Listening Is the First Step

Business leaders need to listen to their employees and to their business

by Bruce Weber 

Listening is a powerful tool in any business setting and a critical skill that can enable a business to understand what its employees need, what they desire in their work, and how the business can become more successful. Listening, however, can be challenging for many business owners and managers who are often focused on the bottom line, meeting targets and achieving goals.

It is essential business leaders listen to their employees to build a strong and successful team and business. When employees feel heard and valued, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated, leading to improved productivity and business outcomes. Listening to staff also demonstrates that the leadership cares about them and their concerns, which often leads to higher employee retention rates.

Recently, a friend who owns a legal firm shared a dilemma that we are all too familiar with: getting people to return to the office. In his law practice, it was vital to have staff in the office to facilitate the daily activities necessary. When it was safe to do so, he informed everyone that they needed to return to the office full time but met with a great deal of resistance. He wanted to be accommodating, but the firm’s clients had specific needs that required in-office participation. As a strong leader, he listened to the reasons why there was reluctance. Folks with young families wanted extra schedule flexibility, and others liked the ability to plan and have more free time. Together they arrived at a compromise: Half the staff would take off every other Friday. It would mean Fridays and Mondays would be busier for those working but all agreed the idea had merit. The outcome is that the staff loves it, and morale and client satisfaction has never been higher. By engaging the staff in the decision, everyone won. 

Another method of listening to employees is to conduct regular surveys or focus groups. Surveys can help leaders understand what their employees are thinking and feeling about their work and the business. It can also provide insight into what areas of the business need to improve. Focus groups can also help leaders dig deeper into specific topics and gain a better understanding of their employees’ thoughts and opinions.

Listening to employees also means acting on their feedback. It is not enough to just listen. As the earlier example demonstrates, action is critical to meaningful employee dialogue and demonstrates that leaders value their input and are committed to making positive changes to enhance their work environment.

It is also important to listen to the business! Leaders should regularly review the business’s performance to identify areas of improvement and make necessary adjustments to remain competitive. Financial data, customer feedback and employee engagement surveys can all provide insight into how successful the business has been and what opportunities lie ahead.

Listening to both employees and the business is critical in building a successful, sustainable organization. Creating an open-door policy, conducting regular surveys or focus groups and acting on feedback builds a workplace culture that values the input of its employees and stakeholders. Remember, listening is only the first step; action is what truly drives positive change in a business!   

Bruce Weber is founder and president/CEO at Weber Group. Weber brings more than 20 years of experience to the for-profit and nonprofit community, working with startup, growth and mature organizations. His focus is in strengthening organizations through strategic planning, organizational development, leadership and board development. He is a BoardSource Certified Governance trainer and a founding partner of the Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute.

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