Turning Passion Into Action

This Saturday, about 80 Bernie Sanders supporters took over the corners of 72nd & Dodge in Omaha. They were waving signs, singing and chanting. If you weren’t a driver trying to navigate the busy intersection, it was a nice festive atmosphere. The strategy was undoubtedly to drum up additional support for the Sander’s campaign leading up to the Nebraska Democratic Caucus in March. Standing on a street corner waving signs is part of a larger category of campaign activities called “Visibility.” Passionate volunteers love visibility activities; however, political organizing professionals know visibility is the least effective way to secure votes.

As a political organizer, one of the challenges I routinely faced was channeling volunteers passion for a cause or candidate into activities that made a difference. While you probably won’t be rounding up votes for a candidate, the strategies for focusing people’s passions into action that drive organizational growth works no matter what field you’re in.

Based on my experience, I’ve created 5 simple steps you can use to take the passion others feel and focus it on activities that effectively grow your organization or business. For illustrative purposes, let’s stick with the waiving candidate’s sign example I opened the post with. While political in nature, I’ve used these steps in many other situations to redirect the energy fueled by an individual’s passion into effective actions.

1. Recognize Their Passion.

Nothing aggravates people more than when their passion isn’t recognized by someone in a position of authority. No one is passionate about waving a sign on a street corner; they’re passionate about getting the candidate elected (accomplishing an objective). To be successful, you need to recognize the action they’re expressing a desire to do motivated by something deeper. You need to address that underlying motivation for their passion. In the business world, this might be growing revenue, increasing the audience for a blog, improving efficiency, creating a new process and so on.

2. Empathize with Their Passion.

Every day we get to work with people who are passionate about the same things we are, is a good day. As an organizer, I’d build on the first step by speaking to their deeper passion for the candidate and sharing my passion for getting that person elected, too. This step establishes that you are both working from common ground, and you share a desire to accomplish the same goal. This will keep them engaged and make them more open to suggestions about different approaches to achieving success. For the rest of this process, we’ll focus on redirecting the energy from their passion into a more productive activity.

3. Establish Your Expertise.

Chances are, by virtue of your position, you’re up-to-date on the latest trends and techniques that drive success. On campaigns, we train staff constantly and encourage them to share best practices among themselves. Unfortunately, I’ve heard more than one staffer try and establish their expertise by saying, “I’m paid to do this, trust me.” This approach rarely works. To establish expertise, you need to have a genuine conversation about your experiences, training and what you’ve learned from peers. This takes time, but taking a shortcut, like saying “I’m paid to do this,” is less effective.

4. Get Buy-in For What Works.

Now that you’ve demonstrated you’re an expert it’s time to get them to buy into a different plan of action. This is a critical step I’ve watched many people skip. Outside of the political world, if you skip this step, you’re missing out on harnessing the full energy they could bring. On a campaign, often the volunteer would just leave. Direct voter contact with a volunteer is one of the best ways to identify supporters and persuade undecided voters. As you can imagine this is a difficult jump for a volunteer to make: they wanted to hold a sign on a street corner, now you’re asking them to make phone calls. I’ve engaged in a wide range of rhetorical acrobatics to get buy-in for making phone calls. On a campaign, getting a volunteer to make this jump is something only a few gifted organizers can do with any frequency. To secure buy-in, we usually have to move on to step five.

5. Visualize Success.

I’m borrowing directly from Monroe’s Motivated Sequence here. Alan Monroe was an expert at motivating people to action; the fourth step in his proven motivational sequence was visualization. In this crucial step, I help the volunteer visualize both the short-term and long-term outcomes of making phone calls. We talk about how identifying 20 supporters today builds the campaign and will improve our efficiency turning those supporters out to the polls. Finally, I help them visualize victory on Election Night and the positive impact our candidate will have for years to come after being elected.

Key Takeaways

Someone who is passionate about a cause, achieving an objective or the organization’s mission brings unmatched energy and excitement. Sometimes, the actions they want to take to support what they’re passionate won’t achieve success in the most effective way. By recognizing their passion, establishing common ground and having a genuine conversation about the best way forward you can effectively harness the person’s passion and energy into an action that truly helps the organization move forward.

I hope you can put these steps into action in your organization. Feel free to reach out if you have questions about how to make this process work for your unique situation.