Zoning in on employees’ meaning quotient

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Optimizing workplace productivity is a process requiring continual reinvention given its dynamic nature. The McKinsey Quarterly, a thought publication put out by the leading light of consulting, McKinsey & Company takes the latest, and arguably most thorough, shot at the exercise in boosting workplace performance.

The thrust of the Quarterly’s report is that “through a few simple techniques, executives can boost workplace “MQ” and inspire employees to perform at their peak”, where MQ is the “meaning quotient”.The report notes that attempts at harnessing meaning at work is not something new for both organizations and employees but what sets apart the latest essay is a focus on driving “higher workplace productivity and explain what business leaders can do to create meaning”.



The meaning of “meaning” is a feeling that what is happening in the “work place really matters and that what’s being done has not been done before or that it will make a difference to others”. The authors note how athletes, when in a “zone” deliver exceptional performance, even by their own standards. That elevated output derives from what is termed as “flow” when the individual employs all her/his core capabilties to meet a “challenge”.

Translating the aforementioned “flow” into quotidian situations has been and remains a challenge as “few business leaders have mastered the skill of generating it reliably in the workplace. McKinsey’s research pointed to answers that fell into three slots they labeled IQ(Intelligence Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient) and MQ (Meaning Quotient).

IQ includes “role clarity, a clear understanding of objectives, and access to the knowledge and resources needed to get the job done; what one might term rational elements of a flow experience.” EQ was best summed up as a feeling of “we’re in this together” stemming from “trust and respect, constructive conflict, a sense of humor”. But it was the third, MQ, that generated interest at the highest levels. Key words associated with MQ are “a sense of high stakes; excitement; a challenge; and something that the individual feels matters, will make a difference, and hasn’t been done before.”

MQ also had the most opportunity cost: its absence or inadequate presence actually costs organizations as performance could be at levels that are five times higher were MQ in full flow. Enabling higher MQ centeres around five areas only the first of which, inter-company intra-industry metrics, is regularly addressed. The other four areas that give employees a sense of meaning revolve around their ability to impact (for the better): society, the customer, their cohorts and the employees themselves.



A similar theme underlays a recent article in the Financial Times that zeroes in on how employee loyalty, implictly greater when there is more meaning in their work lives, correlates almost directly to customer loyalty. The FT article advocates more freedom to deliver a “great brand experience” via greater employee empowerment where the latter comes from being deeply involved in “figuring out fundamental business objectives”. The ability to be “self-correcting and self-directing” while interacting with employees in a manner akin to that accorded to customers is essential to engender loyalty and productivity.

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