Are you listening to me?
This is a question often heard between feuding couples or parents when reprimanding their children. And it’s a question that comes with a tone of frustration and hostility. We all have a burning desire to be heard and when we’re ignored it often comes at the cost of the relationship between the ‘speaker’ and the ‘listener’.
Successful organizations and leaders across the spectrum have understood the value of using listening skills to effectively listen to their people, no matter what level of the company totem pole that person may be sitting. Super successful organizations not only listen to their workforce but also make their staff feel that they are being heard. Seeing evidence of input being taken seriously is more effective than a mere pat on the back or a half-hearted promise to ‘put that on the agenda’.
When people feel ignored, it is as though our experiences, emotions and intellect are not being valued. We feel excluded and, as anyone who has experienced this will know, it impacts our morale and wellbeing. Good people leaders know how important it is to avoid this outcome, which means implementing practices that make staff feel included and, consequently, enhance employee satisfaction.
Being heard: The value of inclusion
A study from a New York-based non-profit organization, Catalyst, titled Inclusive Leadership: The view from six countries found that the more included employees felt the more innovative they were in their roles, and the more likely they were to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure KPIs were being met. People who felt included were also more driven to propose new ideas.
Catalyst’s study of workplaces in the US, Australia, Germany, China, India and Mexico concluded that feeling a part of something and feeling unique at the same time (i.e. that you are different and the people around you value your distinctiveness) were key ingredients to fostering a sense of inclusion.
How to become an inclusive leader
“Inclusive leaders create innovative dynamic workplaces where employees feel connected to and supportive of one another, and where everyone can advance and thrive,” says the Catalyst study.
The four key attributes of people leaders fostering inclusion are: Empowerment, humility, courage and accountability.
Leaders need to be courageous. In the context of fostering inclusion, leaders need to put personal interests aside in order to achieve the team’s goals. This requires a leader to act on principles and convictions rather than taking a conservative ‘safety-first’ approach. In other words, it requires a leader to take some risks.
In terms of inclusion, you need to show you have confidence in your people by holding them responsible for performance they can control. You are backing your people to develop innovative ideas and processes, so don’t throw them under the bus at the first sign of perceived trouble from something neither they, nor you, can control.
Empowerment and accountability go hand-in-hand. Empowering your staff while making them accountable isn’t simply giving them enough rope and seeing what happens. It’s about enabling people to develop and excel.
Something went wrong? A goal wasn’t achieved? Why? Let your people learn from the non-terminal mistakes by making them accountable for the bad, as well as the good. Employees want to be heard and feel they have a stake in their own performance. Give them plenty of opportunity to learn and grow.
Nobody knows everything. If we did, no one would go hungry, we’d have more accurate weather forecasts and the trains would run on time. Be humble with your employees – admit mistakes, accept and learn from criticism, welcome differing viewpoints (delivered constructively, of course) and actively seek out the contributions of others to overcome obstacles and limitations.
As Melissa Daimler, Global Learning & Organizational Development Leader at Twitter, says in an article in the Harvard Business Review, “What do you think? I ask this question a lot… More often than not, when I ask this question, my team has a better answer than I do — or one that I hadn’t thought about before.”
Everybody wants to be heard and ignoring what your human resources have to say about issues that affect them – or disregarding or belittling their ideas – only breeds discontent and exclusion. Take active measures to listen to your people, make them feel included and reap the benefits of a happier, more engaged workforce that positively influences your corporate culture and bottom-line.