Seven steps to create a listening strategy in your organisation.

First featured on the Engage 4 Success blog, Nick Terry shares some tips on creating a listening strategy in your organisation.

Recent years have seen a number of well-regarded people and institutions slip from grace with a significant impact on societal trust. This has prompted many of us to not only examine what really drives trust, but to think about what can be done practically to keep – or help regain – the confidence of our employees.

Top Banana’s Leadership, Trust & Communication report, prepared with the University of Westminster and the Institute of Internal Communication, examined employee trust in detail, highlighting effective listening as the first step in helping to create trusting organisations.

Why listen?

As human beings, if we don’t feel listened to, we don’t feel valued. This simple principle is vital in corporate culture with opportunities for the ‘employee voice’ to be heard essential.
Great leaders are also great listeners who genuinely care about the views of people on all levels. Internal communicators have a key role in working with their business leaders to ensure that a listening strategy is in place.

Below are some simple steps to listening in your company – if you’d like to read more, you can find our full guide to organisational listening here.

Step one – listening audit

Look at how listening works in your organisation today and how you might be able to develop listening further. You may have a formal programme of listening in place as part of an engagement strategy…or it could be that pockets of listening take place driven by individual leaders. How is all of this information captured and recorded? Get all your methods and platforms in one place so you have an umbrella view of your current listening reality.

Step two – reality check

So you know what listening is currently in place – in theory. But how effective is this listening? How do people perceive the listening? As a tick the box exercise or a genuine chance to give feedback? Is it actively helping us to build trust? How are the insights shared and used? What’s great about the listening that’s happening? What could be better? While not scientific, it’s a good starting point for exploratory conversations with others.

Step three – what success looks like

Having decided to do something about listening, creating a shared view of what success will look like is a good place to start. Choose who you want to involve in this thinking (e.g. a line manager, colleagues, senior leadership team). People who may have a vested interest or who could help drive action in the future can be particularly useful and involving them early is helpful.

Step four – how you will use the insights

Agreeing upfront how you will act on the insights you receive through listening is critical because it’s incredibly easy for it to end up on the ‘corporate shelf’ – where respect is very quickly lost for the listening process. What will we commit to do with the results? Think about the promise you’re prepared to make on this to colleagues and on which you can be held to account. If we get this work right, what is the difference we’ll see in our business in six months’ time/ this time next year?

Step five – listening method

The range of listening channels and tactics is endless; from annual engagement surveys to online discussion forums to question sessions with leaders. Using a mix of different listening methods helps to engage different employee audiences. Written feedback is often preferred but as the Leadership, Trust and Communication report states, “trust is best built up by frequent face to face interactions”. People want to create relationships with their leaders and, in a busy workplace, listening opportunities can provide the chance to do this.

Step six – consider the context for listening

In order to gather useful insight, feedback needs to be gained in the right measures at the right time. Ask yourself, what’s the right amount of listening and how will we measure this? It may seem obvious but consider what else is going on in the business and avoid times when people are going to be all consumed by the ‘day job’.

Step seven – listening communication

Don’t forget to tell people what they told you and what has happened as a result. How will you share what’s been done as a result of the feedback? Will you use your existing channels or is there an opportunity to do something different? Make it clear when the feedback is going to be available and do your best to keep to this timing.

Whichever listening tactics you choose, remember to be authentic – tactics need to feel comfortable for employees and leaders. Also remember to consider any previous listening ‘baggage’ that might trip you up, for example, is there a history of a listening not being acted upon so it no longer has credibility? Will the way you listen fit with your culture or feel odd? If the first listening attempts don’t get the results you want, then acknowledge this, move on and try something different. Invent something new and keep listening.

Looking for more ‘aha’ moments? Click here to read our full guide to organisational listening.