For ten years here at Calibre we have been helping Australian and New Zealand based organisations identify and attract top talent, only to see many of these same clients struggle to develop, engage and ultimately retain their best people. Many invest in management training, engagement surveys, 360 reviews and other approaches but to no avail. I have always believed this is because many of these solutions are designed to solve the consequences of the problem, staff turnover and management headaches, rather than fully understand the cause, their staff's dissatisfaction with their jobs and workplace. Nine months ago I started working with a small team on an idea to address this that would become Pulse. Here is what we have come up with and why.

Successful, high performing organisations have one common factor - a motivated and highly engaged, happy work force. Creating an organisation culture and work environment to do this is one of the toughest, but most important commitments an organisation can make. One of the big challenges is in knowing what contributes, and what detracts, from your employee’s engagement. 

Understanding Dissatisfaction

Economist Albert Hirschman's work on dissatisfaction helps explain why creating and maintaining a positive environment is so difficult. He showed that when dissatisfied, people tend to respond in one of four ways.

  • Persist – this is the way a lot of leaders want their staff to deal with dissatisfaction, to just put it to one side and continue to contribute and work hard regardless. Not only unrealistic but counter productive and short term - problems aren't addressed and over time are likely to spread and ultimately dissatisfaction will grow and create wider fallout. Even small issues that could be easily fixed run the risk of snowballing.
  • Neglect - people who may feel dissatisfied but feel powerless to change it, or their previous efforts to speak up were shut down and unappreciated. Those who respond by neglect will continue to go through the motions each day but having lost their motivation are unlikely to feel inclined to contribute to their highest level. The problem for most organisations is that output is not easily measured so leadership will be unable to discern if their staff are persisting or neglecting. 
  • Exit - people remove themselves from a situation, in the case of dissatisfaction at work, they hand their notice in and move on. They are likely to have responded in one of the other ways first but over time come to the decision to exit. This means that not only their talents, but also the investment that has been made in them is a significant cost and loss to the business.
  • Voice - this is where people feel dissatisfied but sufficiently invested in the organisation that they want to raise and fix problems in the hope of making a positive contribution to the workplace. The problem is that modern workplaces and practices can discourage people from feeling comfortable to raise issues, to find their voice. Even when they do management may be too busy to act, or unfairly perceiving it as a ‘difficult employee’ who is making their own jobs harder. This mutes further feedback and problems persist.

I like this simple framework as you can almost see how people cycle through these stages. From initially voicing their concerns people may put their heads down and just persist with their role without expectation of change. Some may stick with this, others may skip this stage and move to neglect and then exit.

What is clear is that for a firm, each and all these stages of dissatisfaction come at a cost to the business - there is no benefit to not knowing how your staff feel and each and every firm should invest in finding this out - before it is too late.