Who are we listening to?
I am always fascinated when listening to clients and trying to understand who they are listening to? Are they listening to peers, those who developed the business/product with them, or friends and family? Are they listening to those who will agree with them because they share the same world view, are connected with the service/goods they provide or want to support them and not hurt their feelings.
In order to become aware and become more successful we need to listen to those who have different experiences, backgrounds, outlooks and aspirations. We need to listen to those we sell to, those we employ, those we compete with, those who have never bought our products. We do this for two reasons.
The first reason for doing this is to check we on the right track. Is the product what is required in the market or one we could produce efficiently? Is the pricing current?
We need to take time to reflect on how often have we actively engaged with our customers to understand their experiences, needs and concerns? Too often I hear clients say “Well customers just want stuff cheaper” when in reality there is no evidence for this. Or “the customers think we should do W,Y or Z but they don’t understand how difficult that is.”
Well the client is right – the customer doesn’t and actually cannot be expected to understand until it is explained to them. In the meantime the customer is open to dealing with someone else who can deliver or promise to deliver X, Y or Z. If the client explained the issues to the customer that, now better educated, customer could interrogate the competitor with meaningful questions rather than just accept they can do something we cannot. Alternatively, in a worse case the informed customer will go to someone who does X,Y or Z because they got fed up asking for it to be incorporated it in the product with no feedback
The same is true for staff. In an increasingly tight labour market how well do we engage with staff to understand what their drivers are? Is it really appropriate for middle aged (normally male) managers to second guess Millennials and what their aspirations are? One group who could afford a house when they started their career and are probably risk adverse having been scarred by a global recession or two is trying to understand Millennials with little chance of owning a house but great potential to travel, a desire to create a better world and the enthusiasm to do it in their workplace or career. They are from different worlds and we need to work very hard to build a meaningful dialogue.
In most cases we pay lip service and don’t engage. Often, I am told it is too costly or complex to understand staff but, in most cases, I think the managers are afraid of their world view being challenged, of being put in a position where they will have to change; processes, procedures or management styles. Where companies have done it the impact has been enormous
The second reason for listening to people with a different take is that we need to constantly manage the small changes so we can react positively to the major ones or the ones forced on us by external events. We need to be constantly open to the possibility of change; the possibility that there could be another, better way to do something. It is this acceptance of change that creates movement, adaptability and ultimately survival.
When we get into the habit of feedback we find it so much easier to listen, we stop taking it personally and discover the real gold that is there whether in meeting our customers’ needs and build long term partnerships, better staff retention or corporate agility.
This skill of listening to others especially those where we would think we have little in common is one of the most important parts of a leaders tool kit.