Why Top Executives Need to Listen

In this article I will illustrate the huge financial benefits to organizations that having their Executives listening, will bring.  You will recognize not only the importance of really listening to your stakeholders, but how you can begin to do this as well.  You may already believe that you are a great listener…most Executives do.  However, the statistics on the reality of great listeners bears witness to a dismal few with these crucial skills.

Working as an Executive Coach over the past 15 years with C level executives in Fortune 500 companies, I have come to the conclusion that huge potential profits are lost through a lack of good communication skills at the executive level.  You may say to me, “Well, our Communications Department takes care of that, or our Human Resources Department in the case of Employees, or yet again, our trained Customer Service Department.  And so I say to you, are they the ones who set the tone and make the decisions for the organization, or, is this done by the Executives and Board Members?

Often times, Executives make decisions based on information gathered from others around them and information that has been filtered up to them.  Hence, this information has been positioned, massaged and “translated” to what you hope to be reliable. That is the first area of miscommunication.   Also, as an Executive, you tend to be visionary and communicate in a future-forward fashion.  This is a common and costly area of perceived miscommunication.  Well, I can tell you from personal experience working with organizations that are going through tough financial times as well as lay-offs, this kind of visionary communication is exactly what your employees DO NOT want to be hearing.  While working with a large technology organization, I encouraged the CEO to go into their employees’ environments and literally sit and have coffee with a dozen random employees in order to get a “feel” for how they were thinking and feeling.  This took a little coaching of course.   For employees to share their real feelings and thoughts, the CEO had to fully engage the employees.  This included making good eye contact, posture, gestures and facial expressions.  And of course, the questions themselves had to be open-ended and inviting, giving pause so that the employee could respond in a relaxed manner. The employees, as you might expect, were at first quite intimidated and scared to speak their minds.  However, once “word got out” that “the boss was sincere” and that the discussions were non-judgmental, the employees really did share important insights.

In short order, the CEO realized that the visionary messages that were being communicated to the employees were not only falling on deaf ears, but were panicking the employees further. Their concerns were much more concrete.  They wanted to know how secure their jobs were going to be today and tomorrow.  And, by tomorrow, it became clear, that this meant the next 24 hour period.  Another important insight that was uncovered was that the employees in general DID NOT want to hear how things were going to change for the better, but how things in their immediate environment were NOT going to change.

Communication was everything and the revised “Newsletters” addressing THEIR concerns boosted morale and resulted in more productivity, decreases in sick days and lower turnover rates of valued employees.

The same can be said for Executives listening to their customers.  Ask yourselves this, when was the last time you actually went into your customers’ environment and “sincerely”, listened to their points of view.   And again, most Executives will say that they know how their customers think and feel.  I challenge you to take the “Client Test”.  But, don’t go out to prove yourselves right.  The next skill is to know how to ask the questions that will give you what you want to know, and by this I mean the Customers’ TRUE Perception and NOT your own.  This is enormously powerful information that can deliver huge profits.  No one in the organization is more motivated to make the organization profitable than the one who relies on bonuses based on Corporate Performance.  Never forget that.

The trick is to realize that really listening requires you to go against human nature.  No one wants to hear criticism about a company that they run.  But, the ability to elicit the good, the bad, and the ugly, and then turn that feedback into actionable insight is what ultimately creates profit.