Jim Allbaugh, Vice President
- Frederick Herzberg, in his landmark “Pittsburg Studies” 60 years ago, determined that being listened to is a major motivator for employee engagement.
- Stephen R. Covey, in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, advises, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood,” which motivates others to listen to us.
- Gallup’s ongoing engagement study validates that having one’s opinion count is a major factor in staff engagement.
Surveys of both current and former employees show that low scores for feeling listened to indicate that it is a major reason for employee disengagement. Certainly, some employees are isolated from their leaders because they work off site, have different or changing shifts, or other impediments to routine communication. Most often, a leader’s failure to communicate with staff indicates a lack of or inconsistent process for staff being heard, or it is contrary to the leader’s style, or there is little awareness of the importance of closing the communication loop.
Process – Respondents tell us that passive requests for input – i.e., suggestion boxes and hot lines – are suspect, ineffective, or only used as last resort efforts at communication. Emails, surveys, focus groups, and bulletin boards have good potential for successful communication when their function is carefully explained and the process for using them is consistently applied. Regular communication with all levels of leadership to all levels of staff is critical to engagement.
Style – Drive-by requests for information are common, and also ineffective. Asking an employee about their needs in the parking lot or when passing in the hall is generally seen as disingenuous at best, or a sign that the leader is not interested in listening, at worst. Multi-tasking, not paying attention to the message or to the messenger, and not processing the message before responding are listening weaknesses that convince staff that they are not being heard.
Closing the Loop – Asking employees to express needs and concerns, and not responding with your thoughts or actions is worse than never asking. When they do not know that you have information, they have lower expectations than if they communicate, and they are ignored. After surveys, meetings, or any venue in which the information shared impacts their work life, it is important to include them in discussing these issues. Even when there are valid reasons that action cannot be taken at the time, it builds trust to let people know that they have been heard.
Whether in one-on-one communication or in organization-wide employee surveys, eliciting opinions and not responding is demotivating, disengaging, and may be seen as a disrespectful waste of the respondent’s time. When there is a pattern of non-responsiveness by leadership, a low survey participation rate is bound to result. Low participation indicates low morale and reflects the attitude, “Why should I waste my time participating? Nothing ever comes of it anyway.”
With a slow economic recovery, most companies continue to work lean. In such an environment, front line supervisors and mid-managers need to be aware that with heavy workloads, leaders are often moving so quickly that they think they are communicating with staff more than they actually are. Tracking on a spreadsheet the times that you have meaningful interaction with each staff member – i.e., listening to understand – will document the frequency of your communication. After a few weeks, note those employees that you have not connected with, and reach out to them.
This process will go a long way toward helping you recognize and consciously adjust your work communication style, and you will begin to close the gap on your history of missed opportunities for earning trust. Strengthening internal relationships, helping people feel heard, and keeping them engaged positively impact morale, productivity, safety, and quality performance on the job.