Hey Managers: Listen Up

I’ve been lucky. Over the years much of my time has been spent talking to managers and business owners, secure in the knowledge that my voice was being heard. Admittedly, I’ve encountered managers who didn’t listen to a word I said; they were too busy trying to impress me with their own business acumen or, worse yet, just loved the sound of their own voice. However, seven times out of ten, the managers I’ve worked with have been eager to hear my suggestions; they genuinely want to improve their business and they’re willing to consider new ways of doing so, even if it means pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone.

The years I spent consulting were rewarding, but after 15 years, I decided to make a change. I began working on a communications degree — majoring in journalism — while continuing to consult during the summer months.

No sooner had my spring classes ended, then I was invited by a friend of mine to meet with him and his two managers. They wanted to discuss a new business venture they were working on. I agreed and we set up a meeting. A few days later I found myself sitting in the president’s corner office, taking in the impressive view the city’s river pathways and the mountains beyond. After exchanging pleasantries and lamenting the cloudy, rainy weather, the four of us – my colleague, the president and the vice-president – sat down around a small circular table to discuss the situation. My colleague sat silently beside me while management outlined their goals for the new venture.

After taking some notes and asking some questions, I felt the time was right to start making suggestions and outlining a course of action. The president had suggested a number of great ideas; however, there was one particular idea that could potentially cause serious problems in the future it was implemented. As tactfully as possible, I pointed out the potential pitfalls of the president’s idea and suggested an alternative course of action. Next, I referenced other well-known organizations that had successfully used a similar approach. Finally, I outlined the benefits of my approach and the risks of ignoring it. Having made my case, it was now up to management to make a decision. They made it quickly. The president said, “You’ve made some good points. I think your ideas fit with the direction we want to go”. Awesome. They would implement my suggestion.

We wrapped up a few minor details, discussed next steps and then concluded the meeting. My colleague walked me out of the office and accompanied me down to the lobby on the main floor where we said goodbye.

As I walked back to my car, which was parked a few blocks away, I thought about how well the meeting had gone. When they spoke, I listened, and when I spoke they reciprocated. It was an exchange of ideas amongst equals with the purpose of solving problems. I found myself motivated. These managers had respected my opinions and now I wanted to prove my worth. I wanted to prove that their trust was well placed.

Unfortunately, not all managers take the time to listen and truly consider the ideas proposed by their employees.  In other cases, managers pay lip service to employees by asking for suggestions but then ignoring their replies. Because of this, many employees simply stop sharing their opinions. A recent study conducted in 2011 and published by the Journal of Business Ethics, suggests not listening to employees also tends to increase conflict in the workplace. According to the study, “disgruntled employees took out their frustrations on co-workers because they feared losing their jobs or experiencing other reprisals if they challenged their managers.”

The disadvantages of shutting out employees, and ignoring their suggestions can damage, and even destroy morale in the workplace. In a competitive economy, businesses cannot afford to have unhappy, unproductive employees.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Employees whose managers paid attention were more likely to offer input and got along better with one another, thereby improving the organization’s morale and functioning as a whole.

Employee engagement consultants Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton have gathered empirical evidence supporting the concept that happy workers are more productive. In their new book All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results, Gostick and Elton make a convincing case. They looked at data from over 700 companies and found the ones that were most successful had employees that were “engaged, enabled and energized” – something the authors refer to as E+E+E.

Engaged, enabled and energized was exactly how I felt after my meeting. Knowing that my ideas are heard and considered — and occasionally implemented – keeps me motivated and enthusiastic about my job.  As the research indicates, happy employees are more productive. Admittedly, listening to employees is just one of the many factors involved in keeping employees happy, but it might just be the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to do so. That’s advice worth listening to.