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Developing Passion and Upskilling

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Autumn Shields, Senior Information Technology Manager at The University of Texas at Austin and current MOR program participant. Autumn may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

I believe people can change. One of the most rewarding aspects of management and leadership for me is getting to know my team members, finding out what they’re capable of today, and supporting them as they grow and expand their capabilities for tomorrow. Their limitations aren’t set in stone. Each time they gain new confidence to step beyond their comfort zone and expand their borders, it’s exciting for them and for me.

In the March 28, 2023 Tuesday Reading, Jack Wolfe asked the question, “With unemployment low, turnover high, and job openings plentiful, what should we be doing to ensure that we have, and keep, the people we need for both operational and strategic activities?”  Jack pointed out that we must consider more than just salary when sizing up our employee value proposition: employees value flexible work-life balance, good benefits, a sense of purpose, and a strong organizational culture where their voice is heard and appreciated. I second all of this, and I want to add another element to the list: We absolutely must include upskilling, professional development, and career growth opportunities in our overall employee value proposition.

Consider this 2022 survey by Harvard Business Review: “Our survey found that the top reason otherwise engaged employees decide to look for a new job is a lack of learning and growth opportunities — they can’t see how to move forward and continue to develop if they stay in their current role. When their future at a company looks like more of the same — or isn’t really defined at all — they begin to spend more time on Dice, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter.” The American Upskilling Study, a 2021 Gallup survey of 15,066 adults, had similar findings: “For employers, there are also clear benefits in providing upskilling opportunities related to attracting new employees. Sixty-five percent of workers say the opportunity to participate in an upskilling program is an “extremely” or “very” important factor in deciding whether to take a new job, and 61% cite it as “extremely” or “very” important when weighing the decision to remain at their current job.”

Real, meaningful learning and development opportunities not only help us to attract new talent, but also help our current employees continue to feel fulfilled, engaged, and passionate about their work. Jack pointed out that 46% of workers rated “passion” as their top priority in the 2021 University of Michigan study of college-educated workers. What is passion and how could we encourage it in a worker who isn’t fully engaged? Should we just give up on an employee who isn’t passionate about their work? No! Maybe their passion can be developed. Consider this article on the mindset to re-kindle lost passion from the BBC WORKLIFE feature: The article describes a study by Patricia Chen at The University of Texas at Austin. Chen describes two different mindsets about passion. “Fit theorists” believe that there’s a perfect job for each individual, that people have to find the right job to suit their passions. “Develop theorists,” on the other hand, believe that passion can be developed as a learning process in any line of work.

I’m so in the “develop theorist” camp! I believe that you can absolutely find passion and fulfillment in your career, whether you knew earlier in life that you wanted to do it “when you grew up” or not. Chen’s article goes on to describe strategies for increasing both passion and motivation. These include:

  • Proximal goal setting with rewards.  This is splitting a large goal into smaller tasks and finding meaningful ways to celebrate and self-reward for completing those tasks. Rewards can and should be simple, such as going on that stretch break or having that mid-afternoon snack.
  • Societal relevance.  This one often comes somewhat natural to those of us in higher education – how is the work you’re doing having a positive impact on others and society more broadly?
  • Personal relevance.  What are ways that what you’re doing also matters to you outside of work? For example, a skill you’re honing at work that you can apply in other ways.
  • Finding mentors.  Finding others that inspire you and help you push yourself further can increase passion as well.
  • Finding fun.  What are ways you could make the environment more fun with colleagues?

Learning can also go hand-in-hand with passion and motivation, “Acquiring new knowledge can itself prime someone’s curiosity to know more, as they identify further points of interest, and the very fact of having made progress and mastered difficult tasks can be a reward in itself. So, someone who is feeling demotivated might look for new ways to grow their skill set.”  I know that I have had periods in my own career when my work started to feel stale, and I started to feel less engaged. In every case, learning a new skill or tackling a new challenge played a role in re-igniting my spark for my work.  

Training and professional development, when done well, is not just an expenditure. It’s a critical investment in our people. When our team members upskill, their confidence and ability to face future challenges grow, and the team’s capacity grows. It’s a win-win for the org and for our individual team members. As leaders, it’s on us to cultivate and support a thriving culture of learning in our organizations.  What are some ways you can further provide a thriving culture of learning this week, this month, or this year?

Which strategy for increasing passion and motivation most resonates with you?

Last week we asked if you have habits you want to change.

  • 25% said they have many habits to change
  • 65% said they have a small handful to change
  • 8% said while their habits aren’t perfect, they can live with them
  • 2% said they have developed the habits and lifestyle they desire

If you are one out of every 50 (2%) of our respondents who said you have developed the habits and lifestyle you desire, congratulations!  That is awesome!  Also, please contact us if you’d be interested in writing a future Tuesday Reading to help us learn from how you’ve achieved this.

For the 90% of the rest of us who want to change habits in some way, last week’s consideration of willpower and this week’s discussion of passion and learning provide a potent combination for change.  What is getting in the way of achieving the change in habits we desire?  Is it a lack of willpower?  Is it a lack of passion?  Is it something else?  Whatever the source, identifying and naming it is an important first step to making the change you desire.