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Positive Discontent: How to Intervene Before Things Fall Apart

While he was on vacation, one manager’s team lost momentum. We discussed how to intervene before things fall apart.

I gave him two phrases for reflection, protecting gains and positive discontent. “Protecting gains feels defensive,” he said. “It leads to stagnation. But positive discontent works.”

Positive discontent:

Positive discontent is celebrating gains and working to improve.

Gains are platforms, not resting places.

Let celebration stand on its own.

Don’t devalue improvement by immediately saying, “Great job. How can you do better next time?” It’s ok to enjoy wins. Work on improvement this afternoon.

Wins are defeats unless they’re followed by, “What’s next?”

Intervene before things fall apart:

“What doesn’t get done when you’re on vacation?” I asked. He clarified a five-step process to teach managers.

#1. Be discontent when results decline.

Give your team an opportunity to acknowledge drop off. As long as people fail responsibly, declining results are learning moments, not punishment points.

When you punish responsible failure people stop trying.

#2. Establish trigger points.

Catch the drop off before it’s catastrophic by establishing a red-flag-moment, a point when you intervene.

He said, “When I’m here, I’m the eye in the sky. I have a goal for each team. When performance drops below that goal, I step in.”

#3. Ask each manager to establish a red-flag-moment.

What’s the metric?

Know when to step in before stepping in is necessary.

#4. Plan three interventions.

Ask managers, “What will you do when the red flag goes up?” Share some of your own strategies, if they get stuck. Be specific. Develop three options.

#5. Follow up.

  1. What did you try?
  2. How did it work?
  3. What did you learn?
  4. What will you do next time?

Positive discontent – When skills improve, expand the scope and raise the standard.

What does positive discontent look like to you?

How might managers maintain momentum?

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