Screw Employee Satisfaction – Gimme The Bad Boys and Girls

Mad Men Season 5 started this past week.

Full disclosure, before this past week’s episode, I’ve watched a total of 6 minutes of Mad Men.  But the hype was too much for me to bear, so I DVR’d it and sat and watched it the other night.  It’s awright.

But… I liked it a lot more when I heard this line…

“Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition. It’s the coal that fuels the fire.”

I heard that, rewound it and listened again.  Then paused the episode while I thought about the line and if, and how, it might apply to a post on FOT.  (I know – I lead a charmed, interesting life.)

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it and the more I figured there was a lesson in it.

And here’s the lesson IMHO.

If you work too hard to make every employee happy and satisfied, you create a group of people who never want anything to change.

Sated – Satisfied – Happy – Stagnant?

While I might reword the quote and say “dissatisfaction is a symptom of engagement” – conceptually it is the same.

When we are satisfied and happy, we want that feeling to continue.  We will work hard to maintain that status quo.  Why do anything that might upset the apple cart?  If we start thinking about new ways and creating new businesses, new ideas, new markets – that could change things and that could lead to changes in the organization and then… bam… I’m unhappy with the change.  And that is just crazy talk.

Let’s all just calm down and make sure nothing changes.

Give Me Your Poor, Your Tired, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Kick Butt

Give me a group of people unhappy with the way things are and we’ll kick those “happy” employees all the way to the winners’ circle.

Give me employees who want things to change – want new ideas, new markets, new applications.  Give me people who thrive on the new and the different and enjoy the uneasy feeling of teetering between loving something they have and the promise of something new.  That’s energy folks.

Those are the people who are dissatisfied and those are the people I want to work with.

Give me the results of the employee engagement survey and I’ll take the bottom third on my team.  That’s the group with the most to win if things change and the least to lose if things stay the same.

I want the dissatisfied.

What do you think?  Is satisfaction the sure road to mediocrity?

Is satisfaction a bad thing for today’s company where change outside the walls of the firm is constant and quick?  Do I want people who are satisfied or do I want people with a real desire, a real need to see things change.

Where else have I heard that kinda talk… oh, yeah… at the entrance of New York Harbor…

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Yeah – send us those who are dissatisfied and we’ll create something pretty darn cool.

FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. Kayla Cruz says:


    First of all, you’re a failure for not watching Mad Men. It’s AMAZING. But let me just say… SO IS THIS POST! I agree with you 105%. Simply genius. Those of us that are not satisfied…those of us that are upset about how things have been done in the past…are the ones that are going to drive change. We’re the ones that are going to come up with new ideas, better ideas and employers that have half a brain understand that. One of my favorite quotes is the following:

    “Those who are quite satisfied sit still and do nothing; those who are not quite satisfied are the sole benefactors of the world.” – Walter Savage Landor

    Great job.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Kayla – not for a lack of desire – Mad Men just hasn’t made it into my rotation yet. I’ll catch up – I promise.

      Satisfaction to me has always been like when you’re done with Thanksgiving Dinner and you sit back, full, quite, happy. You don’t want to do anything. Engagement is more like when you’re playing a video game – hunched forward, intense on the action, moving thumbs and fingers at lightning speed. That’s engagement.

      Saw an article once that said – “TV is a lean back activity. Computers are lean forward.” I want lean forward people.

      I love the Landor quote – thanks for that. Really appreciate you reading the post and commenting.

  2. Ron Webb says:


    I couldn’t agree more. I had a Pastor growing up that always used to say, “if you aren’t mad at your church, you aren’t involved enough.” That always made perfect sense to me as I am the type of person that wants to be engaged. When I see something, I want to fix it. That basically means that when I’m dissatisfied, I’m going to work hard to solve the target of my dissatisfaction.

    The more you engage with your organization, the more problems you are going to uncover, for sure. The difference is how you engage yourself to solve it. That is who I want working for me. I want the people that want to be there, that care, and that are just pissed off enough to fix it.

    Wash, rinse, repeat, reward.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      “Care” – such an important word. Too often managers just tell people who actively engage because they are dissatisfied to “shut up and do your job.” That’s when managers need to say “I’ll shut up – you tell me what you’re thinking.”

      Thanks for engaging here with us. I appreciate it.

  3. Steve Heethuis says:

    UPS always used the words “constructively dissatisfied”. Very simply put, we are not perfect. There are always ways to improve either through people, technology or creativity. Why would / should we settle with status quo.

    Great topic.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Thanks Steve – mind if I steal that? I don’t think we should put up with the “unconstructively” dissatisfied – but those that want to see change because they want things to be better are the real gold nuggets in the org. Thanks for commenting – appreciate it.

  4. Kris Dunn
    Kris Dunn says:

    Paul –

    Love this post. I led an exercise at a company awhile back to determine the top 5-6 potential factors that we were going to evaluate talent on – sort of a company-wide DNA exercise about what we valued most in an employee so we could look at the potential they had moving forward in our culture.

    2 members of the leadership team came up with Ambition. The others freaked out. I think they were right for all the reasons you mention above. Great stuff…

  5. Bruce Kestelman says:

    Hi Paul,

    Satisfaction and engagement are not the same, they are different constructs. In many instances dissatisfied employees will leave the organization, not work to fix it. It takes employees who are engaged, feeling like owners who will work to find ways to fix things or behave in ways that are positively memorable for customers.

    Satisfaction may be one of the elements of engagement, but there are others.

    From the customer perspective, we often want customer feedback when things don’t work. It is typically those who are loyal and most engaged with the organziation who will share their feedback. Those customers who are only satisfied will find some other place to shop when things are broken.


    • Paul Hebert says:

      Agree totally Bruce – I might have worded it a bit differently and said that dissatisfaction CAN be a symptom of engagement. I do separate those two completely. But my point was to not assume dissatisfaction is a bad thing – it can be the BEST thing. Going further with your consumer example – it’s been shown that customers who have had a problem and were dissatisfied – and the company responded appropriately – are MORE loyal after that. How you react to dissatisfaction is critical in generating loyalty and engagement – but that’s for a different post.

      Thanks for commenting – appreciate it.

  6. Antoine Montpetit says:

    Interesting & refreshing perspective. Cheers!

  7. Casey says:

    I also agree with Bruce here. Moreover, an organization can instill a culture of change (or try to anyway!) that encourages employees to be happy and satisfied with a culture that is forever changing and moving forward. I think satisfaction can come in all forms and it doesn’t necessarily mean that employees are satisfied with the status quo – they can also be satisfied with how the organization operates…including making positive changes and progression! Good post…very thought-provoking!

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Casey – agree too. Satisfaction is not an absence of engagement. I certainly didn’t want to convey that. I think we sometimes though assume dissatisfaction is a bad thing and want to “remove” them for those that are happy and satisfied. I’m simply offering up the point of view that dissatisfaction may be a symptom of want to make a difference and not having the opportunity.

      Really appreciate the time you took to comment and weigh in.

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