The Meaning Quotient

McKinsey Quarterly - Jan 2013There’s a report published last week by McKinsey that deserves to be widely noticed. It challenges some common preconceptions about how we see work – and highlights our deepest motivations in our work.

When the EBBF set out, years ago, to inspire a discourse on ‘Making Work Meaningful’, I thought it was being wildly optimistic. I was completely wrong, thankfully. The EBBF’s initiative went from strength to strength, bringing together people of many faiths and none in a global consultative process that continues to reverberate.

In parallel, many similar projects have been launched – including much bigger ones like the MiXFiX – in what amounts to a global collaborative search for a new work ethic, for new paradigms for management, and new forms of social enterprise to meet the needs of humanity in the 21st century.

The McKinsey findings are interesting because they confirm just how universal – and important to the bottom line – is this search for meaning at work.

Intellectual Quotient (IQ) matters, says McKinsey: everyone needs role clarity, clear objectives and access to the resources to get the job done. Emotional Quotient (EQ) is similarly vital: we need trust, respect and a sense of collegiate collaboration. But while IQ and EQ are absolutely necessary, they are far from sufficient for peak performance, says McKinsey. Being ‘in the zone’ demands that work has meaning. High performance organizations operate in a high-IQ, high-EQ, and high-MQ (Meaning Quotient) environment.

The productivity differential when working at peak performance is astounding. Yet most executives report that they and their employees are ‘in the zone’ at work less than 10 percent of the time. The McKinsey authors conclude:

“The opportunity cost of the missing meaning is enormous”.

What’s really fascinating in the McKinsey results is how much, across a wide range of cultures and income levels, meaning at work is universally linked to the idea of service to humanity: to society, to customers, to co-workers. It’s the first data I’ve ever seen that confirms that our most profound happiness, our deepest sense of wellbeing, comes from being connected to others, and being able to serve them in some way.

It has to be sincere of course. It’s difficult to reconcile ‘We want to make the world a better place’ with ‘and crush the competition’…