Raise the Meaning Quotient for Employees to Raise Productivity
We have been writing over the last week about the top leadership skill articles read in the First Quarter of 2013 in the McKinsey Quarterly, the online newsletter of management consultancy McKinsey. We are always struck by how many of these articles are focused on people skills and leadership. Clearly these issues remain perennial challenges for senior executives (and leaders at all levels).
In this post, we explore the fifth most popular article: Increasing the Meaning Quotient of Work. (Free registration may be required to read the full article.)
Our first response to this article was “What the heck is a “meaning quotient?” Next, we thought “Here we go again with extra buzzwords that repackage old knowledge.” But, just as the readers who put this article in the top ten found it worth reading, we also found something useful here.
Employee Engagement Demands Meaningful Work
The authors of this article, Susie Cranston and Scott Keller, have spent a lot of time researching work environments “that inspire exceptional levels of energy, increase self-confidence, and boost individual productivity.”
They found three factors that drove heightened productivity, and labeled them “quotients,” as other authors have done:
Intellectual Quotient: They defined this as Role Clarity, Clear Understanding of Objectives, and “access to the knowledge and resources needed to get the job done.” Fair enough. This encapsulates what we at Bovo-Tighe call “Communication that Counts,” injecting transparency into corporate communications and making them forward-focused and action-oriented.
Emotional Quotient: This correlates closely to our “Unshakable Trust,” a critical success factor in effective leadership and collaboration. Elements of this include the quality of the interactions among coworkers, and having “a baseline of trust and respect, constructive conflict, a sense of humor, a general feeling that “we’re in this together.” The goal is to create a caring or emotionally safe environment in which people feel valued and are comfortable taking risks that could lead to improved innovation.
Meaning Quotient: This third quotient was the hardest to foster, as reported by senior executives. Put simply, if the work you ask people to do has meaning for them, whether it is to achieve a personal, organizational or social goal, they work harder.
The authors asked leaders to assess the impact of injecting real meaning into the work they do:
“The opportunity cost of the missing meaning is enormous. When we ask executives during the peak-performance exercise how much more productive they were at their peak than they were on average, for example, we get a range of answers, but the most common at senior levels is an increase of five times.”
In effect, when the work has real meaning to the employee, these leaders saw significant increases in productivity. We doubt an increase of five times is sustainable, but we know from our own work that a consistent increase of 20% can be sustained if employees get more connected to how their efforts fit into the broader mission of the organization.
The authors boiled their advice for raising the Meaning Quotient to three areas:
“Tell many stories”
Don’t just weave a narrative about how an organizational initiative can help the company, but add a second that focuses on how this is a great opportunity for the employees. Then add a third that talks about how the customer benefits, and a fourth about its societal impact. Multiple narratives allow diverse people to find meaning in their own way, one that fits their personal value systems.
Leave compensation out of it.
The desire to work hard must come from the satisfaction of the work itself to maximize its MQ. Rewards should be small and unexpected, marking individual milestones with “thank you” or a day off, clearly acknowledging the quality of the work done without tying their financial security to it.
Let the employee write their own story or “Lottery ticket.”
This was a fascinating nugget of information. In research projects, some people were given “lottery tickets” pre-printed with numbers on them, and a second set were given the chance to choose their own ticket numbers. Then each was asked how much money they would be willing to swap for the ticket. The people who wrote their own numbers (who had an equal chance of winning) demanded five times the money that those with pre-printed numbers. The simple fact of letting them “write their own ticket” gave them considerably more ownership. How can you build on that tendency into your organization? Involve all employees in planning future initiatives, or in scheming to surmount current challenges. As the authors say:
“When Neville Isdell took charge at Coca-Cola, in 2004, he co-created a turnaround strategy by bringing together his top 150 employees for three multiday “real work” sessions. The process was then cascaded further down into the organization, at small working meetings where participants could in effect write their own lottery ticket about the implications for their particular parts of the business.”
The initiative came to be called “The Manifesto for Growth.”
“(It) generated returns of 20 percent, driven by volume increases equivalent to selling an extra 105 million bottles of Coke a day. In this period, staff turnover fell by 25 percent, and the company reported what external researchers called unprecedented increases in employee engagement for an organization of this size.”
Investing in employee engagement should not wait for a crisis, however. Any organization can reap its rewards with a consistent dedication to fostering it, in our experience in as little as 90 days.