Several weeks ago I was reading through my LinkedIn updates when an article title caught my eye—Why You Need Dissatisfied Employees. “Really?” I asked myself. Everything we hear as business owners tells us we what we need to do to keep our employees and our staff satisfied.
So, I read the article, and with my curiosity piqued, I contacted the author, Robert Sher. I learned that Robert is the founder of CEO to CEO, a firm that improves the skills of chief executives of midmarket companies who are navigating major shifts in their business or their marketplace, the author of The Feel of the Deal: How I Built My Company Through Acquisitions and is a columnist on Forbes.com. After exchanging a few emails, I invited him to be my radio guest and share his thoughts.
A few of the interview highlights are excerpted below. For the full interview, listen to the show’s archived podcast.
Kelly: Why are dissatisfied employees critical to a high performance work environment?
Robert: When you first think about it, you ask, “How can that be? We want people to be happy and comfortable in their jobs.” But when you look at the research, what jumps out is that people who are really engaged, are engaged in accomplishing a specific goal. And at the heart of that desire to accomplish that goal is the sense of dissatisfaction. Let’s just step out of the business world just for a minute and think of an Olympic athlete who is training for the gold medal. Is that athlete satisfied? Not at all. Then from a workplace perspective, when you have a team that is comfortable in their jobs, that’s not the kind of team that’s going to drive your business to the next level. When I’ve had employees in my company who were a little dissatisfied with the results they were achieving and were trying to perform better, that’s when the organization moved forward. For example, when you have a shipping crew that gets a little upset when something comes back damaged or when there’s a ½ % error rate, that dissatisfaction is going to cause them to improve.
Kelly: Obviously, before you can have a high-performance environment, you have to be able to recognize the signs of a low-performance environment and do something about it. In your experience, what are the common causes of low performance in the workplace?
Robert: What I see with all my clients are five common causes. The first is that it is not clear what each individual and each team is supposed to do. Is the sales team supposed to just sell more at any price, or are they supposed to focus on new accounts, or grow current accounts?
The second is that the definitions of success and failure are not crystal clear. If I’m a sales person, how much must I sell? Having the definition of “success” be clear brings it to the front of employees’ minds. They know, “If I can get to “X”, then I win.” Now making failure clear is the other side of this for productive work environments that want to take it to the next level. Essentially saying, “If you don’t at least do X, we’ll consider you to have failed.” They’ve done research on airplane pilots. Pilots aren’t motivated by a concept of success—that the plane landed smoothly. They are motivated by the concept of failure: Do not crash the plane.
The third lever that’s really important is visibility, or exposure. It’s great to have a business plan and it’s great to have measures and targets. Yet as humans, we pay much more attention when other people see whether we performed; whether we succeeded or failed.
Number four is a leadership issue. In low-performing environments, the CEO and managers often aren’t willing to make it uncomfortable for low performers. We accept excuses and make it “okay”: “You’re selling frozen yogurt and the weather was colder than last year, so it’d ok that you missed your targets.” Allowing excuses decreases performance.
The final driver of a low-performance environment is that the range between high performers and low performers is too great. Having both high and low performers on the same team is always a bad sign. The medium performers don’t strive to perform, knowing that there is no consequence for lower performance. The high performers get arrogant and demanding, or leave.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? For a more complete treatment of this important topic, click here.