Performance Excellence Process
Baldrige Workshops
Global Insights Archive
by Craig A. Anderson
Article from Global Insights
February 2004

During this past month we had a chance to participate in a call-in radio program on
VoiceAmerica.com ("Crust Busting Your Way to An Awesome Life" with Dr. Pat
Baccili) on the topic of "busting corporate crust" and received a call from "Linda in
New Jersey" who wondered why some organizations valued customer data
more than data provided by their own front-line employees. After all, she continued,
the people on the front lines are interacting with customers every day and certainly
could inform senior leadership about the issues and concerns that need to be
addressed.

Linda touched on a point that is a source of frustration for so many employees: why
is it so hard for organizations to listen to, and learn from, their own employees. And,
more importantly, how can organizations get better in this regard? We have some
ideas that may help.

First, leadership must embrace better listening as an organizational priority. What
does this mean? Treat listening as a core business process. Set specific listening
goals, assign roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities for getting it done, and
manage the process. Collect data, assess results. Link communication flows to
business results. Determine if midstream adjustments are needed. Remember that
intent is not enough. Manage communication and improve it the way you would any
important process. Accept that you won't get it right immediately, but that you can
improve the process over time through attention and hard work.

Improve the communication process and your organization will benefit in two
important ways. Operationally, you will get better data earlier, in time to help shape
important decisions. Strategically, you will gain more loyalty and commitment from
your employees; we have consistently found that one of the most powerful motivators
for employees at all levels is simply the chance to be heard and respected. Smart
organizations know that giving employees meaningful opportunities to talk about the
work they are doing is a low cost method that will offer high value returns.  

Action Step:
There is never a bad time to start improving your organizational listening skills. Sit
down this week with some of your employees and ask for their ideas on where to
begin. Keep still, and think in terms of systematic actions based on what you hear.