The Power of Listening to Employees

I was just reading through a new report that came out by a group of entities funded by the Ford Foundation, called “Listen to Lead”. It’s a fascinating report that lays out the case clearly about the importance of listening to employees. We know from research that it improves productivity, reduces costs borne by businesses in terms of retaining employees, and it improves the quality of work.

My thought while reading the report was “what are we listening for?” because it's not always the words. Sometimes it's the tone, sometimes it's the subtext. 

The loudest voices are often not the ones you want to be listening for. It's often the quiet ones who maybe wouldn't raise their hand, but have great insights into how to make the business stronger. They know what our clients or customers need. 

Often the workers on the ground floor have the closest proximity to what’s working and what’s not. Yet they don't always have access to those in decision-making positions. We could switch that dynamic by listening to employees in more robust ways. 

Just doing an employee engagement survey is not enough. When I review our employee engagement surveys, which happen monthly, I get the most information out of the notes section where employees add in qualitative data. And they’re indicating things like, “This is what I like about our benefits package,” or, “These are things that I would like to see done differently.” I gain insights into how to make change as a result of what I hear/read. 

The framework that was put out in this Listen to Lead document was “L.A.B.”—Listen, Act, and Be Accountable. After doing a survey, my question to leadership is, “As a result of this information, what changes are you going to make?” Once one has knowledge, leaders need to take responsibility and accountability for making the changes that are required. 

It's also important to make sure that we communicate back what we’ve done as a result of the information received, as well as what we plan to do. Employees need to feel heard and invested in. We want everybody to feel a sense of responsibility for the success of the business.

Employee engagement is absolutely critical. But we can't leave it to a simple survey. I know that I could do a better job of listening, can you?

Co-Founder & CEO
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