Does Purpose or Passion Predict Performance?

Research on Purpose
March 14, 2018

When it comes to performance, what matters more: purpose or passion? Do you want employees who are enthusiastic about their work or feel it has a broader meaning and helps other people?

This is the question University of California Berkeley Professor, Morten Hansen, wanted to answer for his new book. To do so, he surveyed 5,000 employees and then associated their responses with performance scores from their employers. This enabled him to see the connection between performance, purpose, and passion.

He found that people without purpose or passion are very low performers – bottom 10th percentile. Similarly, he found that those with high passion and purpose were outstanding performers – 80th percentile. No headline there.

What he found that has surprised leaders is that purpose is far more important than passion. If someone had passion but little purpose, they fared only a little better than someone without either – 20th percentile.

On the other hand, if someone had low passion but high purpose, they saw a major jump in performance – 64th percentile.

Purpose trumps passion.

In Dan and Chip Heath’s latest book, The Power of Moments, they explain this simply. “Passion is individualistic. It can energize us but also isolate us, because my passion isn’t yours. By contrast, purpose is something we can share. It can knit groups together.”

They go on to explain the findings of Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski, who inspired much of our work at Imperative. “Purpose can be cultivated in a moment of insight and connection.” They recommend that leaders cultivate a sense of purpose – “to unite people who might otherwise go in different directions.”

That has been our mission at Imperative since we founded the company. Our SaaS platform unites teams and organizations using the science of purpose. It creates the moments of shared purpose that helps everyone see that their work matters.

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