It is rare that leaders hear the whole truth and nothing but the truth from their key stakeholders – customers, employees or partners. There is a serious risk of being blindsided.
Listening and responding shouldn’t be left just to middle managers – it’s a strategic issue and if well led can be a point of distinction and a pathway to better business performance.
In the first of our four-part series on Four Ways to Profit from Feedback Management, we’re talking about how to avoid being blindsided.
Leaders don’t always hear the truth, and this is for two main reasons:
- Staff are often reluctant to share the whole truth – that’s often for fear of looking like they are not in control
- Shallow listening systems don’t deliver the full truth – poor response rates obscure the full picture or tick the box approaches don’t give people the chance to say what they really think and in their own words. Further, one of the biggest blights is lack of explanation – knowing what is changing and why
Relationship issues can often fester before the senior management team even hears about them, so the danger of a leadership team being blindsided on the negatives is very real.
A real problem can also be the poor representation of the positives. It’s the negatives that most readily float to the surface and the squeaky wheels that get heard. That means leadership teams see an excessively negative picture and can easily get diverted to fixing problems when the real opportunity is to build on positives that are really working.
Leadership-level listening posts are a valuable tool for giving senior executives a direct information feed from customers, employees or partners. Think of something that is part advisory board; part mood pulse and part B2B conversation.
Your stakeholders like having a clear and direct channel to the top important and heard. Leaders win by hearing the unvarnished voice of the people, who you need to be telling them how it is.
Here’s what a leadership-level listening post could look like:
- You invite people into a listening post that people participate in for a least 2 years
- You follow individuals over time to get true understanding and explanation – touching base with them say 2 or 3 times per year
- You have a small but select cohort of people you follow, drawn from the stakeholder groups you want a direct connection with
- You tie the very few questions you ask to your strategy/vision/value proposition
- You use a true voice approach to hear what they think in their own words, as they see it
- You seek the positives as hard as you seek the negatives
- You are not satisfied with the traditional approach to insights – you carefully analyse for and build official insights out of the feedback you receive and compare it to what you are hearing internally
- You show outstanding listening from the leadership team by responding rapidly one-to-one, and using their comments to spark a conversation (with participants and inside the organisation) about changes that will be made
- You make the review of the information flows from your leadership listening post part of your regular routines. You challenge your organisation with the voice received as part of the drive for a more stakeholder centric organisation
- You co-mingle other data with your voice streams to understand how sentiment and business outcomes are related
How does this assist leadership and drive profit?
The timely ongoing stories that come from a listening post give a leadership team added confidence to make decisions that keep the organisation on the front foot with its key stakeholders. Being ahead of the play creates opportunities to stand out and it is distinctively good performance that moves people from ambivalent to ‘delighted’, strengthens retention, creates organic growth and spurs advocacy.
Being constantly behind the play and reacting is a demoralising place to be and high cost. Cost to serve any stakeholder group is usually much higher in a reactive environment because people are spending too much time putting out forest fires and too little time on creating opportunities.