The Power of Becoming a Chief Listening Officer

As you strive to build a fully engaged workplace, what’s your biggest obstacle? According to a 2016 Deloitte report, listening skills may be the culprit. As the report states, “The biggest challenge for HR in leading engagement programs is shifting from a transactional, once-a-year mind-set, to an ‘always on,’ continuous listening approach to monitoring engagement.”

This emphasis on listening has led to buzz about launching Chief Listening Officer roles, intended to monitor both internal and external communication channels. These “appointed listeners” are responsible for gathering information across a variety of situations. They are tasked with sharing their insights proactively with different levels of the organization, and it’s up to them to transform the feedback into actionable insights.

Now, you may not be in the position to hire a Chief Listening Officer on your HR team to establish a real-time pulse. But what the role actually represents is the importance of becoming a better listener—no matter your designated role. Better listeners are more in tune with their company, employees, and clients. Further, they are able to use what they’ve learned to generate stronger employee engagement.

Hearing vs. Listening


You hear your employees, but are you really listening to what they have to say? There is a difference between hearing someone and listening to them. Hearing is passively acknowledging someone’s perspective or issue. But real listening, well, that’s a higher level skill-set. Often associated with counseling or conflict resolution, it’s “all about building rapport, understanding, and trust,” according to Dr. John Grohol of Psych Central.

The Steps to Better Listening


Active listening sounds great, but how do you put the concept into practice? Michael Hoppe, an adjunct faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership, has shared steps to help you finetune your listening skills:

  1. Pay attention: Ensure your audience has your full and undivided attention. Turn off phones, shut down your computer or stop multitasking. Show that you care about their time and topic of conversation.
  2. Suspend judgment: You may not agree with everything the other person is saying. All you want to do is jump in and add you own perspective. But don’t! Wait until they have finished speaking to get the full picture. Empathy is the key to successful listening.
  3. Reflect: Absorb and comprehend what was said and shared. Try to see it from the other person’s shoes. You may realize that you finally heard something you’ve been missing the whole time.
  4. Clarify: Ask open-ended questions if you didn’t understand something or want more details. Questions always engage the other people and show that you were paying attention.
  5. Summarize: Briefly recap what you heard to show that you acknowledge and understand what was said.
  6. Share: Finally, you can now provide your perspective on what was shared. You can tailor your feedback and advice to match the need.

Who You Should be Listening to


There are so many people that impact business strategy and success. Listening to all of your internal stakeholders is critical. This includes:

Employees. Ensure you listen across all levels, businesses, departments, tenure and demographics. Your employees have a deep understanding of your business execution. Learn what’s working and what needs to be addressed at the front line. Having a “listening” presence with them also shows that you care about the value of their work.

People Managers. Managers are employees too, but they hold a pivotal role. They aren’t just responsible for their own work, they are responsible for managing direct reports. These managers can offer you significant learning into the core operations of your business. They require support from HR and guidance from leadership to succeed.

Leadership team. Chances are you have a regular cadence of meeting and working with your leaders. However, reflect on how much time you spend listening during these conversations. Are you taking the time to ask about all the valuable information they have about your business strategy? And in turn, are you encouraging your leaders to actively listen to their people managers and employees? Top-down listening is a must for any company.

What to Listen for


Now you’re actively listening, what should you focus on? Ultimately it comes down to a few things. First, employee happiness. Understand if your employees are truly excited to be working at your company, within their teams and in their roles. Second, manager empowerment. Determine whether your people managers are aligned with your strategy, supported by your leadership, and have the necessary resources to lead. Lastly, leadership effectiveness. Ensure that your leadership is connecting with, motivating and influencing your employees to drive the business.

Where to Listen


The act of listening should include both verbal and written communication, but in-person conversations and email exchanges alone won’t give you a full picture.

Instead, look to various internal and external communication channels and feedback outlets. These can include social media platforms, employee surveys, focus groups, client reviews, stakeholder meetings, etc. Each of these sources will give you different perspectives about your products, services, and your employees.

You’re Actively Listening…Now What?


Being a better listener comes with the added responsibility of evoking change through the insights gathered. If your employees, managers and leaders open up to you, then they will expect to see actions and results. Make it worth their time and effort to speak up.

The biggest potential pitfall here is not doing anything with the collected feedback. Act upon the feedback as quickly and thoughtfully as possible. Show that you are responsive to addressing needs, as doing so will encourage the feedback loop and provide more listening opportunities down the line.

With or without a formal Chief Listening Officer at your company, it’s vital for the entire HR team to pick up this crucial skill.

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