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Three Strategies for Increasing the ‘Meaning Quotient’ of Work

Musicians talk about being “in the groove,” sportsmen about being “in the zone.” Can employees in the workplace experience similar performance peaks and, if so, what can top management do to encourage the mental state that brings them about?

In their article “Increasing the ‘Meaning Quotient’ of Work,” authors Susie Cranston and Scott Keller substantiate the relationship of meaning to performance, and offer three strategies for organizational leaders to improve the meaning quotient of work.

“We’ve long been interested in work environments that inspire exceptional levels of energy, increase self-confidence, and boost individual productivity,” the authors say. “When we ask leaders about the ingredient they think is most often missing for them and for their colleagues—and by implication is most difficult to provide—they almost invariably signal the same thing: a strong sense of meaning. By ‘meaning,’ we and they imply a feeling that what’s happening really matters, that what’s being done has not been done before or that it will make a difference to others.”

Strategy #1: Tell Five Stories at Once

We typically see organizational leaders tell two types of stories to inspire their teams. The first, the turnaround story, runs along the lines of “We’re performing below industry standard and must change dramatically to survive—incremental change is not sufficient to attract investors to our underperforming company.” The second, the good-to-great story, goes something like this: “We are capable of far more, given our assets, market position, skills, and loyal staff, and can become the undisputed leader in our industry for the foreseeable future.”

The problem with both approaches is that the story centers on the company, and that will inspire some but by no means all employees. Our research shows that four other sources give individuals a sense of meaning, including their ability to have an impact on:

  • Society – for example, making a better society, building the community, or stewarding resources.
  • The customer – for instance, making life easier and providing a superior service or product.
  • The working team – for instance, a sense of belonging, a caring environment, or working together efficiently and effectively.
  • Themselves – examples include personal development, a higher paycheck or bonus, and a sense of empowerment.

Surveys of hundreds of thousands of employees show that the split in most companies – regardless of management level, industry sector, or geography (developed or developing economies) – is roughly equal. It appears that these five sources are a universal human phenomenon.

The implication for leaders seeking to create high-MQ environments is that a turnaround or a good-to-great story will strike a motivational chord with only 20 percent of the workforce. The same goes for a “change the world” vision like those of Disney and Google or appeals to individuals on a personal level. The way to unleash MQ-related organizational energy is to tell all five stories at once.

To read about Strategy #2: Let employees ‘write their own lottery ticket’ and Strategy #3: Use small, unexpected rewards to motivate, read the full article, “Increasing the ‘Meaning Quotient’ of Work.

Relevant Tags career, productivity, workforce,

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