One of the things that comes up regularly in our practices is the Listening Discussion. Most clients know what they want to say, and they want to say it often. When the discussion turns from messaging to listening, there is inevitably silence. Listening is the most important skill an organization can master: both internally and externally.
There are a variety of best management practices identified for organizational listening. The following is a selected few for consideration. Please note that Stakeholders include employees, customers, suppliers, vendors, funding agencies (when applicable), leadership, and supporters.
Communication is a two-directional process. Stakeholders, both internal and external, are at the heart of every organization and providing them information is key to keeping them connected and engaged. Thriving organizations place their stakeholders first and listen to their suggestions and frustrations. This means building a culture that not only encourages feedback, but actively establishes means to provide it.
Feedback channels include:
- Online Surveys
- Phone Surveys
- Focus Groups; both Formal and Informal
- Online Chat
- Idea Box – yes that “old school, write it on down on paper” approach, but this time, read the suggestions and respond!
Discover What’s Important
Ask them what they value. Determine what your stakeholders value the most and put your emphasis there. If your service is often given as a gift, i.e., Cookie club Memberships or fruit bouquets, offer gift-wrapping or cards as a complimentary service.
Customize and personalize to create offerings that satisfy the unique needs of each stakeholder. Just because you value it, doesn’t mean they do. Not everyone wants their image or logo all over the place. For example, baby boomers often prefer to speak with a live person, while millennials often prefer email.
Earn and Keep Their Trust.
Trust is the foundation of all relationships. The easiest way to build trust with your stakeholders is by keeping your promises and making things easy to understand. Be clear and concise in your communications; it will help manage expectations. Keep a detailed summary of all stakeholder’s communication, so your conversations evolve to become as personalized and accurate as possible.
It’s vital to hear feedback. Invest in stakeholders survey tools so your organization can make improvements, fine-tune strategies and create new offerings. By taking meaningful action on feedback, you show – not tell – your stakeholders that they have been heard and understood.
Approach Communications with Full Transparency
In a world plagued with “fake news” and the spread of misinformation, stakeholders value transparency and honesty now more than ever.
An employee is 12 times more likely to be fully engaged if he or she trusts the stakeholders leader.
Executive leaders must communicate with stakeholders in an open and honest manner to build trust — one of the most critical factors in a organization’s relationship with its stakeholders.
Detect Problems When They are Small.
Big problems usually start out small. Listening to the people in control of critical areas (and potential solutions) can help you understand how your business runs, and allows you to catch problems when they are manageable. Listening internally also means paying attention to non-verbal communication. If key staff are rarely absent, and suddenly everyone calls out on Fridays, regularly, you have a situation that needs your attention. Listening to both verbal and nonverbal communication is critical.
Be Open to New Ideas.
Everyone has ideas, and some of those ideas will inevitably be good ones. The problem is, most of us tend to keep our ideas to ourselves, believing they aren’t worth mentioning or feeling that they won’t be acknowledged if we bring them up.
Regularly and actively listening to your stakeholders allows you to catch some of these ideas before they get buried. An employee might casually mention a new process that seems more efficient, or a new creative concept that could work perfectly in your new advertising campaign. The potential of the human mind is limitless, and active listening exposes you to countless ideas that might otherwise slip away undetected. Rather than dismiss ideas outright, respond with encouraging words such as, “That is a possibility.” You are not committing to the new idea, but those words allow you to consider what is being said and the time to do so. Saying, “No,” to every new idea is unproductive at best.
Build Trust and Loyalty
Listening isn’t all about gaining new information. It’s also a useful indicator of the health of your relationships. Sit down with your employees and partners individually, and spend some time openly listening to whatever is on their minds, whether it’s something they’re excited about, something they’re afraid of, or random thoughts that pop into their heads. You’ll be amazed at how good they feel after knowing they’ve truly been heard.
Do this regularly, and you’ll establish a greater rapport with all of your stakeholders. They’ll learn to trust you more, and they’ll know you value their ideas, which will keep them dedicated to you and your organization.
Your Clients and Partners Feel Valued.
Listening is essential for your client and partner relationships. Rather than going into a client meeting with a pre-planned sales pitch, spend most of your time actively listening to the problems facing your client and responding only when appropriate.
This type of communication pattern will help you understand your clients and partners better, giving you a better capacity to meet their needs. But more importantly, it will make them feel more valued, and will keep them loyal to you for as long as your relationship exists.
It Makes Your Company an Organization.
Successful organizations aren’t comprised of isolated individuals working only on their individual responsibilities. They’re comprised of tight networks of people working mutually together. When you actively listen to your stakeholders, you’ll set a tone and establish a culture that demands regular, interactive listening on every level. Your stakeholders will listen to you and listen to each other better, and as a result, they’ll work together better. It’s the fabric that holds the delicate interpersonal networks of a organization together.
Active listening is the most important communication skill to have. Speaking well is important, but it only affects what you say to others. Active listening affects how you learn and grow from everybody else around you. Make it a point to sit down with everyone involved in your organization, from your stakeholders, to your partners, to your clients, and have open, honest conversations that drive your business forward. Once you start truly listening to the people around you, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.