Do You Hear Them Now? 11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

I once sat in an executive meeting where the SVP explained that Bob, a junior level executive who reported to her had “gotten away” with challenging her boss, the COO’s, ideas. She shared, “When Bob started to challenge him, I was really afraid for his career, but Joe (the COO) actually seemed okay with it.” She laughed as she said how lucky he was that he wasn’t fired, and how other people hadn’t faired so well in the past. Everyone else laughed along uncomfortably. Bob didn’t smile.

I’m still wondering exactly why she shared that story. I think it was an attempt to portray her boss as more reasonable than his reputation allowed. But quite frankly, this one-off story reinforced that an executive really listening to someone a few levels below was not the norm.

We all had a feeling that Bob had been sitting in the “ready now” box of the performance potential succession planning forever. He was a confident and humble rock star and we all knew it. His tenacity was highly valued with his immediate boss and amongst his peers, but something was holding him back.

Maybe his willingness to speak up was part of the issue. I’m pretty sure everyone in the room left being just a little more cautious of what they said.

If you’re keeping score, that’s not a sign of a listening culture.

11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

My regular readers may have noticed I’m on a bit of a listening culture theme. In addition to how imporant listening is, there’s a pragmatic reason for the deep dive.

After a meeting planner read my post, What Happens When We Really Listen, she invited me to come work with 15 CEOs/CFOs of large manufacturing companies to talk about how to create a listening culture. I’m calling it, Do You Hear Them Now: How to Build a Listening Culture.  I’m headed out to conference this week, so I’m inviting you to continue to steep in, and weigh in on, what a listening culture looks and feels like. Ideas:

Sign #1: Imagination abounds: People at all levels are thinking about the business and sharing ideas.

Sign #2: Ideas trump titles: A great idea is a great idea, regardless of who thought of it.

Sign #3: Customer feedback is encouraged, not gamed: Employees at all levels are really listening to what customers are saying, not encouraging them to say what they to hear to improve their scorecard.

Sign #4: Feedback creates change: Feedback is taken seriously, and often acted upon.

Sign #5: Everyone is asking good questions: And getting real answers.

Sign #6: No one freaks out when an exec shows up unexpectedly: MBWA is just that (management by walking around), not OCHTC (oh crap here they come).

Sign #7: Meetings are conversations, not readouts: Meetings are used to make decisions and build relationships.

Sign #8: No one is shocked by the employee engagement survey results: Because they’ve been listening, they know what’s working and are already working on the trouble spots.

Sign #9: Hourly workers have regularly planned time to meet and share ideas about improving the business: Time “off-line” improves the business.

Sign #10: Employees feel an obligation to speak up when something feels stupid: Because they know they’ll be heard, they feel and obligation to share.

Sign #11: Personal issues are treated with compassion: Real listening happens when people open their hearts, set aside their biases, and care.

On a related note: 5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings continues to be on of my most read posts. If you missed that one, and are working on creating a listening culture, you might find it useful.

Succession Planning

The Secret Behind the 9 Box Performance Potential Grid

Do you know where you stand in your organization’s succession plan?

“Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked…No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.”

Most organizations use a deliberate approach like the 9 box Performance Potential Grid (great tool, for more visit Dan McCarthy).

If you have been told you are “high potential” do you know how many others are in the same “box?” in line for the same jobs?
If you don’t know, you should ask. If these programs are being executed well, those identified as having higher performance and potential will receive extra development and stretch assignments.

Being on the grid can be very helpful.

However the grid is based on perception and opinions. If you are in a good spot on the grid, great but don’t depend on it. If not, don’t freak out take action.

A grid does not define you.

Why Being on the Performance Potential Grid is Not Enough

“Blaming the system is soothing because it lets you off the hook. But when the system was broken, we wonder why you were relying on it in the first place.”
~Seth Godin

Organizations reorganize. Sponsors retire. Mergers happen. Politics change. It’s quite possible that all the people who put you on the grid yesterday, will be off doing something else tomorrow. Then, the grid is just a grid. Those opinions have moved on.

Performance Potential Grids don’t promote people, people do.

I went back and looked though the grids I had used in my organization as an HR Director years ago. Many names from the best parts of the grid have since been promoted and having strong careers. But other high performance-potential candidates had been caught up in mergers, downsizings, and other drama. Some are still unemployed. There were also people who had been once deemed “lower potential” now holding significant leadership positions.

Don’t wait for the grid

What else you can do.