The Value of Dissatisfaction in Organizations

This guest post comes from friend and leadership guru Kevin Eikenberry (@kevineikenberry on Twitter). Kevin’s new book, From Bud To Boss, (written with Guy Harris) officially launches on February 15, 2011 (tomorrow). Purchase the book online on launch day to enjoy many cool goodies!

The Value of Dissatisfaction in Organizations

As leaders we are taught to be on the lookout for dissatisfaction. We learn quickly that dissatisfaction is the cause of many negative results: it causes people to leave; it causes people to become disgruntled; it causes problems of all sorts.

Because of these lessons we learn to look at dissatisfaction as something to avoid, or something we wish or hope will go away.

However, on further study, I believe you will see dissatisfaction isn’t to be avoided or something to be scared of. Rather, it is a natural human situation that should be understood, explored and even celebrated by leaders.

Celebrated?

Let me explain.

Dissatisfaction is simply a state where people wish something was better or different. It’s a sense that the status quo isn’t comfortable or in the best interest of that individual or group. Hence they become dissatisfied with the way things are.

Leadership is about moving people towards a result, an outcome or a goal. If the present situation was perfect, there would be no need for leaders – the status quo would be creating perfect results. Since there is no “perfect” and nirvana exists only in fiction, leaders are required.  And the leader’s work is to move (or lead) people towards something better.

So, when you look at it through this lens, dissatisfaction is simply a precursor to change. When dissatisfaction doesn’t exist – when we are in our comfort zone – choosing to change is very unlikely.

Leadership is about change.

Given this connection, you hopefully can see why celebrating dissatisfaction makes sense. Here are some facts to consider about dissatisfaction:

Dissatisfaction creates energy and interest in people. When it is strong enough they want to make a change of some sort.

Dissatisfaction opens people’s minds. When people sense growing dissatisfaction, they begin to look for ways to make things better – to move back to or towards a new comfort zone.

Dissatisfaction provides an opportunity for change. As I’ve already stated, until people are dissatisfied with the way things are now, they are unlikely to want to change.

Using Dissatisfaction to Your Advantage

Now that you see the clear connection between dissatisfaction and change, here are six ways you can use these facts to your advantage:

Stimulate conversation. When you sense dissatisfaction it is an opportunity for you to ask questions and engage people in conversation about their concerns, dissatisfaction and frustrations. If you bury your head in the sand or avoid the issue, you increase the chance of getting the negative results mentioned earlier. You won’t have to think too long to find examples of this happening in your life.

Create understanding. Conversation can create understanding. As a leader, strive to understand the source(s), depth and potential impact of the dissatisfaction. This understanding will be helpful to you and the other person as well.

Offer the alternatives. Once you understand the dissatisfaction you can help others find solutions. This can be a joint process or you can independently offer alternatives based on your view of the situation. Possible changes are the first step to alleviating dissatisfaction or transforming it into something positive.

Help people move toward the new future. With your help, people can see a new future; one that removes or diminishes the dissatisfaction and creates a better future. As a leader it is your job to create a new future that benefits the organization and its customers. This is at the heart of our jobs as leaders, and dissatisfaction can be the impetus for making it happen. Without your help, especially at this point, dissatisfaction can lead to chaos. With this step, you can make change more positive and possible.

Help people get unstuck. Understanding the dissatisfaction and seeing a new future isn’t enough. People must also know how to get there. As a leader it is your job to help create a plan and a pathway towards the new future. Recognize this role and take it gratefully. You can help people become more satisfied and, in doing so, create better results for individuals and your entire organization. The added benefit is that you will build your credibility and effectiveness as a leader at the same time.

Dissatisfaction needn’t be avoided or seen as a negative. Instead, view dissatisfaction as an opportunity to create change and new results for everyone. When you do this, everyone wins, and you are developing into an even more effective leader.


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  • Great post. I agree, finding out about dissatisfaction is a great opportunity to refine the product or message, as it comes from the disapointment that expectations were not met.
    Social media has given also people the chance to quickly make any bad feelings known to a wide audience. Managed correctly this channel can also offer a great opportunity to protect reputation through being where the conversations are taking place and responding appropriately. If you are showing yourself to respond to dissatisfaction in the right way you can even enhance your image.

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