A few weeks ago, I asked readers if their organization had a culture of listening. After receiving several emails on the subject, the post seemed to really resonate with readers. Caring leaders create a listening culture that is bidirectional, responsive, and supportive. But they also know that listening will only take them so far. They then act by using the voices of their people to improve the workplace for all and ensure the teams get the credit.
Employees feel powerful when they know that their feedback is taken on board and changes are implemented. The question I get asked most is, “I get it, but where do I begin to create a listening culture in my organization?” In my new book, The Art of Caring Leadership, I share the three main approaches that enable organizations to genuinely listen to their people.
Firstly, the leader needs to commit to scheduling and attending one-on-one meetings with each team member inside and outside the performance review process. All too often, these meetings are scheduled with the best intentions, but they are one of the first meetings to get cancelled because of something cropping up. Being too busy to keep their one-on-one sessions will send out the wrong message. Not only can it prevent you from listening and learning, but it can also even build resentment in teams.
For the second step, I encourage leaders to listen to what employees say in team meetings or roundtables. They should also ask teams open-ended questions to truly understand what their people are really trying to say. Thirdly, I ask leaders to listen at the organizational level to promote active listening via surveys, focus groups, culture teams, and interviews.
These steps enable leaders to authentically seek understanding. In doing so, they can ensure those they lead feel both heard and valued. But this is just the beginning of your journey. Upon gathering these invaluable insights, a caring leader will reflect before deciding what action to take so that they get the balance just right.
A knee-jerk reaction without fully exploring all alternative paths will end in disaster. Equally, taking too long to respond could also lead to apathy. Caring leaders approach the situation by building trust and delivering carefully thought-out feedback.
I have read thousands of employee survey comments throughout my career and facilitated hundreds of focus groups. One of the most powerful things that I witness time and time again in these exercises is seeing the energy rise in employees when they realize that what they have to say matters and that those who lead them are genuinely interested in their feedback.
However, leaders also need to manage expectations and communicate that they cannot solve every problem at once. Discerning what feedback will be acted upon is something that should be openly discussed and avoid over-promising. On my podcast, Chuck Runyon, co-founder, and chief executive officer, Self Esteem Brands, shared his philosophy and approach with me, “A leader’s job is to take the time to listen to everyone and harvest the team’s best ideas from there.”
With all your employees’ strengths, it would be a wasted opportunity not to use them. How do you create a culture of listening? Before you begin, you need to understand that you have the power to ensure everyone you lead has a chance to be heard, not just the loudest voice in the room. Sit down with your people, confirm your understanding by repeating back what you hear. You might be surprised by what you uncover and the journey it takes you on.
If you need any help or would like to explore how you can build a culture of listening in your organization, please reach out to me.