Open to listening
No one needs to tell us that the last few years have been challenging. The business environment has changed rapidly. What we knew about the marketplace isn't true anymore. We used to think that we had specific competitive advantages, but those are no longer the most important. Instead, our ability to adapt and learn is now the most important business competitive advantage that one can have. But constant change is also tiring. So, how do we keep ourselves agile and learning? We have to listen to many and to diverse voices. We do best to listen to all the constituents of the business.
Being open to listening is a style, not a technique. When we listen, we affirm that we don't know everything and value other people's opinions and experiences.
For a long time now, many businesses have operated with shareholders and owners as the most important voices to listen to. Yet, in a rapidly changing environment, they may not know enough about the market nor other aspects of the operating environment.
When the business is changing rapidly, it can be difficult to build and maintain the communications channels needed to hear from every constituent of our business. We do well to take time ever so often to check to make sure that we are listening to every voice we need to.
Several titans of business were known for reaching out to people in their business. Ed Whitacre Jr. reported that he would often talk to people at the company cafeteria and simply introduce himself as someone who worked for the company. Likewise, Ross Perot would often introduce himself to new people. These chance meetings were a way to hear voices that often don't get heard at the top level of companies. Yet, those voices sometimes had information that needed to be heard up there.
To make sense out of situations, we may need both detailed insight and long range, outside perspective. Thus, listening to those closest to the problem can give us the detailed insight but we may need to find outsiders who can give a different perspective.
In many companies, information has a hard time going up the chain of command but commands come down quickly. The managers who do not listen do not hear the problems that occur until they can be closer to disaster. And managers who spend time to connect with and listen to their employees can have an easier time leading them. In some organizations, "360 reviews" and employee surveys have helped managers listen.
Taking the time to seek out those voices we have not listened to recently can be of great value. Much of the polarization of our country is due to people feeling as if their voices have not been heard. Over and over again, companies that have worked to listen to their customers gain good will and more. Companies that listen to their neighbors do better in most cases.
Let us be open to listening to as many voices as we can.