It is not unusual for me to conduct staff audits in churches, non-profits or businesses. One of the most common complaints is also one of the easiest to solve: Leadership does not listen to us! Now think about that. It takes no money or resources to listen and dialogue. It does not affect your bottom line or your budget. But it does have a huge impact on morale.
Both listening or not listening to staff has a magnifying effect on morale. When leaders do not make this a regular practice, even small things become magnified because that small irritation is compounded by the perception that leaders don't care. What might be a minor issue becomes a larger issue when leaders don't listen. That is further compounded by the fact that in the absence of listening, staff talk to one another and the gossip circuit further magnifies whatever it is that created an issue in the first place.
The magnifying impact of listening or not listening works the other way as well. What staff want to know is that their leaders are aware of issues that exist, that leadership cares about their opinion and that they are willing to ask for feedback on a regular basis. Listening means I care. It also means I value your input and I respect you. It means that I have time for you. Even if you cannot solve the issues that are shared with you (some are easier than others) the fact that you cared enough to listen changes the attitude of staff. They know that you care! Often, leaders can resolve an issue which creates a great deal of good will. Not only did you listen but you did something about it.
There is one cost to listening - but it is a wise investment: Your time as a leader. A common complaint about leaders is that they live in a bubble, spending their time with other leaders and oblivious to what is happening at lower staff levels. I know this to be true from interviewing hundreds of staff members over the years. This is often a valid complaint. It is often the case that leadership teams are in fact oblivious to issues because they are not talking to people that they would not normally encounter in their leadership suites.
What does listening look like? First it means that leaders do management by walking around. Don't stay in the leadership suites. Go where your staff are and ask them what their concerns are. Ask what their happiness factor is and what would make it higher. Ask what they would change in your culture if they had the chance. As you listen, follow up with questions of clarification. Because you are a leader you will be treated with some deference. So you will have to work harder at pulling candid answers out of those you talk to.
Do the same thing in small groups. Let them know that you want candid feedback and ask questions that are designed to elicit thoughtful responses. Take a small group to lunch without their supervisors so they don't feel constrained in their responses. Take notes and dialogue. Thank them for their input and let them know that you will be thinking about their comments and suggestions. If there is low hanging fruit that you can respond to in the short term, do so and they will know that you heard them. And remember, you are listening, not talking!
Most leaders overestimate how much time they spend listening to staff. Keep a record and become disciplined regarding this discipline and you will be amazed at the benefits to the organization. And, you will learn a whole lot that you didn't know before.
TJ Addington of Addington Consulting has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at email@example.com
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