C-Suite Lifestyle

The 30% Rule – dissatisfaction driving behavioural change.

I have dedicated an entire chapter in my leadership book pertaining to this very subject. It’s title; Constant Dissatisfaction. It is a philosophy that has worked for me over a 30-year corporate career that has spanned multiple geographies, industries and segments.

It is a philosophy that drives and ignites behavioural change, yet it is also a concept that can drive those around me absolutely crazy. Particularly my leadership teams. What follows will outline what it means to be constantly dissatisfied. More importantly, I will detail counterintuitive solutions that results in tangible change – including the demanding 30% rule.

Constant versus healthy dissatisfaction. There are two types of dissatisfaction. One is labelled healthy dissatisfaction. It can be described as beneficially looking into areas of needed improvement and having a healthy desire for relevant and adequate change. I do not have this type of dissatisfaction. I have constant dissatisfaction.

This is never being satisfied with the status quo, even if that status quo is working. It means constantly, consistently and relentlessly striving for improvement and advancement. At times, striving behaviour can turn into demanding behaviour. At worst, it can lead to low levels of recognition (the leader has already moved on to next and new), ignores needed time for reflection and insight discovery, and if not managed carefully, can lead to disruption and distraction against core revenue and profit focus areas. There are many techniques to ensure chaos does not eventuate, yet the best way to avoid adversity, is to surround yourself with exceptional people who say ‘no’ to you often.

Four counterintuitive ways to ignite needed behavioural change. 

  1. Never tolerate contentment. Like it or not, when organisations are content with performance, it leads to inertia. Inertia is a dangerous place based on unfounded confidence and complacency. Exceptional leaders create a climate and catalyst for change.  Ideally, it is done via inspiration- motivational ambition, possibility and purpose.

    Usually, it is done through fear. Lighting a bloody large fire and pointing out business realities, financial difficulties, and constant testimonials of those around us who have not changed and who have paid the consequences. Change management 101.

  2. Don’t lose to learn. Outstanding organisations do everything in their power to stay ahead of the curve. They lead change versus manage change. They set agendas versus execute agendas and they fix before broken.

    They have a mindset of we don’t need to lose to learn, even if they know that the best insights come from when they fail. Importantly, they build capabilities and competencies that are needed tomorrow, but ruthlessly implement them today. Interesting, almost 80% of global CEOs are nervous of future business disruption, yet they invest less than 10% of resources to address this concern,

  3. Dictate change via the 30% rule.  One of the most effective ways of initiating behavioural change is to set stretch targets that are impossible to achieve by using methodologies and ways of working that currently exist within your business today. It forces leaders and teams to become insatiably curious. Outside in perspective is mandatory and goal achievement is normally possible only via external partnership, inspiration and discovery.

    It instantly removes limiting beliefs and unlocks untapped potential within your employees. Although I love this concept, be selective about where and when to use. Most parts of your business should have continuous improvement goals that avoids chaos and unwanted distraction. That said, there should always be partitions within your organisation where leading change and breakthrough transformation are not only desired, but critically needed.

  4. Always a turnaround mindset. I despise the words maintain and sustain success within any strategic document. Whilst there will always be segments of a portfolio that will have flat or declining targets, language matters big time. In my experience, when the very word “maintenance” is announced, pressure valves are immediately released across an organisation.

    Invariably, decline will follow. Treat every part of your business with a turnaround mindset. Consistently looking and seeking out change via the knowledge that unless we continually get better, we will soon be in a world of pain. A turnaround mindset will always remove dreaded inertia that is common amongst us all.

Two other thoughts to consider; the best change agents for a business are radiators of possibility and action. Avoid those who hold limiting beliefs (drains) like the plague. Regardless of their technical or functional brilliance, if their negativity infects the wider team, remove them quickly. And finally, never declare victory too early. It is a rookie error and one that many leaders, including myself, have done way too often!

Like many, my expectations for corporate leaders are longer than those listed above. They are demanding, challenging and I believe, stretching. Importantly, they are considerably shorter than those that I set for myself. I hope this never changes.


Written by Hamish Thomson.

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Hamish Thomson
Hamish Thomson, author of It’s Not Always Right to be Right (Wiley $29.99), is a former Regional President and global brand head for Mars Incorporated (UK, Australia, Chicago), a senior sales and marketing lead for Reebok International (England and the Netherlands) and an account exec in the London advertising scene. Based in Sydney, he is a strategic consultant and non-executive director of OzHelp Foundation.


Hamish Thomson is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.