As communicators, we are constantly looking for new, more effective ways to broadcast information to our publics – employees, customers, the news media, etc. We develop programs with eye-catching graphics and clever names, we write talking points and scripts, then we distribute our packaged information to carefully targeted recipients.
In these scenarios, we tend to forget that one of the most important tools in our toolkit is the ability to listen, to gather insights and hear concerns.
In times of change, when communicators are focused on getting information out to their employees, listening is often forgotten entirely.
A few years ago, I was working with an organization that was undergoing a number of radical changes – wholesale changes at the executive level, a shift in the business model and a significant drop in revenues. Employees were worried, and despite our best efforts at pushing out updates on what the company was doing to address the problems, there was still a general feeling that the executives were out of touch.
A typical response to this scenario would be to send out the executive team for a series of large-scale employee town hall meetings to review the business plan.
Instead, we took a different approach. We implemented something a former boss of mine called “listening opportunities.”
We set up a series of small group meetings with local employees and a senior executive from the main office. To paraphrase one of Covey’s “Seven Principles”, the executive’s role was to listen and understand, then explain the company’s strategy and actions.
The executive would open the floor with a set of questions, soliciting feedback and ideas from the employees. No prepared remarks, no anonymous pre-submitted questions and no scripted talking points, just an open dialogue with employees.
As a follow up to the sessions, the executives published quick recaps of their discussions on the company intranet, including the improvements offered by the participants.
I’m happy to report that, in addition to building support among the employee base, our approach helped humanize senior executives and even identified some great ideas to remove barriers that were preventing the company from moving forward.
Sounds like a win to me.