Dissatisfaction is the new driver for change, particularly in an environment requiring greater flexibility and strong social systems. Dissatisfaction will replace the traditional top down performance problem approaches that drive current change management.
Now you can a say this sounds like semantics, after all people are dissatisfied because there is a problem. My responses are yes, but often dissatisfaction precedes a problem or more importantly it is an indication of deeper issues than a problem that manifests itself at operational surface.
Dissatisfaction has several factors in its favor as a way of identifying the need for change. First, dissatisfaction is inherently social. People are dissatisfied which means that you can a pick up signals from customers, suppliers, trading partners and perhaps most importantly your workforce. People can share their dissatisfaction earlier and more clearly than they can the problem, particularly in the early stages.
Dissatisfaction is a feeling, recognition that things are not what they should be. This aspect connects people’s passion and tacit knowledge with the way things are working. If you have ever attended a meeting where your boss is describing the problem and you start to roll your eyes, then you know the difference that bringing dissatisfaction into the equation means.
When dissatisfaction leads to studying it’s potential sources, the workforce is using their knowledge and abilities to focus on what is wrong using their intuition and experience. Contrary to conventional wisdom, intuition leads innovation, as people know how they feel and what they want. Tapping into personal experience brings their passion and ideas from outside work into play to a much greater degree than a sterile problem disassociated from what they know is wrong.
Finally dissatisfaction is at the heart of the original quality movement as people meet in quality circles to discuss problems and opportunities for improvement. This makes dissatisfaction compatible with your current improvement approaches. It’s just a more socially aware focus.
So how do you use dissatisfaction in defining change?
Here are a few ideas and I really welcome your ideas as well.
- We all have to start to listen for dissatisfaction in discussions with customers, coworkers etc. Listening beyond what the Brits call ‘windging’ or complaining to capture the real dissatisfiers that are the basis for business needs. I am not talking about complaints about the coffee, but the things that make work a chore rather than a positive experience. This is particularly important as we all come out of the post-politically correct world where raising issues were either trivial or couched in language that created a guessing game as to what was really going on. We no longer have time or energy for such indirectness.
- We all have to take traditional problem definitions and reverse engineer them with a focus on bit their root cause as well as the impact they have on dissatisfaction with the job, the result, the customer’s receipt of value, etc.
- Executives and managers need to recognize that dissatisfaction cannot be readily dismissed but rather it is a signal of an issue of opportunity. It is too easy to see complaints as normal. Managers need to recognize that view as antiquated and based more in conflict based labor/management relationships than the modern reality of leading knowledge based workers.
You cannot tap into people’s passion unless you tap into their dissatisfaction either at what is wrong with the current state or the gap between what they have now and what they need in the future. The role of dissatisfaction in the change process recognizes the social genesis of change, the need to engage people in the change process and the wealth of innovative solutions tied up in their knowledge and experience.
The nature of change is changing and that starts with recognizing the essence of engagement for change – dissatisfaction – setting the stage for the next step in the process, which is transparency.