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’…

Re-Inventing Work: The Feminine Balance

DSC02992You don’t have to be camped out in an Occupy protest to know that some of the biggest challenges facing humanity are in the world of business and employment.

Hearteningly, it’s not just people on the streets who are asking big questions. In the FT, Luke Johnson, a very successful entrepreneur, even quotes Animal Farm in lamenting income inequalities. And on MIX this week, Gary Hamel, ranked by the WSJ as ‘one of the world’s most influential business thinkers’ interviews Lynda Gratton, a professor at LBS, on restoring values to work – and references ‘building spiritual capital’, a term that would have earned him derision only a few year ago.

It’s time to re-invent work. What it’s for. Why we do it. How it helps achieve the prosperity of humankind in its fullest sense.

For me, one vital aspect of this transformation is the advancement of women. Women bring different, richer, and often more balanced, perspectives into play. [if you’re thinking this is wishy-washy and you need the ROI, then McKinsey has compelling studies on how women’s participation is crucial to US economic growth].

So why am I disappointed to read the advice to women in Four Ways That Women Stunt Their Careers on the HBR Blog? Women are advised to avoid modesty and make more efforts to ensure that ‘they get the gold star next to their name’. They should also get used to talking over the top of other people: ‘It’s not easy to get a word in during meetings, especially when six other colleagues are all fighting for the floor’.

I’m sure the authors are well-meaning. I even accept that they may be tactically right. But it’s depressing. We don’t need women to behave more like men. We need women’s participation because that will change work for the better. Men too often pay lip-service to ideals of teamwork and collaboration, but quickly default to highly competitive mindsets. We want women fully involved because they don’t boast so much, because they listen as much as they talk, because they are more inclined to collaborate.

It’s not that men don’t have any of the strengths that we usually associate with women – intuition, empathy, compassion, thinking holistically and long-term. But women’s equal participation – as women – is the best chance of releasing, in all us, our feminine side. That balance alone can transform our workday world. The bird of humanity can only soar when its wings are equally developed.

It’s ours to create a new world of work. I see the full participation of women is an important part of it. I’ve raved about Iain McGilchrist before. He’s recently featured on TED and closes his talk with Einstein’s remark: ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant’.

As McGilchrist observes, we’ve created a society which honours the servant but has forgotten the sacred gift. Recognizing these different perspectives and subtle vital balances – in this case, between feminine and masculine perspectives – seems central to our wellbeing and true prosperity.