If you were on a quiz show for managers, you could easily recite a list of critical elements of business success: strong financial management, a solid customer service strategy, and so on. But would employee feedback be on your list? If not, you are missing a key business driver. Below are five reasons why listening to your employees is central to your company’s success:
- Failure to Listen is Expensive
As a matter of fact, “Millions of dollars are lost every day in organizations simply because of poor listening,” according to leadership training expert Dan Bobinski. He explains that these lost dollars trickle away due to errors, ineffective decisions, and eroded teamwork.
Interestingly, the chief obstacle to obtaining employee feedback is fear, in Bobinski’s analysis. He notes that managers are often afraid to listen because they worry they might give the impression of agreeing with something they don’t actually support. Other reasons that leaders may not listen well is that they don’t want to hear feedback that may force them to reconsider their own perspective or they may simply fear that they won’t have a chance to convey their own viewpoint during the discussion.
Do any of these reasons sound uncomfortably familiar? If so, you’re not alone. However, it is critical that you don’t allow these fears to wall you off from employee input. Feedback you miss out on due to any or all of these fears could be feedback that has the power to positively impact the performance of your organization.
Fear of listening can be overcome. To that end, Bobinski offers a bit of reassurance: “Truly understanding someone else’s point of view does not come naturally. It’s a learned skill that always requires effort.”
- Employees Value a Listening Culture Higher Than Compensation
According to Deloitte research, employees value “culture” and “career growth” almost twice as much as they value “compensation and benefits,” when selecting an employer. Deloitte’s research notes that ideal work cultures focus on an environment of listening. They point out, “The world of employee engagement and feedback is exploding. Annual engagement surveys are being replaced by “employee listening” tools such as pulse surveys, anonymous social tools, and regular feedback check-ins by managers. All these new approaches have given rise to the “employee listening” officer, an important new role for HR.”
Encouraging employee feedback is a way of granting your workers power that doesn’t require adding to their salary or granting promotions. Research published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes that 70% of employees rank being empowered to take action at work when a problem or opportunity arises as having a critical impact on their engagement.
- Supervisors Listen More to Employees with Higher Status or Longer Tenure
Even with the best of intentions, “supervisors develop selective hearing when it comes to feedback,” according to research published by the University of Texas at Austin. The study goes on to explain that managers tend to listen to employees with whom they are more personally comfortable or who have been on the job longer. Perhaps not surprisingly, the outcome from this bias is that the less-listened-to workers end up with lower performance reviews and ultimately diversity of team composition is eroded.
The solution to this, according to the researchers, is for managers to become aware of their unconscious biases and to intentionally connect with their team members in a systematic way. Another method for reducing unconscious bias is to include anonymized employee feedback through surveys, so that a person’s status doesn’t give their words extra weight.
- Employee Listening is Essential to Strong Leadership
An interesting analysis published in the Harvard Business Review describes an all-too-common mindset among leaders and managers that equates listening with weakness. The article noted that some leaders think of themselves as leaders in a dogmatic sense, a person who tells their subordinates what’s what. However, the article counters this by saying, “…it’s equally important for managers to stand down and listen up. Yet many leaders struggle to do this, in part because they’ve become more accustomed to speaking than listening.”
The key to translating listening skills to effective management lies in taking what you learn from your employees’ feedback and translating it into direct action. Everything your employees report can lead to an active response and it is essential that it does – particularly if the feedback reflects existing issues. Taking action to remedy a problematic situation becomes a win-win feedback cycle, because it allows you to build trust with your team that will likely result in greater transparency on their part, moving forward. Over time, your employees will have confidence in the fact that bringing an issue up with you is the first step to solving it.
- Being Unheard Will Damage Your Employees’ Motivation
If you’re focused on building a strong sense of employee engagement, listening is one of your most important tools. Put all the perks like catered snacks and bring-your-dog-to-work policies on the back burner. None of those are as vital as simply reaching out for employee feedback. Leadership expert Brian Tracy puts it bluntly: “Every time you fail to use listening skills and withhold your close attention from another person when they are talking, you make them feel valueless and unimportant. You start to create a negative downward spiral that can lead to unhappiness and disaffection in a workplace.”
Establish a direct line to hearing your employees by initiating a policy of employee check-ins. Using this systematic approach will help to ensure that you don’t lose track of any employee. Engagement must be nurtured proactively across all employees, even those who appear to be doing well on their own. Those individuals who are quietly productive can just as quietly fall into a pit of despair and start searching for a job where their diligence is recognized.
Always-on employee feedback empowers employees and managers – and has an immediate impact on employee engagement. For more information on staying tuned in to your workforce, download our white paper on “Taking the Pulse of Employee Engagement”. You can also visit Achievers Listen, and learn how your company can benefit from a new climate of transparency.
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About the Author
Natalie Baumgartner is the Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers. She has spent her career advising companies of all sizes, from entrepreneurial startups to Fortune 500 firms, on issues related to company culture. Specifically tackling key hire assessment and portfolio due diligence issues, she’s found success analyzing what most overlook – the human element. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a specific focus on assessment and additional training in strength-based psychology. Natalie serves on the board of the Consulting Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association. She is a popular speaker on culture and recently did a TEDx talk on the importance of culture fit. Natalie is a culture evangelist and is passionate about the power that culture fit has to revolutionize how we work. As an avid Boot Camp aficionado, if you can’t find Natalie in the office odds are good you’ll bump into her sprinting up mountains in her hometown of Denver, CO.