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Your Listening Tour Failed to Deliver the Results You Expected, Here's Why

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

All this talk about listening

The chatter (articles, videos, infographics, etc.) about listening is everywhere these days. While it's been implied by the ancients

The only true wisdom, is in knowing you know nothing. -Socrates

and extolled by gurus in every line of business

Listening is the art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, and others over self. -Dean Jackson, Marketing Guru

somehow, our attempts at prioritizing it in our organizations have had less than desirable results. The bell to be a better listener tolled loudly in 2020 with the death of George Floyd and the summer of riots. That summer, I wrote a 30-day listening challenge on LinkedIn. The challenge gives readers a simple listening prompt to practice each day. One of the most popular in the series was the three levels of listening Steve Jobs employed. Later, I showed how we can listen at that level even without a person sitting in front of us when I wrote about "How Leaders Unlock the Innovation Treasures of Glassdoor Reviews." I also had the honor of interviewing an expert on listening, Oscar Trimboli, on the Cultivating Potential Podcast. Oscar is the author of Deep Listening - Impact Beyond Words. Yet my work on the topic doesn't scratch the surface of what's available. So for heaven's sake 🤦🏼‍♀️, what are we missing about listening? How is it that the results of our listening tour and attempts at listening are so hellish? Before we get into the details, let me share with you a parable.

Is your workplace heaven or hell?

The Long Spoons parable shows the difference between heaven and hell, and this is how it reads:

One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”

God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of vegetable stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles, and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”

Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. Again, the large round table with a large pot of wonderful vegetable stew made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons but were well-nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

The man said, “I don’t understand.”

God smiled. It is simple, he said; Love only requires one skill. These people learned early on to share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves…

While greed is a little harsh, and not for me to pass judgment on sitting comfy behind my computer, I will ask you (since you're reading a blog about less-than-ideal results from a listening tour) to think about this parable. One of my favorite quotes by Zig Ziglar says this.

You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want. -Zig Ziglar

So if you didn't get everything you wanted from your listening tour, then perhaps you didn't help enough people get what they want. Maybe? 🤷‍♀️ Perhaps, just maybe, like the participants in hell, you were blinded by bias. Not biased in race, sex, age, or otherwise but blinded by the bias of what matters to you. Is it possible that in listening, you tuned into what met your needs, what supported plans you already had in the making (confirmation bias), etc.?

When your mind is full of assumptions, conclusions, and beliefs, it has no penetration, it just repeats past impressions. -Sadhguru

Not intentionally biased, but unconsciously on the autopilot of what matters to you and the organization, you missed what matters to the employees. And because you missed those needs, your results were less than ideal. And this frustrated your employees even more, which is why the bleeding of resignations, quiet quitting, and engagement hasn't improved.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating that absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Even though what matters to employees can be very individual, and why I believe leading by design is the future of leadership. Using the innovative principles of design thinking to empathize with users (employees in this case) to design a better experience for all. There are a plethora of resources out there that outline for leaders what matters to employees, and here's my compilation of them.

M is for Money

Yes, you can put employee pay in this category. And if you're not paying fairly, that will affect your bottom line and your employee retention rate. But that's obvious. I'm talking more about the cliche "put your money where your mouth is." I'll give you an example, and you will likely be able to add to the list. If you can't, your employees will be happy to assist you!

In a Cultivating Potential podcast, Debra Corey, author of Build it - The rebel playbook for world-class employee engagement, shared a story of working with a corporation on its values. There wasn't anything wrong with the values they had chosen. Still, in talking with their employees, they had example after example where their values didn't align with what was actually happening within the organization. From employee contracts to systems and processes, they were doing exactly the opposite of their espoused purpose and values.

A is for Alignment

Change Management often has an underlying focus on money. How can we save money by being "more efficient," and how can we set ourselves up to make more money now or in the future? Yet, in organizations' attempts, they often step over a dollar to save a penny. For example, according to Gartner Research, two-thirds of employees must hack work to accomplish their routine tasks. In their research, they note employees spend 1.9 hours extra hours a day. For the 10,000-person organization, this amounts to 3.1 million wasted hours, 1568 wasted FTE, and $78.4 million in financial loss. Imagine if your people analytics showed an employee wasted 2 hours a day. You'd fire them. But they are wasting it because the processes and systems of the corporations are broken. The organization's structure (silos in most cases) no longer align with workflows and priorities.

