Insights

Listening: A business burden, or a potential spark and catalyst?

One of the most prevalent themes in my conversations with professionals about internal communication these days is about “listening.” 

Indeed, every conversation I have about organizational listening involves some sort of complaint – that “we don’t listen enough”, “we don’t listen well”, or “we don’t follow up on the feedback we get and people are sick of it,”  

A recent conversation I had with Dr. Kevin Ruck, who demurred when I referred to him as “The King of Employee Voice,” had a somewhat different tone.  Kevin has been following listening and feedback issues for years. And we stumbled onto a topic that’s gotten little focus  – how to surface high quality feedback that adds value both to organizations and employees when it is acted upon.

“It’s all about employees believing the processes are authentic, and that leaders will act when appropriate,” Kevin says.

That’s easy when it’s face-to-face, Kevin adds.  “They can see it in the mannerisms and in the tone of voice when it’s in a conversation, but it can be much more difficult in an online process.”

In many cases, the process of surfacing, collecting, harvesting, evaluating and acting on feedback has tended to be a  slow process that generates huge amounts of “terrestrial” input.

“The process generates a lot of low-level issues and concerns.  Partially because a lot of that stuff is what’s nagging – showers that don’t work, crap food in the canteen, for instance.  But it’s also part of a trust-building process.In some cultures, people aren’t likely to open up about the real issues until they start to see good will and action on the basics.  People want to start small and appear non-threatening,” continues Kevin.

If organizations want better feedback and input, it’s not enough simply to ask for it.  It’s also not enough to act on it. It requires an approach where processes are clear and credible. Expectations are also decisive – if companies expect employees to aim higher with their contributions, they need to respond with speed, seriousness and an appropriate level of sensitivity.

“The maturity of the process drives the value of the input,” explains Kevin. “Smart organizations won’t just be mature and adult and forthcoming about responding to feedback, they will also be shrewd and strategic about how they analyze it. They will look for trends – assess demographics, and look for the impact of how resolving problems in certain ways affect the trends.”

“People need to realize that listening isn’t about casework. It’s about understanding the fundamentals of what is going on in the business. By being smart about collecting, acting on, and addressing feedback, listening can go from a seeming burden to a spark and catalyst.” 

Kevin will be exploring this further with Howard Krais and Michael Pounsford – with a full report and suggestions for good listening practice coming out later in 2019.