The January 3, 2014 episode of the CBS television series Undercover Boss highlighted key moments from the 2013 season and examined what changed for each of the leaders. The show, built on the premise that top leaders can be out of touch with their frontline employees, focuses on the hidden costs of ineffective listening. Each episode demonstrates how most leaders don’t realize the impact of their lack of listening until it is too late. When leaders fail to listen to employees, they put their companies at risk of missing out on new ideas, losing both their customers and their best people and earning a reputation as an unattractive place to work. It is estimated that as many as 40% of current employees would leave for a “better” environment if a position became available.
In one Undercover Boss episode, Don Fertman, the Chief Development Officer of Subway, went undercover as a Sandwich Artist. He revisited in the latest episode, after establishing a formal mechanism to regularly bring talented employees together to provide input to senior leadership on new menu offerings. Subway’s corporate leaders learned to listen more and talk less. They now listen for understanding and give people with less power in the organization the ability to influence those with the most power in the organization.
Listening keeps you in touch, and Employees engaged
To ensure long-term business performance and success, it is more important than ever to maintain a high level of employee engagement. If your best employees chose to seize new opportunities elsewhere, your most valuable assets walk out the door. If you believe that your top talent is the source of your competitive advantage–and that motivated and productive employees are the make-or-break ingredient to successfully navigating ongoing business pressures– employee engagement through listening should be a top business imperative in 2014.
As a leader yourself, you might ask why so many leaders are clueless about what their employees are doing, thinking or behaving. If you are like most successful executives, entrepreneurs and overachievers, it might be because you believe you already have the answers. In fact, top leaders think they are “right” most of the time and fail to see their own blind spots, one of which is poor listening.
It’s a Challenge
The challenge with listening, really listening, is that it takes time and interest in what others have to say. Most leaders get employee feedback in filtered and sterilized reports rather than seeing and hearing the “raw” stories for themselves. When they do listen, it is not unusual for top leaders to jump to conclusions, finish other people’s sentences or interrupt employees who don’t get to the point quickly enough. Lacking an environment that encourages open dialogue and debate, most direct reports defer to the “boss” and fail to report emerging concerns or issues that could have significant adverse consequences.
As a leader, you need to feel the pulse of what your employees are thinking. Commit to going “undercover,” getting out and listening differently in 2014. At Innolect, We ARE Listening and are ready to help you build creative, high-integrity workplaces.
For information about Advocacy and Inquiry, download our Advocacy and Inquiry Summary.