Beyond Your Ears: The Many Ways Leaders Can Listen to Employees

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

As a leader, you know the importance of listening to employees, be it knowing when to shut up or creating a speak up culture.  Leadership listening is an interpersonal endeavor – two people engaged in dialog to achieve mutual understanding. Recently, I encountered the act of listening framed in a broader, more organizational way – and it’s an intriguing thought. Have you recently considered the many ways you can “listen” to employees beyond using your ears?

Change Management Models Are Outdated 

Josh Bersin, a longtime industry analyst who writes about global trends in leadership, management, HR and workplace technologies recently published a white paper on the evolving nature of change management. In his post, What The Pandemic Taught Us About Change, Bersin, makes the case that most “change management” practices are outdated. What organizations need, he observes, is change that is agile.  “Change Agility,” Bersin writes, “is not just about training and communications. It’s about human-centered leadership, building a strong culture of purpose, taking care of your people, and creating a design discipline of ‘micro-nudges’ and stories that bring people to the new world.” And during this research, Bersin uncovered an interesting link between change agility and listening.

Key to Change Agility: Listening

Bersin and his consulting firm conducted research with organizations to parse out what it was about those companies who were able to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing business conditions brought on by the tidal wave of changes during the pandemic.

One key “people equation” finding: Leaders need to communicate and listen well. Bersin acknowledges that quality leadership communication is perennially cited by employees as a “must have” element in organizations. In any research his firm undertakes, he says, “listening to employees and communicating transparently always come out as key drivers of success. Employees have the answers to most problems, and it’s up to us to listen to them, make sense of what we are hearing, and drive change forward.”

So how can leaders “listen” with just more than their ears? In a white paper that expands on Bersin’s “change agility” concept, Bersin and his team outline several different ways that leaders can “hear” what employees are saying, dividing forms of feedback into these broad categories: 

  • Direct signals (pulse surveys) 
  • Indirect signals (absentee rates) 
  • Observed behaviors (opt-in rate of volunteer activities)

Reflections on How to Listen Better

It’s often said that customers “vote with their feet” (or with their keyboards.) The same can certainly be said about employees. Bersin’s research indicates that highly “resilient” companies  who employed strong listening practices were 6.7 times more likely to engage and retain their workforce.

Give consideration to the ways in which you can broaden your listening skills by considering these questions:

  • Go back to the basics with your one-to-one conversations – are you listening to understand, or waiting your turn for a reply or rebuttal?
  • Beyond the typical feedback channels, what are employee patterns of behavior that may provide clues to what’s truly important to them?
  • Is there a mismatch between what employees say they want and what their behavior seems to indicate? If so, it’s time for some deeper conversations via focus groups or one-to-one meetings

You’ve always known that listening is an integral part of leadership. Perhaps this new research will spark an idea for how you and your fellow leaders can expand ways to hear what your team members are telling you.

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The post Beyond Your Ears: The Many Ways Leaders Can Listen to Employees appeared first on People Equation.