As a consultant, the first thing I do is to go into an organization and listen to its people. Literally, sit down and listen. Also, listen by surveys. Have them feel free to say everything they need to share by staying anonymous. (How sad it is that people cannot speak their truth unless they hide their names. Imagine the fear and absence of psychological safety in that workplace.)
People always have the answers. They deal with their tasks, and their internal and/or external customers every day. They hear the complaints. They know exactly what works and what does not. They know what needs to improve or to be eliminated.
Why do managers not listen?
Some of what I observed over the years are:
- They feel the need to prove themselves and show they know everything better in conventional organizations. If they ask their people, they feel weak. They feel fearful that they may lose their position if they don’t have the answers. It is not entirely their fault if the culture awards their ego and their control over people.
- Some literally do not trust the people they hired. They do not see them as adults with their unique views and opinions. They do not realize these people make decisions all day long outside of work. They think somehow they cannot make good decisions at work; they need to be supervised.
- Others believe having their people talk will spill a can of worms. It will be chaotic; once they start talking they will never stop and everything will be uncontrollable.
- It never occurs to some that people may actually have the answers. They never tried. They never asked, and always gave orders on how things need to be done around here.
That is why I love my friend Heather Younger’s phrase Listening Organizations. Every one of them should be listening more.
I remember the first time our General Manager at the time (will not name the company) invited us all to an offsite location and decided to listen to what we had to say. It was a time when morale was low and it was reflected in our business results. When we talked and shared what needs to happen openly, I remember the HR director at the time standing up and telling us we have to be thankful to the General Manager to take the time to listen. He said it with such a tone that meant like he is doing a big favor to us. I never forgot how blood flew to my head and how I stood up and told him all of what we shared so far was for a better future for the company, not a better future of our personal lives. It was true. Nobody talked about their selfish needs. Why would an HR director think it is a big favor to listen to the people they hired, they pay so well, they educate, while everyone talked from their heart to make this a better place to work and a better organization to serve the clients? Of all people, the head of People!
Those things create the culture. Those kinds of remarks fire up something in people like me to fight back while it silences others. I am glad the General Manager did not agree with him. The HR director retired after a month or later. My coworkers always made a joke about my speech being the reason why he was no longer there. I will not take so much credit. I am glad it was an opening to be a listening organization though.
I just cannot believe how we don’t listen enough. It is basically free! If organizations want me to do it for them, I will gladly take over this amazing task. I honestly love listening to people, hearing their ideas on how to fix the challenges, and finding the solutions with them. The insights that I get excites me even though I don’t work there.
Managers, and leaders are also missing out on so much of an opportunity to bond with them and earn their trust. They don’t realize it has a huge positive impact.
To more Listening Organizations as my friend, Heather would say!