Just Listen to Employees


One of my business partners and I are working with a client that’s dealing with high turnover in one of its divisions. The client believes at least some of the problem relates to communication, so they asked us to come in to interview people who work in the division and some people who used to work in it, including a few who left the company altogether.

So far the interviews have been productive. We’ve learned a lot simply by asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of listening. I believe the report we give our client at the end of the work will lead to some real improvements and an eventual decrease in turnover.

While doing research for a presentation on social media recently, I ran across a quote from Geoff Cottrill, chief marketing officer of Converse, the shoemaker. He described Converse’s approach to social media as acting like a good party guest: bring something to the table and do more listening than talking.

That’s good advice for business leaders who are interested in building a high-performing organization, too. It’s amazing what leaders can learn just by listening to employees. My experience is that most people want to do a good job for their employers. They want to learn and to grow and they want to share their ideas and make a significant contribution to the overall performance of the organization. They also know where the problems lie. Their insights often can lead to great improvements, if only someone will listen to them.

I also have seen that many employees are afraid to initiate communication about problems. They don’t want to be seen as troublemakers or complainers. They’re not sure if speaking up is an acceptable corporate behavior — even when their companies’ values say that it is.

That’s why it’s important for business leaders to initiate the conversation. Ask people regularly what is going on, how things are working and how they could work better. Create an environment where that kind of communication is rewarded. And then listen. There will be plenty of opportunities to act on what you hear, but the important first step is to just listen.

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