Listen and Learn Leaders! Now More Than Ever
By Josh Williams, Ph.D.
“You’ve got to learn to listen…and listen to learn.” – Joey Ramone
Conventional wisdom when trying to quickly diagnose safety culture is to go and ask people doing the work what is working well and what needs improvement. Front-line employees may not have access to information and pressures at the executive level. However, they do have a pulse on safety culture at the ground level.
Unfortunately, many leaders at executive and front-line level roles simply don’t have the time, or make the time, to get out in the field and engage with employees. In some situations, personal schedules need to be adjusted to create “free time” where leaders can spend sufficient quality time out in the field.
Now, with COVID-19, leaders need to re-think how they engage with employees. In some cases, leaders are dealing with skeleton crews. In other cases, all work is being done virtually. Either way, the same principles apply. In fact, they may be more important now than ever.
Here are a few guidelines for leaders to consider when engaging employees virtually or in the field:
Show authentic caring for employees beyond just safety and business requirements. Ask about their well-being beyond physical safety and if there extenuating circumstances to be aware of. Building relationships during this difficult time will also pay dividends after the pandemic is contained. People will remember your compassion.
Foster an open environment where employees are comfortable raising issues and asking questions. Setting up one-on-one touchpoints via phone (or in person) helps establish and maintain good rapport. It also keeps you locked in with any “stucks” employees may have.
Ask open-ended questions to promote in-depth, collaborative discussions. This provides you with an opportunity to update employees on key issues they need to be aware of. It also provides an opportunity to recognize and appreciate their efforts and accomplishments.
Demonstrate effective listening skills. This is more important now than ever. It’s also more challenging when face-to-face interactions aren’t possible. Video chats should be used as much as possible with an emphasis on employees’ feedback more than your own comments.
Capture all learnings from these interactions with employees. Respond quickly and effectively to any concerns. Closing the loop with employees’ issues demonstrates that you value their opinion and are committed to making their lives better.
Making time to effectively engage with employees in the field is good business. It improves morale and promotes a more positive organizational culture. This is especially true as we all try to navigate this pandemic together.