Last night, I attended an event, where a group of business communications leaders and I geeked out on the topic of change communications, thanks to the hospitality of IABC WestFair. The excellent discussion was guided by a woman at the top of her communications game, Anne Witkavitch, who has led change communication efforts in Fortune 100 companies like GE, The Hartford and Aetna.
What was particularly notable was that we spent a good amount of our time focused on the subject of listening.
I’m glad we did. It’s a topic that straddles both leadership skills and institutional avenues for feedback and two-way conversation. Granted, it has been an element of communication best practices for many years. Yet as our discussion evolved, it struck me that listening is an essential competency in an organization that is navigating disruption.
And let’s face it, everywhere we look we see disruption. Business models that many of us took for granted have been upended or turned inside out. What’s more, these waves of change are vibrating through interconnected supply and service chains, and echoing across the competitive landscape. On top of that, the membrane between inside and outside an organization has never been more porous. As communicators, we are both blessed and cursed with mobile technology, a increasingly flexible labor force, and multiple stakeholder groups’ expectation for transparency and participation–while coping with strategies to protect and secure our organizations’ systems, data and intellectual property.
Given these forces, it would be easy to become deaf to our employees and contractors. But that’s a fail. Neuroscience and behavioral research show that our human brain is wired for two-way communication. In other words, if we don’t listen to the people who are doing the work or enabling the work to get done, we run the risk of disengagement and productivity loss. You know what that means. In fact, leaders should hold us accountable when targets are missed, expenses rise, and external ratings crater.
So it behooves us to critically examine our internal communications for listening. We may need to assess our social platforms, intranets, and email practices to ensure that we’re engaging our employees instead of proclaiming. We may have to challenge our leaders to help them move to conversations from broadcasting. We may want to examine how we personally connect with our coworkers and staff to make certain we are hearing instead of being heard.
I’ve seen communicators use communications practices, tone, style and channels (even Yammer, Chatter and Jive) as megaphones for messaging, without inviting meaningful dialogue. Instead, I’d make the business case for strategic and tactical listening, because it enables our companies to anticipate and act on disruption, and thrive.
I’ve done all the talking. Now I’d like to hear from you. What about listening do you counsel and enable inside your organization?