T is for Talent

People want to grow. Innate in all humans is the desire for expansion and to be the best version of ourselves. However, organizations focus on growth targets primarily on growing those things that serve their interests. At the same time, it's a very shortsighted view of their interests. Taxing employees with the knowledge, certifications, and the latest technology leads to stress, burnout, and overwhelm while ignoring their innate talents and strengths and how they can develop those. A great example is the inspirational story of Rhonda Spencer, Chief People Officer for Barry-Wehmiller. Rhonda started as an engineer at BW. But through their investment in the growth of her talents and strengths (not just the latest in engineering education), she rose quickly. Her life was so touched by the leadership of BW that now she is in charge of fostering the organization’s vision of measuring success by the way it touches the lives of people.

T is Thriving

The pandemic blew through the barriers corporations had erected centuries ago. No longer can we (pretend) that home, work, and personal lives were separate. That somehow a person could thrive at work even if they weren't thriving at home or personally. It was an illusion all along but one that was completely shattered by the pandemic. Employees are tuned into what it means to thrive, which goes far beyond getting a positive performance review. Gallup outlines five elements of well-being (aka thriving) career, social, financial, physical, and community. All of these weave together with one common denominator - the individual human. And as a leader in your organization, the 8-12 hours a day that you have an impact on the individual employee's life, you are not only affecting their career well-being but every other category of well-being. The question is, did you seek an understanding of that impact? Did you identify ways you were contributing or could contribute to their greater well-being? As employers receiving 8-12 hours of their attention, we are surely a big benefactor of their improved well-being. Again Zig was right - when we help others get what they want, we get more of what we want as well.

E is for Eliminating obstacles

Beyond the misalignments mentioned above, organizations seek to be adaptive. The pandemic gave us the reality and mantra of "Adapt or die." However, in Gartner's article "Design Work to Help Employees Be Responsive," Jackie Wiles reports that "today's organizational structures, workflows, role designs, and networks can't flex with the rapidly evolving conditions, because work design has for years focused primarily on efficiency, not resilience." It's been the focus for a long time. Somehow, it's escaped us that efficiency is for technology; by nature, humans are not efficient. I write about this key distinction in "Digital Transformation Got You Frustrated? Read This. As leaders, our teams become more successful when we can eliminate the obstacles that are preventing our employees from adapting. The obstacles that interrupt their flow (their ability to flex). Remove the obstacles that present friction or stand in the way of achieving success.

R is for Responsive Resources

Closely connected to growth, eliminating obstacles, and the others mentioned thus far are the issues of giving employees the resources to be responsive. Whether it's access to information, authority, or something else, employees are often stuck in their abilities to reach their goals or serve their customers by the blocks and bottlenecks within their organizational bureaucracy. Outdated policies, lack of trust, and fear of losing control are just a few of the issues that keep organizations from providing responsive resources that empower their employees. In short, the resources they need to do their job are trapped elsewhere. In listening to understand what matters to your employees, organizations can quickly identify how to release these trapped resources and empower their employees to be responsive.

S is for Support

You don't have to look very far in your employee surveys or on SHRM resources to understand employees don't feel supported. In fact, each of the issues outlined above could be one element in a list of many that reiterate to employees that they are not supported and, ultimately, that you don't care. Yet how can we expect their support to achieve success as an organization when we fail to recognize their need for support to succeed as an individual? After all, it is their collective success that creates our organization's success. As within, so without.

Where are you living? heaven or hell

In conclusion, we now understand how we create a living heaven or hell in our workplace. Are we really living at all if we have unintentionally created hell? And thus, to truly start living, we must make the shift to what matters, which Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently put.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Need help?

In need of help listening to discover what matters to your employees and designing work that supports individual and organizational success. DM me - let's start the conversation.


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