By: Carmine Gallo
How many times have you heard that great leaders are great listeners? Everyone, it seems, equates leadership to listening. I interviewed more than two dozen inspiring leaders for my book, Fire Them Up, and I learned that extraordinary leaders go well beyond listening -- they invite participation. In fact, by inviting people into the process of growing or improving the company, it does more for employee engagement and employee motivation that most incentive programs.
Legendary General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, predicts a talent drain of employee turnover as soon as the economy recovers because so many employees are disillusioned with their current bosses. In a BusinessWeek article, Welch talked about the qualities of a "lousy leader." Welch said a lousy boss is a "know-it-all" who doesn't listen to new ideas. According to Welch, "no single person, no matter how smart, can take a business to its apex. For that, you need every voice to be heard."
Here are some examples of companies that have done just that.
Keep an Open Door Policy
While most people crave participation, young people in the workplace today seem to seek it out more than previous generations. Researchers at Hudson, a professional staffing firm, found striking differences between generations in their attitudes toward their bosses. One quarter of employees who fell into the category of Generation X or Generation Y (Millennials) considered it very important to get feedback and social interaction from their supervisors at least once a week. However, only 11 percent of older workers desired that level of communication.
It's always been obvious at Google that young people want to be heard. Vice President of Search Products Marissa Mayer once told me that she considers active employee participation so important to the company's success that she schedules an open enrollment time period for her team. Each day at 4:00 pm, her employees are encouraged to sign up on a board outside her office for a 15-minute appointment which is first come, first heard. During this "office hour," employees can voice their opinion about current projects or pitch new ideas that drive business innovation.
Mayer says some of the best ideas that are featured on the Google site have come from these spontaneous meetings. "Gen Y wants more than a paycheck," says Mayer. "They want to appreciate the impact they are having."
Actively Solicit Input
In the mid 1980's, Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut had a reputation as the hospital to avoid. Griffin's buildings were old, market share was declining, and good doctors were leaving. Fast forward to the past decade. Griffin has been included in Fortune Magazine's "Best Place to Work" list for nine straight years. Griffin's transformation began when the CEO, Patrick Charmel, decided it was time to ask for help in developing a winning strategy.
The new approach started with the development of a new maternity wing. Charmel not only invited current and former patients to tell him what they wanted in a hospital experience, he opened the door to staff, doctors and nurses who gave him an earful. From patients, Charmel learned that pregnant women wanted separate entrances, twin beds, Jacuzzi tubs and other comforts of home.
From staff, Charmel learned that people wanted more transparency regarding how the hospital was doing financially and how they were performing against other hospitals. Charmel immediately implemented a philosophy of "open and honest" communication with the staff. The number of births at the hospital doubled during the next four years and patient satisfaction soared to 100%. Griffin applied this approach to the rest of the hospital.
Today, Griffin is a model for more than five hundred other hospitals in America. And to think it all began with a leader who invited staff and customers into the process of improving the organization.
Do Unto Others…
Think about your own life. What motivates you? For most people, it's contributing something to make the world a better place; something that provides meaning to your existence. Your employees or colleagues at work are no different. They want to participate in something meaningful. By cutting them off from key decisions and not giving them a forum to express their ideas, you're putting up barriers between your organization and full employee engagement.
"I've never learned anything when I was talking," Larry King once said. "If you apply this to all areas of your life -- personal and professional -- you will be much richer in the long run." Inspiring leaders are inspiring for a reason -- they actively solicit feedback, listen to that feedback, and above all, act on what they hear.
Carmine Gallo is a communications coach for the world's most admired brands. His is a popular speaker and author on the topic of leadership and communications. Gallo's most recent book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, is a bestselling presentation book that will be translated into more than one dozen languages. Visit him online at www.carminegallo.comp>