Many of us have worked in companies where the executives all but hid in their offices and let only the bare minimum of carefully controlled information trickle out.
It’s unnerving for employees. Everyone wonders what everyone else really knows. No one understands what’s going on. All they understand is their task, and so they cling to it jealously. They execute it elaborately. And they protect it like territory.
Innovation is out of the question. It’s stuck in the sinking sands of risk aversion.
As the nature of management evolves, along with the rapidly shifting expectations of employees, it’s mission critical to make sure nothing like this affects any part of your company.
The anecdote is good communications. In fact, one study found that good communications actually becomes an asset.
In a 2015 Boston Consulting Group study found that “the most important—and most deeply entrenched—reason established companies struggle to grow is fear of failure.”
But it also found that “the information you gather about customers and markets, yourself and your team, and your operations” from innovating, experimenting – and sometimes failing – was an asset that generated a return.
If it was captured.
Many companies have begun to capture those assets as part of their business process.
One study found that “The growth of the Millennial demographic, the diversity of global teams, and the need to innovate and work more closely with customers are driving a new organizational flexibility among high-performing companies.”
They set out to encourage innovation. First, they inform their people about the “big picture,” so that everyone can see the whole, rather than just their part.
That’s because people who understand their situation, rise to it. People who don’t simply try to keep things running.
Of course, for this to work, management has to listen to what people think and learn what they learn.
That means creating a forum where people can speak. And, it means listening to what they say.
Harvard Business Review writes that “empathic listening builds trust and respect…[and] creates an environment that encourages collaborative problem-solving.”
Most executives have a really hard time doing this.
A Stanford study found that when boards rate their CEOs, they give three lowest marks for, in order, mentoring, listening, and conflict management. Stanford concluded that “the fact that these were the bottom three means that there is a real problem.”
The Harvard study gave some insights into how executives might improve. “Hearing words is not adequate,” they write, “the leader truly needs to work at understanding the position and perspective of the others involved in the conversation.”
They also suggest “asking brilliant questions,” which might seem imprecise, but which is echoed in psychological research.
There we learn of one listening technique that many executives would probably find comfortable.
It’s called “Hunting,” which means “exploring with open-ended 'how' and 'what' questions…”
It’s not putting your team member on the spot. It’s “starting a fascinating conversation.”
You’re trying to collect assets.
The quickest route to normalizing that process is to transform your meetings. Make sure that for part of them, the active listener is you.
It can be as simple as listing it as an agenda item. Most agendas are “simply several words strung together to form a phrase”
You know how those meetings go. HBR described them like this: “some team members are trying to define the problem, other team members are wondering why the topic is on the agenda, and still other members are already identifying and evaluating solutions.”
Not a lot of listening. But a lot of assets slipping through your fingers.
When your leaders understand that you want those assets, they’ll follow your lead. Read the ebook below for the rest of the method.
But above all else, take HBR’s advice to heart:
“You cannot have leadership presence without hearing what others have to say.”