see much of it then either. And I met a lot of HR folk during that period.

When I studied for my CIPD – back in the 80’s – yes I know I don’t look old enough 😉 – One of the course leaders had a mantra:

“If you are interested in Personnel because you are interested in people, you had best get out of it.”

At the time I convinced myself he was right, but I have since come to believe he was totally wrong. Perhaps the overall direction of HR in the last 20 years has been influenced by this view – keep it scientific, focus on the process, not the person. Do everything to increase our commercial credentials. Maybe so, but in doing so we have, in my view, ripped the passion for people – for relationships, emotion, conversation, collaboration – from the profession and ultimately, from organisations.

We face a global financial crises of proportions not seen in most of our lifetimes which doesn’t say much for the quality of leadership in organisations does it? Or politicians for that matter. Perhaps if we could get the passion back into business, get closer to the people, each other, we might just find the answers. The leadership of Kodak didn’t seem to have a grasp of what ailed their business, but I bet the people standing around the watercooler did.

So what say you folks? How do we put passion back on the agenda for HR? How did we lose it in the first place? Did we lose it along the way or did we have it kicked out of us?


  1. Oh Gareth you’ve hit on something here that is SO important. You know my over-excited ways and this can be a bit much for some people but like you, I love what I do so much that I can’t help but let the passion out. Regularly. Too regularly for some.

    Yet I remain, like you and your CIPD tutor from the 80s (no you don’t look old enough), steadfast in the view that passion – for people and what matters in the world of work – is too scarce a commodity. Passion is like a magnet to those who care about what they do; and the opposite force for those who have lost the desire for virtuous success.

    If an organisation (like I recall HCL/Vineet Nayar) measured passion and the impact to success, survival and maybe even a wider societal benefit – we might not be in such a mess on things.

    Passion can be challenging for some people to show (I’ll look a bit freakish and odd) alien to some (why does that matter) and has hit some people hard where their intended outcome was not achieved (worse, they’ve been vilified and chastised for showing passion) and perhaps that’s why so many people shy away from showing passion and revert to lurking, being bullish or power-hungry. Yet to me, these are no excuses when compared to the energy, creativity, determination, ability-creation and opportunity enhancing that passion brings to things you care about and want to well with.

    So another profound blog in a week that (up to, during and since HRD12) where we’ve seen passion extolled in abundance.

    Your point about “clinical” HR is well made – maybe we have focused on increasing commercial credentials and lost some of the passion in that “execution”. Passion alone may not be our saviour but it accounts for a huge amount of the salvation equation in my view and I think your display of passion about passion is warming, encouraging and helpful to us all.

    I’m not about to turn the passionometer down, I hope others will turn it up now as a result of this stimulating piece. Much appreciated.


    1. Love it. And I’m with you Perry. Turn it up. Totally.

      Gareth, your post could be written about any profession. I know so many people who are absolutely driven, excited, determined, energetic, about their work. About what groups of people can achieve together. It’s a big thing for me. Guess I’d better write my own post because I am in danger of going on and on here. So just 5 points:

      1) Passion is necessary. As humans we need energy, purpose, light, enthusiasm in our lives and in our work.
      2) When we are clinical we are in a straightjacket.
      3) It’s not just HR that gets tied up in being too clinical.
      4) We need to do BOTH the basic processy stuff and be passionate
      5) Leadership. Passion is a leadership thing. As Perry says, passion rubs off on other people; it’s a magnet. Of course it is. Really fabulous top quality leadership is about being passionate, energetic, being completely yourself (and doing the basic transactional stuff, AND being considerate). It’s then that you truly take people with you.


      1. Spot on Flora – it isn’t just an HR thang! Its a company wide issue especially in leadership. I chose HR because it is close to my heart but we need to open up the approach across the entire business to make it work. Clinical sucks! Thanks for commenting!


    2. If you ever look like you are going to turn the passionmeter down I shall take the liberty of giving you a slap, ok?! 😉

      One man’s passion is another man’s irritation – as I have discovered to my personal cost. You are right in that this kind of behaviour is often vilified. My theory is that to some – especially conventional leadership – it implies naivety, lack of realism or commercial awareness. Oh how wrong can they be.

      What I do know is that there is a movement. #punkhr #punkleadership #punkorganisation whatever you call it – its growing not shrinking. I for one am pleased to be a fully paid up, tshirt, movie and book owning convertee!

      Thanks for commenting.


  2. Gareth, a quick one from me. First I really appreciate you saying I helped prompt this post. You’re right about my perception, I wrote about the current state because I care and want to see things done better. I’m responsible for that as is anyone who has a whinge or moan about life.

    Second, we have to find something to be passionate about in life, and do our best with it. I’m lucky, as are you, and the few others you have mentioned, that we’ve found that spark professionally. Not everyone can or will. Life is funny like that.


  3. Hi Sukh. I agree, there are people who dont find that spark, dont find the passion and ultimately, no matter what, never will. But I wager that there are many who dont, but who could have done. We still largely create soulless working experiences – either through crappy leadership or the working environment. I believe everyone deserves a chance to find it, and to be found and that if we do this, we will all benefit. Thanks for stopping by!


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