The Power of Listening
As business owners, we always have too little time and too many tasks on our to-do list. As we prioritize all of those tasks, we sometimes lose sight of the very important need to notice how our employees are doing and the specific ways in which they are working. While this may seem to be a non-urgent issue that can get shuffled down the list in lieu of a more pressing fire to put out, it is actually very crucial to keeping the business running smoothly. Here is what I learned from conversations with my staff over the past few weeks.
Sometimes you just need to be a sounding board. I recently stopped by a sales person’s desk because I heard her sighing in frustration as I passed by. When I asked what was happening, she began to complain about a problem she had encountered. Immediately, I began to listen as a business owner and manager. I quickly asked some questions about the solutions she had tried and started suggesting additional ways to address the issue. To my surprise, the staff member in question looked annoyed rather than receptive to my comments. Rather than be put off by her attitude, I asked why she seemed unhappy with the solutions I offered. She told me that she did not need solutions. She had just wanted me to understand what she was up against and provide her with a few words of empathy.
This reminder to listen without always trying to fix things was valuable to me. Smart people are usually able to work out their own solutions, but they still need a sounding board from time to time, so they can vent a little and perform their own self-check before re-finding the path to productivity.
A closer look is always worth the time. A new recruit seemed to be doing well at first, but overhearing one of her calls recently set off alarm bells for me. The call ended too quickly and as I stopped what I was doing and began listening to more calls, I realized she was missing some important tools in helping our customers the best she could. I made time to ask her about her calls, and in the process, discovered that she had some organizational issues that we could easily address as well as some sales questions she had been timid about asking. Together we re-organized her call calendar, created a weekly contact plan, and re-visited some of the training lessons with additional examples so she felt confident about her conversations with customers.
Then I began checking in with her for five minutes each morning to discuss her roadmap for the day. I also allocated 30 minutes during each afternoon to hear her calls and help her tweak her dialogue as it unfolded. She saw the results in her sales immediately, and because I was directly interacting with her regularly, she added extra initiatives to accelerate her progress even further. My noticing her struggle gave her the chance to voice her weaknesses without making her feel stupid and gave way to great improvements in a short period of time.
Even rock stars require encouragement. My best employees are self-motivated, require little supervision, and move the company forward much like I do, basing their decisions on a combination of intuition and analysis with a healthy dose of willpower. Because I know they are highly operational without any intervention from me, if I don’t get time to catch-up with them in a given week, I don’t worry too much. When my highest earner didn’t seem to be making some of the secondary goals we had set for her recently, I began to check in more regularly again. As I did, I realized that there was a marked difference in both her focus and work output.
Even though she can do her job smashingly without my guidance, showing her I was paying attention gave her a new drive to push the bar higher. Merchandising got even better, samples went out more frequently and her problem-solving got more creative. All of which made me understand that checking in proactively, and not just when something was amiss, was vital for the strongest as well as the weaker players on my team.
The bottom line is this: Noticing needs to happen all the time, not just when we decide we have the time.