“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Dalai Lama
Before everyone's eyes glaze over let me set the context for this. What I mean is that you should be listening in the active or intentional sense.
I believe that those closest to the action are best able to identify the issues and opportunities. People want to do a good job and nothing is as frustrating as seeing a potential issue or opportunity and not having a structure in place to share it. As humans, we want to contribute and to help out. If you have been implementing the Hu element then by this point, you have staff measuring performance, you are touching base with them through micro-meetings and you are holding them accountable for tracking and improving that performance. The next key part of that journey is to listen to what they are telling you and if necessary be an advocate for their ideas.
Listening is NOT Chasing Opinions
Let's be clear managers and leaders deal with "suggestions" all the time and much of the time the "suggestions" fall into the "in my opinion" category. An opinion is something that is unsubstantiated and so using up time to listen to one is frustrating. However, by this time your team is tracking performance metrics and discussing findings. They should now have data to back up what they are seeing, whether it is a potential problem or an opportunity. Too often we allow ourselves to chase opinions without having the "numbers" or the data to back it up. This should not be the case with your team. They will be able to make a pretty compelling argument using the data they have collected so don't let that go to waste.
Listening IS Providing A Structure for Input
Often this aspect of your listening will begin with something brought up in a micro-meeting or when you are having staff share performance measures with you. These are the venues that are "gold" with regard to listening. It is an opportunity for you to affirm the work of your staff and to provide direction too. If, for example, someone presents a thought regarding a process that looks promising but still lacks data to validate it then you have a perfect chance to give direction about what sorts of numbers you want that would provide you with the comfort to make the change or take it to the next level. They will chase those numbers down because they are now invested in making sure they can provide support for their idea. This also becomes an affirmation that they are a part of the team and whether the idea sees the light of day or not they got a chance to contribute. That matters!
Listening IS Intentional
Often in my discussions with leaders, they tend to take a casual approach to this issue. We all think we spend a lot of time listening to our staff. The difference is that you need to be intentional. There are several reasons for this but let me share just a couple.
We Don't Listen As Much As We Think We Do
In several studies conducted on the issue of communication, a group of managers and leaders were asked to rate their level of communication with their staff. In addition, they were asked to list the various ways that they communicate and how many times they communicate regarding an issue. Managers felt that they were good at this skill and many cited emails and meetings as the primary tools for communicating. In this study, their staff too were given surveys on how well they viewed their manager's communication skills and the results were interesting. Where most managers used on average two or three methods to communicate a piece of important information it was found that to do this effectively they needed to layer their communication at least 7-10 different ways or times! The kicker though was that most managers emphasized communication as the dissemination of information to staff and staff put more emphasis on communication as the dissemination of information from staff to management. On this issue, they were miles apart! It was far more important to staff that they be able to communicate easily and openly with leadership than those leaders had realized.
If You Don't Track It, It Won't Happen
The other reason for being intentional about your communication is that in the rush of day to day activities it is easy to let things slide on the listening side. You need to make a list or set a schedule that you hold so that you "know" you are getting out and listening to your staff. It is too easy to get caught up in administratia and come to the end of a day a realize you haven't really seen anybody.
You want a team that is engaged and performing and if you have provided some key pieces to make that happen through tracking, accountability, and micro-meetings, then giving them a structure that provides an opportunity to share with you and contribute to team goals is a natural outgrowth of that process. If you don't provide it the result will be the same as starving a fire of air. You can provide fuel and heat but without air, it won't last. Take the time to listen. It is truly a key component to ramping up the "Hu" element on your team. Performance Leadership - Think About It!