How a ham and cheese baguette can help you listen

There are certain times in an organisation where you just have to make a decision based on your knowledge and experience. Otherwise you would never get anything done and the business would either stand still or fall into decline.

You’ve got to be clear: what’s up for conversation, and what’s a decision? For example: take a humble ham and cheese baguette. There’s a list of ingredients and a recipe to follow: this is how you make a ham and cheese baguette. It’s not really up for discussion. 

However, it’s important to have a balance where you’re not stifling innovation. If your role solely consists of preparing ham and cheese snacks every single day and, based on your experience you see an opportunity to reduce costs or improve the process – suggesting grated cheese rather than slices –  then we’d hope the organisation would have a platform in place for employees to be heard and to discuss potential improvements.

Likewise, there needs to be a mechanism that allows suggestions to be considered but, where the organisation has devised the recipe based on hard evidence, research and data – such as customer preferences for cheese and the requisite amount of ham in grams – it can demonstrate an approach/ recipe to be a winning formula.

The most important thing is to constantly ask listening questions. How are you doing? Do you understand what I’m saying? Is there anything that’s concerning you? Let me hear what you have to say. But people need to know why that recipe is that recipe.

So whether is about a merger and acquisition – or grated v sliced cheese – it’s really important to allow people to have conversations that let them explore ideas, be heard, and then productively together come up with a solution for the greater purpose. But this all relies on listening.

Struggling with listening in your organisation?

Here are our suggestions:

  • We tend to listen to respond and not to understand – and that’s where we’re failing. Be intentional with what you’re listening to, as we often don’t listen because we’re too busy coming up with a response. It’s so important to not enter a dialogue or listening conversation with your thoughts overtaking.
  • Listening. Feedback. Dialogue. There’s only so much you can do as a leadership team. A lot relies on the communication skills of line managers. Research shows a disconnect between how much autonomy line managers have in their role in terms of (say) the budgetary control they have. But they can listen. They can cultivate the skills to hear what their people are saying and, as the receiver, relay messages elsewhere in the organisation.
  • Timing is vital. Often people are distracted. If you really understand those around you, then you know when you can ask someone a question or want to really listen to what they have to say.
  • Surveys are a great listening tool start point. But survey fatigue can easily arise when actions don’t materialise: that’s why people get frustrated. But surveys are not the only option, and certainly should never be used in isolation, in order to listen.
  • Have a plan. If you’re going to do surveys, if that’s going to be your kind of entry point to listening to your people, have a plan. Plan out what you’re going to do with that data.
  • There’s an issue with organisations not knowing what to do with survey data once they’ve collected it. If you don’t know, get advice and coaching from an expert on how to handle listening and interpreting. Speak to somebody who can give you a steer on how to carry out surveys properly and handle the data dilemma.
  • Always stay receptive. You might be surprised to know that employees can have an idea or a thought as to how something could be enhanced or fixed simply because they’ve been included, listened to, explained to. Maybe the decision’s been made and you know you’ve got to stick to the decision, but including people actually helps you through that particular change.
  • Segment communications. Not everybody needs to know every single thing. Personalise the information relevant to people.
  • People want their views heard. Whether you agree with them or not, whether you take immediate action or not, they just want the opportunity to be listened to. Nobody wants to live in a world of assumptions or ignorance. Why would you not take the time to understand how best to listen to your people?

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