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Listen to the Kid, and Listen!

September 24, 2009

W small only

At what age do we begin to learn from our children?  My friend was babysitting her grandson while she was trying to work from home.  The phone rang, and she took the call.  The very smart three-year old tugged at her and said, “You need to be with me, not on the phone.” grandma

It reminded me of the saying “Be here now.”  Have you heard that one? My own daughter has reminded me of the importance of having a meaningful conversation, a dialogue where each party is truly listening, tuned in, and not focusing on what the response should be, and what they want to say.  How well do you listen?  Are you ready with your response as soon as you hear a few phrases from the speaker?

Listening skills are critical in any relationship, especially in business where using both your ears can help you learn what the mood of the workplace is currently.  The expression, Management by Walking Around (MBWA) was the cornerstone of Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett’s management style as they grew their company, HP.  Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard created a management style that formed the basis of HP‘s famously open corporate culture and influenced scores of other companies in the way they created trust in their organizations. MBWA is marked by personal involvement, good listening skills and the recognition that “everyone in an organization wants to do a good job.”[1]Ultimately, MBWA morphed into Management by Objective (MBO), which gives employees the flexibility to create business objectives for themselves that work towards the company’s goals.  MBO were another sign of trust in the HP workplace. 

Trust in the workplace translates into more productivity.  If you are in marketing, or perhaps a department head, before you begin any campaign, go back to the basics.  Start by collecting data; you need a baseline of opinions and attitudes. With your new knowledge you can assess the situation and create a more powerful program, a program with punch, and pizzazz that will resonate with your employees.  If you have carefully listened to your constituents, your campaign will achieve its goals and behaviors should change.

Some Quick Listening Tips

  • Be an active listener.  Be tuned in to the speaker, show interest
    • Maintain eye contact
    • Nod your head periodically
    • Concentrate on what the speaker is saying and not saying (“listening” to body language is also important)
  • Create a safe listening environment
    • Have an open door policy
    • Practice MBWA
    • Have an email address that you respond to personally and in a timely manner
    • Have town hall meetings with question cards—if time does not permit answering all at the meeting keep your promise to respond in the company newsletter, or the company intranet

And remember the old saying, “We were given two ears and one mouth because listening is twice as hard as speaking.”

Tell us about the good or bad listening environment where you work!


[1] http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/abouthp/histnfacts/timeline/hist_40s.html

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Eileen Weisman is a communication strategist, a good listener, a recycling expert, a dog lover, and a mother of the bride.  Contact The W Group to discuss opportunities for improving the listening environment within your company or organization.

 

The answer is quite simple: Senior management is responsible for getting the word out to everyone, no matter the size of the business or organization.

 

Maybe your business isn’t global or your business doesn’t have thousands of employees. Perhaps your organization is so small that a formal internal communications strategy isn’t necessary; I don’t agree.

 

Whether you consider yourself a big business or a small business as long as you have employees or associates you need to be certain you have a formal strategy of communicating to those who assist you in the success of your operation.  Hearing important information from the top of the organization carries much weight and is the sign of strong leadership.

 

Peter Drucker (1909-2005), the man often cited as the inventor of modern management, would tell you to ask employees what needs to be done to make the business a success.  He would say to respect everyone’s ideas, learn from them, and incorporate as many ideas that make sense. Productivity and performance will improve when each employee feels their ideas are being considered.

 

According to Intel Corporation’s co-founder Andrew S. Grove: “Like many philosophers, he [Drucker] spoke in plain language that resonated with ordinary managers. Consequently, simple statements from him have influenced untold numbers of daily actions; they did mine over decades.”[1]

 

If your organization is small, speak to as many of your associates as is possible.  If you don’t have weekly staff meetings consider creating one that is interactive, action-oriented, and goal-driven.  No one wants to sit in a weekly meeting to hear information that could have been read in an email. Your personal delivery of news coupled with asking for input drives associate engagement.

 

And if you are a large company with multiple locations, even internationally dispersed, communicating successfully is possible. It begins with senior management at each location listening to those in the workplace.

 

So whether you are a big or small organization, internal communications begins with senior management listening, speaking in a way that can be understood in the lunchroom, and ensuring there is a process in place for everyone to understand the business and the business needs.

 

Be sure to create avenues for employees to be heard.  Consider an employee opinion survey to be administered at least two times a year.  Hold town hall meetings and measure their success.  Lead by example; listen to your associates and they will listen to you.  Always remember that successful communications is a two-way process.  And successful businesses have strong strategic communication plans.

 

Eileen Weisman is a communications strategist who designs successful communication environments for clients, ensuring that important messages are heard, visible, and understood. Her business philosophy is “You can improve performance by improving communications.”