As leaders, we all know that listening to our people is important. That doesn’t mean that we always do it. But, generally speaking, most of us probably understand that it’s a skill that we all have to develop and employ regularly as managers and leaders. In fact, you’ve probably heard so many people talking about why it’s important that you’ve more than likely, well, stopped listening to that advice.

At Holborn Assets, we think that’s a cause for concern – because listening properly to your people is a skill that needs constant attention. We don’t believe that it’s one of those leadership behaviours that should ever be taken for granted – so, here’s why we all need to think about whether we’re listening hard enough to our teams.

A meaningful voice

First, the basics. Giving your employees the sense that they’re being listened to – not just by you, but by the company as a whole – is clearly critical to engagement and the success of your business. The UK’s professional body for HR and people development – the CIPD – say this about giving your people a meaningful voice:

“[It] is a fundamental element of treating them as legitimate stakeholders in the employment relationship and helping them feel valued. Effective employee voice helps to build open and trustful relationships between employers and their people, and can contribute to organisational success. People are more likely to show commitment to the organisation if they have a voice, and sharing views can lead to greater innovation, problem-solving and productivity.”

So, it makes sense that by listening effectively, we’re able as leaders to give our teams this feeling that their voice is important, and that they have a role. We’d probably all agree that this is beneficial – so why don’t we do it more?

Don’t just say ‘I’m listening’

At Holborn Assets, we’d suggest that one factor could be that we’re confusing acknowledgement with action. What do we mean by this? Well, the technology available today means that it has become easier than ever – for those companies willing to invest – to put in place mechanisms that allow employees to have their say. Closed social networks such as Yammer are incredibly powerful ways to gather data and to find out what your people think. Everyone can, in a sense, have their say, more quickly and easily than ever before.

And there, we think, is the problem. Managers and leaders are becoming swamped with data and as a result are too often simply acknowledging their people’s input, rather than acting meaningfully on the basis of anything they’re being told.

Developing quality conversations

A big part of the solution to this, we believe, comes back to the art of listening. Listening, when it is done properly, should be two-way, and active – it is the core skill that lies at the heart of the quality conversations we should all be having with our teams. And so, out of those conversations comes the useful data that we can contextualise and understand as leaders – because we’ve listened properly, we’re able to empathise with our people and understand their needs better.

Louisa Baczor, one of the experts at the CIPD, explains: “Line managers are key because they are the immediate ‘recipients’ of voice, and can facilitate open conversations and act on what they hear. But this often doesn’t happen because they say they don’t have the time. Also, they often lack the right skills – like the ability to listen with empathy.”

We’d agree that we probably all have work to do when it comes to listening to our people. And, that for all of the expensive ‘employee voice’ mechanisms and tools you can put in place, they can never fully replace a quality conversation – one where you’re properly listening to the person sat in front of you, with real understanding and a genuine desire to act on what they tell you.