Are You Listening?

Listening is the most powerful leadership tool we have. 

Last night I read employee reviews of other companies. A huge transformational breakthrough emerged from the most disappointed and critical comments. Management doesn't listen; management doesn't understand what it is like to work here. This theme repeated itself over and over. Rather than viewing it as complaining, there is a huge opportunity in these companies to make an enormous difference with such a simple tool.  

Engagement is suffering in most work places, and yet, it is the most influential tool to transform an organization. There is a huge disconnect in organizations. Management wants employee engagement. They spend time in management team meetings discussing it, reading about it, complaining about the lack of it. 

Sadly, most employees want to be engaged. They want to be creative, share ideas and make their company better. Ideas abound at all levels, most often from those closest to the work being done and the least likely to have a voice in the company.

Who is listening? How does an idea from the shop floor reach the management level where change happens? When one is not heard, the result is resentment, complacency or withdrawal. After a while, efforts to communicate are abandoned. The job just becomes a paycheck and engagement is lost. 

Companies miss a huge opportunity to truly drive continuous improvement at every level of the company. Listening creates enthusiasm in employees when they know their opinion and ideas matter. Problems are identified in the early stages. Employees are engaged and companies enjoy the benefits of real employee engagement: Improved employee satisfaction, retention, productivity, innovation and profitability. Employees begin solving problems on their own.

What a huge impact leaders can make just by listening to understand and making the necessary changes! 

Ideas abound at all levels, most often from those closest to the work being done and often least likely to have a voice in the company.

Surveys are not answer.

Many companies resort to annual employee engagement surveys as a way to “listen”. Surveys lack emotion. Surveys gather data but miss out on the true emotion a person feels about specific topics. They do not allow ideas and improvements to flow. 

Listening takes human involvement. Listen to understand, not to reply. This may be difficult for many in management roles. Every organization is different but making listening a key part of any management or supervisory role is a great way to start. The most impressive organizations I worked for were led by people who sat down and listened to employees at every level. It can be done informally by spending some time with an employee or more formally in focus groups. I truly believe this is a critical activity for top management. 

When employees know top management is listening and cares and the layers of managers in between as well, organizations are transformed. Many leaders are fearful that people will want what they cannot provide, but you will be surprised. Many of the ideas are actionable and should be acted upon. You will discover a richness of the ideas, growth and improvement opportunities that will never emerge in an upper management team meeting, and the amazing employee engagement that follows.