What’s Your “OQ”​ and Why Should You Care?

First, there was IQ, then EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and now OQ (Organizational Intelligence).

Put simply, OQ is your ability to monitor, recognize, and fine-tune your overall impact on your organization and colleagues.

Have you ever worked with someone who colleagues described as a “bull in a china shop” or as “a bad fit”?


That’s likely low Organizational Intelligence in action. In fact, even with extraordinary knowledge, skills, and experience, it will hold someone back from succeeding. It can also be the key difference between longevity and an untimely departure from an organization.

Below is real-life “needs work” feedback about clients and their colleagues that I have collected working as an Executive Coach, including the tools I’ve used to help them increase Organizational Intelligence when practiced consistently.

1. How can you meet the organization where it is rather than where you think it should be?

Feedback: “She kept saying, ‘at my last company we did X, and it worked so much better,’ and ‘we need to have more crucial conversations around here.’ It frankly sounded like we couldn’t do anything right.”

Solution: Higher OQ means meeting the organization’s capabilities, taboos, norms, and culture right where they are rather than where you think they could or should be. Accept them for what they are. Be a powerful observer and ask clarifying questions to determine the unspoken do’s and don’ts, rewards and accolades, and how conflict and feedback are handled. Mirror the culture you inhabit, and it will begin to mirror you back, which is necessary to help you build the credibility to make change.


2. How are you managing your level of neediness to be the center of attention?

Feedback: “He needs to be in the spotlight—he’s the only VP who sends out all-hands messages to the exec team about whatever’s on his mind; plus, it’s often a fire drill. He’s exhausting.”

Solution: An employee with a higher OQ understands that a lower profile creates more sustainable forms of influencing, which is the opposite of needing to be noticed or overusing fire drills. The more confident you are in your experience and abilities—without needing to draw excessive attention to yourself, the less likely the org will be to reject and/or eject you.


3. What are the best ways to learn what you’re missing?

Feedback: “He doesn’t realize how many people are avoiding him these days. He’s burned some bridges and doesn’t seem aware of it.”

Solution: As we interact with our organization, we may make waves without knowing it. An individual with a higher OQ may ask a colleague who seems to have a good handle on how things work a few questions, such as:

  • In what ways do I get in my own way in terms of the impact I want to have on our organization overall?
  • What, if anything, can I do differently to be a more trusted champion of change here?
  • What am I doing or not doing that’s getting in the way of me being a go-to person for most of my colleagues?
  • What are the current cultural dos and don’ts that I should be aware of or am unintentionally ignoring or going against?


If the answers are provocative, or you feel defensive, simply write them down, and don’t defend or debate; otherwise, you won’t get the candor you need in the future.

To be clear, I’m not asking you to give in to everything you dislike about your organization’s culture or way of operating. I’m suggesting you meet it where it is and start there. Then, be the enabler with high Organizational Intelligence to help your colleagues move in the right direction. If instead you parachute in and land in the middle of the playing field, the story becomes all about you rather than your excellence in helping make your organization more successful and leading it to where it needs to go.

“Why should I spend time managing perceptions of my colleagues or of the organization overall?”


I am not saying you should do that. Instead, I suggest you monitor and manage your impact in ways that create the right conditions for that impact to be positive. That way, you’ll win hearts and minds, inspire, and energize your organization.