Monday, January 21, 2019

Do We Actually Want Some Dissatisfied Employees?
MIT researcher George Westerman has written a provocative post on the MIT Sloan Management Review website. The title of his short article is, "The New Digital Mandate: Cultivate Dissatisfaction."  Westerman writes:  

The problem is that employee satisfaction can be a double-edged sword. While satisfied employees are good for current activities, that very satisfaction can inhibit innovation. Transformative innovation is difficult. It is far easier to stick with what we know works and tweak the current process than it is to start over. People who are satisfied with the current way of doing business are not likely to transform it.

People who transform their organizations must be aggravated enough with the current situation that they’re willing to bear the effort and risk to change it. Leaders who want their organizations to continuously transform must not only look for dissatisfaction on which to capitalize, but also be willing to cultivate dissatisfaction in their employees.

Westerman argues that there is a right and a wrong way to be "dissatisfied" in an organization.   A useful form of dissatisfaction involves a willingness to question the conventional wisdom and the commonly accepted ways of doing things.   It means protecting the organization against complacency.   The wrong type of dissatisfaction involves pointing fingers and blaming others for problems that arise, while not offering constructive alternatives.   

I agree wholeheartedly. A certain amount of healthy and constructive restlessness can be a powerful positive force in an organization. Andy Grove, long-time CEO of Intel, once argued that organizations need to have a few "helpful Cassandras" who can bring some healthy paranoia to the table.  Grove once wrote, "I believe in the value of paranoia. Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction."  Of course, what you do not want are naysayers who simply look for all the reasons a new idea won't work.  You don't want people who are stopping innovative ideas in their tracks.  You would like people who are looking broadly for potential threats to a firm's competitive advantage and are protecting against complacency.  

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