Heart held in hand

I was reading a McKinsey article online the other day which introduced this concept of the Meaning Quotient (MQ). Together with IQ (Intelligence or Intellectual Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient), these 3 Qs are essential factors or characteristics that a workplace should have in order to inspire peak performance.

The article defines ’meaning’ as “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.”

Within the context of finding meaning in work, my take on ’meaning’ would be the factor that helps employees see what they are doing as more than “just a job” or “just a pay check”.

So, how do we make work meaningful for the people we manage or for the people who work with us?

Finding The Right Motivation

Through our research and the work we do, we know that people are motivated in different ways, and if we are able to reach deeper into the realms of values and purpose, perhaps we can bring about a greater match between what we do and the meaning people derive from it. They may even end up being happier!

Just a simple conversation between colleagues or friends will reveal that people work for different reasons.

  • Some will reveal that work is simply to earn a living and as long as the wage is fair, meaning can be derived from other areas of life.
  • Others suggest that work has to be intellectually stimulating with a need for an individual to bring value to the organisation.
  • Yet others will say that work is about building relationships – with colleagues and customers alike. It is about making a difference in the lives of others, or simply believing in the product or service provided.
  • Finally, there might be those who crave a challenge and for whom work should be exciting and interesting.

And, for many, it’s probably a combination of the above statements. A lot depends on how we prefer to think – essentially, how our brains are wired.

So, if our workplace is made up of a spectrum of all the above people, then how do we manage them?

The answer is to ensure that our organizational mission, vision and culture appeals as broadly as possible, and to train leaders (and ourselves) to be aware of their own style and be adaptive to others.

If this isn’t well managed, as research and history have shown, misguided leaders often end up killing meaning for those who work for them. Good leaders, on the other hand, often take on the role of ’meaning maker’ and in the process, drive higher workplace productivity.

Better Communication for Greater Meaning

Even understanding that there are derivations of meaning, leaders still need messages that resonate. There is uniqueness in how individuals prefer to be communicated with and how messages are perceived and received – in essence, how people prefer to behave has an impact on how meaning is communicated.

  • Finding meaning through building relationships could be done in large groups or small teams.
  • Complex challenges can be tackled with a high intensity nature or a gentler form.
People are, after all, just different, and if we take the effort to consider how they might best be communicated with, we may be successful in unlocking the meaning in the work they do.

One final point – while it is important to consider the different perspectives in deriving meaning, what’s perhaps more natural for a leader or an organization is to establish a climate or culture that embraces diversity.

If the old adage ’Different strokes for different folks’ is encouraged, perhaps meaning for more individuals can be derived, which results in a happier, more productive, effective and exciting organisation to work for.

“… it is interesting to note what perks and preference employees enjoy that influences their on-the-job satisfaction. This type of insight paired with feedback from a company’s own employees can help an employer to understand what attributes are attractive to employees as well as potential recruits.” – Glassdoor spokesperson Samantha Zupan, on Forbes’ The Best Companies to Work For in 2013

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