Listen to Your Employees

Ecstatic employees!A CEO should do 3 things ever day.  “Should” is kinder, gentler, term for must.

  • Listen to your customers
  • Talk with your employees
  • Read Your Reports

I’ve blogged separately about the first two.

Now, let’s talk about your employees. They’re the ones who create your brand, execute your strategy, build your business.

Listening to your employees is the number 1.1 task for CEOs.  Your company depends on this conversation.

It’s importance parallels that importance of listening to your customers.

I listed listening to your customers as number one priority and explained there why it is a slightly higher priority than listening to your employees. The operative word is slight and it’s ever-so.

The ever-so slight preference for listening with your customers over employees is only because we can only do one thing at a time. And…your customers are the final arbiter of your success. You start there and work back.

But, work back quickly to your employees. You see your employees are the ones who create your customers.

  • Are your customers evangelists or vigilantes?
  • Do they refer their friends or warn them off?
  • Are they repeat buyers or one-hit wonders?

Your employees create, reinforce and sustain those definitions of your customers, for your customers.

And, never forget that your employees are listening to you. They’re listening to you for answers to these three questions:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why should I believe?
  • Why should I care?

Those answers are delivered by you in everything you say and do to communicate your Purpose, Your Mission and Your Vision.

Those answers motivate them….to volunteer their passion, energy, solutions, patience, initiative. Mike Wagner of White Rabbit Group pointed out that employees become volunteers, now, only after they’ve been inspired them to bring their passion, energy, solutions, patience…initiative, leadership to the day.

  • Employees arrive on time and leave on time.
  • Volunteers arrive early, leave late.
  • Employees fufill the terms of their contracts
  • Volunteers build movements, create followers, innovate new products which lead to new companies which lead to more employees.

How do you listen to your employees/volunteers?

First off, honor the ears to mouth ratio. That’s a ratio of 2:1. Listen twice as much as you speak. Tough habit to learn. You’re a leader. Leaders don’t arise from their silence.

But now, you’re a leader. And you want, need, more leaders with more solutions. You want to create opportunities for others to lead. Listen twice as much as you speak.

Stop by daily and say hi.  Don’t talk about work unless they bring it up. Talk about their interests, their hobbies, their goals, their parking spot, their drive to work…and you know what these are, because you’ve listened.

It’s not all about work. This is tricky.  All work and no play make for…employees, not volunteers. Find what else interests them. Include it in your discussions. Then find ways to include those interests during the day. Creative solutions arise when the analytical side of the brain relaxes. Helping everyone find solutions, their solutions, is your number one mission.

Regular Meetings. An annual review or a bi-annual review, even a quarterly review is too infrequent to add meaning for either of you. Meet weekly, in person.  Obviously this has to be limited to direct reports, if you lead a large organization.

Document your meetings. Nothing is more destructive to a relationship than failing to remember the conversation. Nothing communicates disinterest than failing to remember the important details you discussed, agreed to, assigned.

I use the wiki Basecamp to document conversations, create follow-up to-do’s and timelines, keep everyone’s memory clear. Even mine. Even when it’s a conversation with myself.  That keeps your time and attention focused on accomplishments, not resolving misunderstandings.

Sit at their desks. There’s no better way to build a better understanding of their challenges, their day, their rewards, than to regularly sit at their desk and do their job. Nothing shows you care more than helping in this way.  Granted you can’t sit and do everyone’s job. But, there are many you can, without threatening to burn the office down.

All of these deserve discussion in greater detail.

But, the most important point is the 2:1 ratio. Listen. Listen and you’ll hear what you need to do.

You’ll lead by example, too. You’ll volunteer to listen, to hear their dreams, their needs, their ideas and solutions. Sure, you’ll hear their problems and have to  slice some cheese to offer with their whine. You’ll find out about their families, their child’s first recital or first home run, their parents health issues. You’ll volunteer to be a human. And you’ll create a movement of volunteers…who maybe, just maybe, input word-of-mouth, WOM, WOW into the DNA of their creation. And that’s when your business starts its journey towards sustainability.

Listen to your employees volunteers. They’re important.

* * * * *

Zane SafritAbout the author: Zane Safrit’s passion is small business and the operations excellence required to deliver a product that creates word-of-mouth, customer referrals and instills pride in those whose passion created it. He previously served as CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited. Zane’s blog can be found at Zane Safrit.


Zane Safrit Zane Safrit's My passion is small business and the operations' excellence required to deliver a product that creates word-of-mouth, customer referrals and instills pride in those whose passion created it. Zane's blog is Zane Safrit.

15 Reactions
  1. Great article Zane. Taking the time to listen to employees can offer such a great benefit. Not only do employees feel better that they are heard but they can offer up some innovative ideas. When one is open to hearing thoughts and suggestions, the possibilities are endless.

  2. Everyday Entrepreneurship

    Great blog, Zane. I completely agree. In fact, I found that listening to employees will actually save CEOs from having to hire a consultant, at least in most cases. One of the easiest methods of consulting is to sit down with a sales force and take notes as they download their frustrations. In many unfortunate cases, CEOs are actually surprised to here the findings. Why? Because they don’t listen to their employees. Forgive the shameless self-promotion but I’ve written a bit about entrepreneurship myself. Check it out if you get a chance. I’d love to hear your feedback:

  3. Hi Zane,

    As I was just reminded yet again a little while ago, the people you deal with are the most important.

    You have to inspire them, not issue orders like a drill sergeant. Be humble … and remember.


  4. I would say that you should try to create an atmosphere of natural water cooler conversations at the workplace.

    As a purchaser of raw material of the production of the welding electrodes, I often sat down with the blue collar workers and talked about the production, instead of always sitting with the office people and white collar workers. I explained for the labor workforce that my work as a purchaser was crucial for their job situation and I wanted to hear about their daily work and how they handled and used the material I purchased for the factory. As a side note: When I left the company for going to America for studies at Southern New Hampshire University (New Hampshire College at that time), I bought delicious cakes for the all the people and I went out in the factory and gave them something to drink (beers and other things). It was very appreciated. People talked about it for a long time… 🙂

  5. Jacob Webb,

    It was interesting to read your site, Everyday Entrepreneurship. I think that both the leaders of the company and the rest of the employees should listen to each other and have an ongoing conversation about the progress of the company. It is all about the trader principle.

  6. I was just having this conversation with a CEO this morning! He said one of his favorite saying is “The path to profits is through satisfied customers and securing satisfied employees.” And to get there – you have to listen and learn.

  7. I’ve worked with business owners who provide more maintenance and attention to plant floor equipment than to the employees who run that equipment. Human resources in all businesses are the most important company asset. We all need to believe that and behave accordingly in our day-to-day interactions with employees.

  8. Another problem I think is that employees are too afraid to stand up for themselves. They fear getting fired.

    But seriously, if you will get fired it usually means the job isn’t for your

  9. Love your expansion on this conversation Zane.

    Unengaged employees do not create engaged customers.

    Keep creating…work worth doing,

  10. Very interesting article to read. I agree with your points.

    Listening to employee’s suggestions and having a good relationship with them (employee engagement) can increase productivity and revenue and lower turnover.