To establish more inclusive workplaces, employers and managers are often advised to sit down and listen to their employees. But what does this seemingly fruitless chore actually involve, and how do we move beyond just ‘asking for the sake of ticking something off our extensive to-do list,’ and really benefit from this important task?
One way to think about listening is to consider it as a four-step process. Ask proactively, listen attentively, act immediately, and repeat indefinitely.
Step one is to ‘ask.’ This is the first and easiest step. Unfortunately, it is also the final step for many companies.
We live in a society where asking without listening, whether inside or outside the workplace, is shockingly commonplace. Therefore, it takes a certain amount of commitment and determination for leaders to move beyond just ‘asking’ and actually ‘listen’ to what employees have to say.
After ‘listening,’ the next step is to ‘act.’ There’s little point in listening to what employees have to say, scribbling down every minor bit of detail, simply to let those notes lie around under a pile of other random print-outs. Not only is this a waste of your time, it is also a waste of your employee’s time. Over time, employees may, upon noting the lack of action being taken to address their concerns, feel unimportant and unvalued, lose trust in the company, and/or hesitate to voice further challenges and concerns in the future.
Finally, the last of the four-step listening process is to repeat the entire process regularly. Remember to involve relevant employees throughout the entire process, and to follow-up with them before, during and after any action is being/has been taken. While something may work at present, there is no guarantee that changes won’t need to be made to accommodate different people and/or situations in the future. Therefore, constantly be proactive about asking, listening, acting and repeating; particularly in work environments where there is a great amount of diversity.