Is passion your work key for success?

"At the moment, the only thing that motivates me is money: it is salary day tomorrow." These words were uttered by a candidate in an interview as we were discussing how to find motivation at work. After hearing these words, I started contemplating whether he truly is not motivated by, for instance, meaningful work or passion for success.

I am working in Northern Finland where the number of population and businesses is rather low compared to large metropolitans in the business world. Despite of this, conditions are quite prosperous. We are accustomed to working in challenging environments, and we do not let the coldness and darkness of winter let us down. Instead, we strive for success, growth and development in global markets. How is this possible? What is it that motivates people at work?

I studied the topic as a part of my Executive MBA degree in which I examined future leadership in growth SMEs. I noticed that although good leadership is the basis for success, it is as vital that employees are competent and motivated.

Meaningful Work

Nowadays, we often hear the concept of meaningful work used by growth companies as well as any other organisations. Most of the leaders, with whom I cooperate on a daily basis, are eager to do something truly important and meaningful, and so do their employees. Some employees are motivated by tasks that they see may "change the world", step by step, such as digitalising a traditional industry or using artificial intelligence to help people in their everyday lives. Such tasks create a sense of an active atmosphere. Being able to apply creative thinking, learning new things constantly, having a proactive working environment and flexible work are also crucial to employees. They appreciate being able to make decisions independently and have an impact on things, elements that cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence. It could also be stated that having a meaningful work is intertwined with a sense of togetherness; we all want to be a part of a community, a team, in which we can be ourselves but still appreciate each other.

Passion for Success

Both my research and experience have shown that growth companies have a true passion for success, and the employees are exceptionally eager to put effort into their work and believe that they can contribute to the organisational success. In Finland, we talk about sisu, which, according to Wikipedia, equals to persistency, relentless willpower and resilience. Indeed, resiliency when encountering challenges, having high goals and demands as well as hunger for success are emphasised when leading a growth company. Employees in growth companies are proven to be motivated to work hard and resiliently reach goals, they want to have and keep the passion for work burning even when encountering hardships – they do not dwell on failures for too long. In Northern Finland, we can speak from experience – after the ICT sector collapsed in our market area, many had to build the business from the scratch and strive for growth. Without persistency, resilience and cooperation this could not have revived the business market. Nevertheless, we were eager to do things better than others and build a basis for a successful future. Instead of being satisfied with the familiar and settling for less, we sought growth potential in new markets and business areas.

Why Settle for Less?

Why settle for less when developing or leading a company? Passion for leading and thus ensuring gradual development of the company is essential. Variety, opportunity to learn new things, transparency in leadership and having clear targets seem to motivate people, as we often hear in interviews. Allow me to highlight the key areas as I see it:

A clear focus

For both organisations and individuals, a clear focus turns out to be vital for success. We should embrace the fact that we are not able to control everything but we need to prioritise, simplify and filter in order to find key elements for success for the company. However, we also need to be able to renew and be proactive in a changing work environment.

Human interaction vs Artificial Intelligence

In successful growth companies, organisational structures are low and decision-making is agile, which has a great impact on motivation of the employees – oh yes, the employees. As the artificial intelligence is taking over the world, emotional intelligence and empathy will appear even more significant than before, since they cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence yet. Appliances and robots will perform routine tasks in the future, which means that human interaction and emotional intelligence will affect our work environment stronger than before. It can be stated that we will be more motivated by our relationships and interaction in the future. In fact, artificial intelligence may bring more opportunities rather than becoming merely a threat. We will be able to concentrate on our expertise and versatile work, whereas machines will handle routine tasks for us in our everyday life.


Not only does a successful company need a great business idea, but key ingredients are also motivation and a will to succeed are vital. Getting payed for work is, of course, important, but so is being motivated in the work you perform. It is obvious, and even studies show that people are not motivated by money in the long-run.

So to conclude, what is the secret to be prosperous in the growth market? Motivation and thus ingredients for success seem to derive from meaning and meaningfulness of the work, passion for work as well as reaching goals and resilience. The latest example is ice hockey. The Finnish ice hockey team won the gold medal of world championship despite the presumptions. This was the real story of bravery, good motivation, teamwork and attitude – the winning is a matter of choice and attitude!

"Having to" and salary can become sources for motivation, but what about real passion for work?