Keys to team transformation. While athletes are familiar with what it means to be "in the zone," claims leaders can adopt a similar strategy to encourage their teams to perform at their peak. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Recently, I was struck by a quote from tennis player Novak Djokovic following his win at the Australian Open in January 2019. He told reporters, "You don't need to think too much. I guess you're driven by some force that takes over you and you feel divine, you feel like in a different dimension. It's quite an awesome feeling that we all try to reach and stay in." It was a particularly strong and genuine articulation of what it means to be "in the zone."

While we often ascribe that feeling to athletes such as Djokovic, or musicians and performers getting "in the groove" onstage, it's important to recognize that being in the zone is something we can all strive for. However one chooses to describe that feeling, at its core, being in the zone is about achieving peak performance — feeling empowered to take something on, do it well and have fun in the process. As claims organizations undergo transformative change as a result of digitalization, automation and workforce shifts, capturing that feeling for employees in the workplace can help ensure people feel resilient, empowered and productive in the face of change.

How to get employees in the zone: The meaning quotient

Today's claims leaders need a strategy that not only aids employees in understanding and embracing change but also empowers them to perform at their peak amid the transformation. Motivating employees requires understanding what excites and challenges them; we call this critical ingredient the meaning quotient. Providing that sense of meaning is what turns a job into a more deeply engaging, energizing career.

We know that claims leaders want to provide the meaning quotient, but we tend to see a disconnect in the intention and the execution. Leaders rely heavily on their existing toolkit for employee engagement, but a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work in today's claims world — where a number of functional teams exist, demographics stretch from millennials to baby boomers, and large-scale change is taking place. Injecting meaning into employees' lives to help them get in the zone requires a new way of thinking.

Creating meaning for employees in the midst of change

Claims leaders need to first recognize that while the meaning quotient has value for all employees, not everyone finds meaning in the same things. In our experience, there are five areas in which individuals find meaning:

Company or organization: Achieving the organization's goals and vision

Customer: Delivering on the company's promise to customers

Society: Thriving for years and contributing to a lasting positive change in the community

Team: Working closely with the team to deliver on greater goals

Personal: Developing themselves to their highest potential to be able to continue growing and providing for those around them

Leaders tend to use the same stories to inject meaning into employees' work lives — often it's a turnaround story that describes how the company or a department needs to make sweeping changes to improve performance. In the face of a bad year on losses, for example, many claims organizations have company-wide conversations about how to turn things around and where to improve, and leaders set company goals.

Those stories can be motivating, certainly, but they hit mainly on the company or organization source of meaning, which only taps into the meaning quotient for a subset of employees.

So it is up to claims leaders to create an effective story that incorporates all five of these sources of meaning and truly help their people get in the zone.

Creating powerful narratives for claims transformations

Here are examples of activities and opportunities that can bring the five sources of meaning to life for claims professionals.

Company or organization

  • Helping the claims organization rise to the top
  • Fulfilling the company mission through smarter claims processes and deeper engagement
  • Beating the competition; having the opportunity to disrupt the industry and bring new capabilities to serve customers; and being perceived as the claims organization leading the industry due to analytics, expertise and innovative ways of handling claims


  • Helping people get back on their feet, sometimes after major disasters that have upended their lives
  • Creating a superior customer experience — simply making a customer's day or solving a larger problem for them — thus providing agents with a source of energy and sense of accomplishment


  • Playing a critical role in accident and disaster relief
  • Making people's lives easier and helping their financial stresses
  • Playing an active role in the community, such as through volunteer day or impact activities
  • Being able to make a larger impact as part of the organization


  • Working together to problem solve; collaborating creatively
  • Experiencing an environment of inclusion, belonging and connection


  • Seeing opportunities for advancement and personal and professional growth
  • Feeling stimulated and challenged by complex claims activities and opportunities to problem solve

Embedding these sources of meaning in leaders' communications is the next step. Day-to-day meetings and coaching conversations can also incorporate sources of meaning to help them resonate more deeply. When leaders show empathy to their employees by making sure they provide individual sources of meaning, they inspire colleagues to do the same. That level of empathy can then be shown to customers, which provides an advantage; McKinsey claims practice research shows a lack of empathy is the number one reason for customer dissatisfaction in claims.

I encourage everyone to run this exercise to help get employees in the zone and achieve peak performance. But first, leaders should start by asking themselves: What is my source of meaning? Think through those magical moments in your career where everything was flowing. Maybe you had the chance to present in front of the head of the business on your areas and did an amazing job — you had answers for everything, you were articulate and engaging, and you left thinking you nailed it. Or it could have been times when you were able to connect with policyholders while handling their claims, helping them in a critical moment and knowing that you were making a difference in their lives. What was an "in the zone" moment for you?

Once you know the answer, ask your team what their source of meaning is, or a time they felt truly "in the zone." I guarantee this will bring a deeper level of conversation with your peers, teams and organization. It's a simple thing. It starts with a reflection that has a ripple effect when you share it with those around you. Creating awareness in the organization — pushing others to find their source of meaning and then creating an environment to deliver on it — allows you to unlock more energy and better performance than you ever thought possible.

Elixabete Larrea Tamayo ([email protected]) is a partner in the insurance practice at McKinsey & Company.


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