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.
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About 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 .