In these testing times, business leaders need the courage to listen to their team and affect positive change, says Peter Komornik of Slido
As businesses across Europe face some of the harshest economic conditions of the past decade, with organisations facing lay-offs, redundancies and budget cuts, it’s never been more important for leaders to communicate openly with their staff and foster an environment where their voices can be heard.
Staff at many organisations today have the option to communicate with other employees and leaders directly through internal communication platforms, interact in virtual meetings, or even respond on social media channels. And this means that modern business leaders should listen to their employees if they want to keep them engaged and understand the realities of what’s going on in their business.
But there are still too many leaders who avoid listening to feedback, and ignore the issues that arise in their organisations they don’t know how to deal with. A 2020 study by The O.C. Tanner Institute found that two thirds of UK companies don’t take employee feedback on board. This head-in-the-sand approach can mean avoiding awkward conversations in the short-term, but only by investing in solutions and techniques for actively listening to employees can a business deepen its sense of transparency and trust within its organisation. In 2023 – with cost- of-living pressures and economic challenges across the globe – it will be increasingly untenable to try to “avoid” employee feedback, cultural issues or other expressions of discontent without damaging the trust and long-term health of their organisations.
This year, more leaders need to build trust and loyalty among their teams by listening closely to what they have to say and embracing what might at times be difficult conversations to galvanise positive action. While this takes courage, it will create a more open organisation where morale is improved, trust is maintained or restored, and ultimately, talented and valued staff are retained.
The tools of the trade
Listening successfully depends on having a secure and reliable mechanism for getting regular feedback from people across the organisation, many of whom are likely to be working remotely as well. It also requires a mindset of psychological safety, so that people feel comfortable to express their views without incurring any punishment as a result.
Leaders need tools to make it easier to create space for conversation for people across the organisation whether they are joining online, from the office, or in a hybrid form. This can be done during all-hands meetings through anonymous Q&As and polls, or asynchronously by running regular pulse check surveys. Of course, these tools must also come with the highest standards of security and reliability, ensuring both leaders and employees have complete peace of mind about the confidentiality of the submitted insights.
By creating more channels for employees to express their views and provide feedback, business leaders benefit from getting a clearer view of the reality “on the ground”. They can identify what to fix and what to double-down on. This means that employees are invested in the journey the business is going on, business leaders understand what their employees really think, and everyone is on the same page.
A changing mindset
But it’s not enough to plug in some new tools or software and expect employees to feel empowered to speak up. Leaders need to ensure they’ve created and fostered a culture which encourages and rewards employees for opening up. Simply providing the tools won’t move the needle if staff don’t feel comfortable or safe sharing their views.
There are several areas that leaders should focus on to build an environment which encourages honesty. First and foremost, businesses must support individuals to build psychological skills, such as self- awareness and emotional regulation. They must also prioritise the factors that support mental health, such as team psychological safety. This is beneficial not only for speaking up about behaviours, but also for general wellbeing and performance.
Leaders should also lead by example – this is a powerful way to cultivate a healthy challenge culture. Employees in organisations where senior leaders are regarded as good role models for speaking up and listening well are more likely to share their thoughts themselves. To achieve this, businesses should provide behavioural-based training with exercises which give leaders the opportunity to test how they communicate in a controlled environment. This allows senior leaders and managers to explore and practise strategies for role-modelling speak up behaviours.
Businesses are facing more change, faster than ever before. Therefore, leaders must listen to their employees if they want to keep them engaged and ensure they’re invested in the future of their business. Ultimately, good information about employees can reach beyond what’s in the business’s interests, such as reducing turnover costs, increasing productivity, and improving mental wellbeing. It will revolutionise employee experiences at work, decreasing stress, improving supervisor relationships, and boost engagement.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Komornik is co-founder and General Manager of leading interaction platform Slido.