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If You Listen Up, Your Employees Will Step Up

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  • The best way to make your employees feel important and valued is to listen to them.
  • Incorporating an employee listening strategy is a great first step to making your employees feel important.
  • Once you incorporate this strategy, you have to make real changes to the culture of the company. 

If you want your workers to take a more active role in your business, you need to listen to what they say, a new study shows. The No. 1 reason employees don't take more initiative at work, the study shows, is that their leaders fail to get their input before making decisions.

The study, conducted by John Izzo, author of the new book, Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything (Berrett-Koehler, 2012), defined stepping up as "taking initiative to make the company better, including bringing up new ideas, suggesting better ways of doing business and taking high levels of effort to improve the organization's services.

Sixty-four percent of the 675 professional workers in the U.S. and Canada who were polled said that "leaders making decisions without seeking input" was the biggest problem.

"The bottom line is that people want to be heard and feel valued," Izzo said. "When decisions are made without getting input from people, they tend to hold back their ideas and take less initiative to make improvement."

Another big factor in keeping people from stepping up is how leaders react to employee ideas and input. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said that "leaders dismissing ideas without exploring these ideas" is the second biggest reason why people won't take initiative.

Another 26 percent cited "people not getting rewarded or recognized for playing outside the lines" as a critical factor keeping people from stepping up.

"Companies that want more initiative and for employees to bring more of their ideas to work need to regularly recognize people who are constructive irritants or who take initiative even if they break the rules a little," Izzo said.

Having a company culture where people will bring their ideas to work has been associated with many important outcomes in such areas as productivity, employee engagement, retention and innovation. One of the best examples Izzo cites is the development of the Starbucks frappuccino. The idea for the drink was first suggested by some frontline employees and a store manager in Southern California. When the idea made its way to the corporate offices at Starbucks, it was rejected. Yet one manager encouraged the store to experiment anyway, and the result was a billion-dollar product for Starbucks.

"This is something we see time and time again," he said. "When leaders involve people in decisions and value people's ideas, resistance turns into productive energy."

An employee listening strategy is understanding the experience of employees through an integrated approach. This approach includes involving employees, requesting feedback from them and improving the organization by incorporating their ideas. The goal is to do this while maintaining the objectives and mission of the company.

It is more than just sending out surveys. It involves a change to the culture of the company, by behaving in such a way that employees feel heard and valued. An employee listening strategy must start at the top with an implementation of top level management and HR. It does require work from everyone in the agency to implement these strategies. It is a top down type of implementation.

When you are developing an employment listening strategy, you must look at your company as a whole, including your goals and objectives. This can help you determine questions you should ask and the type of feedback you are most likely to receive. It is most helpful when the feedback you receive is relevant to your company. When considering which techniques are best for your company, you need to look at all potential strategies and make sure whichever ones you choose work well for your organization across the board. 

Implementing these strategies may not take more than a few weeks, but it is a constant process. You cannot just say you are going to ask questions one time and call it a day. It is a constant process of asking for feedback, reviewing the feedback and making the changes. Then you begin the entire cycle again. It is important how you start your strategy and implementation. You must create a plan of action and mapping for the surveys. Then you must gather the data that you capture and determine how to move forward. The key is to make real changes, or you will lose your employees entirely.

Strategies that you can implement include:

  • Surveys of those whom who are interviewing for a position in your company. 
  • Surveys of those as they are starting a new job for your company.
  • Surveys of those who are leaving your company.
  • Pulse surveys that are short and at regular intervals so managers can gauge employees feelings and changes.
  • Focus groups to allow employees to add value and meaning, by digging deeply into certain subjects. 
  • One-on-one discussions with management to give employees a chance to talk directly to a manager and openly discuss any topic.
  • Feedback that includes everything that is happening within the company to bring self-awareness to everyone.

You cannot guarantee that employees will respond to your questions and give meaningful feedback. If you explain to your employees that their feedback is important and encourage their feedback, you need to listen to them to show that you are sincere. Once you begin adjusting based off their concerns, they will see that you are committed to listening and making changes. 

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.