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Start up by listening your way to a better business

November 9, 2015

Employers and employees talking to each other is a good thing… right? Of course it is, but only if they’re actually listening. Key to the success of any start-up is effective communication between everybody in your team. But that means more than merely ensuring that all your staff know what’s required of them.

An employee can often feel their role is that of a worker bee, and all that’s asked of them is to get on with it. While this relationship can work to an extent, it usually results in frustrated staff because they know the business and can see how to improve aspects of their work, but there’s no outlet for them to share their unique understanding, insights and ideas.

So, if you’re starting a business, (or running an existing business), and want to harness the full talents of all your staff, you need to learn to listen actively.

In the past, the hierarchical managerial power structure was the gold standard: business leaders delivered their message and employees followed. Quietly. Their options were deference or the dole. That traditional boss/worker dynamic has become increasingly less effective as, in today’s knowledge economy, ignoring people’s intellect is a shocking waste of resources.

Don’t pay lip service

Letting people talk without listening is a waste of everyone’s time. You need to commit to giving employees their turn to speak, and commit to hearing their voices. Take notice, consider their point of view, research any areas of confusion and share conclusions. Aim for a collaboratively reached agreement.

Sounds great, doesn’t it. However, be aware that this process comes with challenges. It exposes vulnerabilities; it’s not always easy to hear that a change in direction is needed.

One of the greatest challenges of effective communication is that it adds an extra layer to the working week. Chances are effective internal communications is not something that featured in your business plan. But then neither did email overload and constantly ringing phones, yet you’ll make room for those because they demand attention.

Don’t let those external communication pressures distract you from the important dialogue you need to have with your team.

Stop multi-tasking

Key to ensuring effective communication is focus. That means no more talking to a client on the phone while working on a spreadsheet while still keeping an eye on your emails.

Jessica Ennis-Hill is brilliant at the Heptathlon, but she does the events one at a time. Studies show that far less will have been accomplished by someone multi-tasking than someone with undivided attentive presence.

Listening to employees – or business colleagues – at any level needs to be done with purpose. Words aren’t always enough: a text is less effective than an email, an email is less effective than a phone call, a phone call is less effective than a video-call, a video-call is less effective than a face-to-face.

Why? Because the more personal an interaction, the greater the amount of information – via tone of voice or body language – that is passed on, which makes it easier to correctly interpret someone’s meaning. However, that extra information is only picked up if we focus on our communications.

And with that focus comes many benefits.

Increased trust

Making the effort to listen to issues that are important to your staff will encourage them to come forward when they run across information you really need to hear. Trust makes for a positive and productive experience for both employer and employee as they help one another succeed.

Reduced conflict

Having no say can breed a level of animosity, which could manifest itself in the form of actual arguments or bad-mouthing the company on social media. But even if you avoid such destructive behaviour, an unhappy workforce can cost you money.

Employee turnover rates are higher in environments where workers are dissatisfied. By communicating effectively with your staff, you’ll avoid higher recruitment and training costs.

Motivation and a positive reputation

Put simply, a happy worker is a good worker. Employees who feel they are understood by an employer who truly considers their ideas are more creative overall and are often more productive. Positive attitudes are contagious, and positivity is often expressed beyond working environments.

Employers who give their employees undivided attentive presence will be seen as more involved, compassionate, caring and understanding. Employees will feel like a key part of the organisation and experience a higher level of satisfaction and productivity; they will be involved. And when your employees are engaged, you, and your bottom line, will benefit.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by William Buist is a Business Strategist, Speaker, and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club – an annual program that helps business owners to accelerate growth, harness opportunity and build their business. William is also author of two books: ‘At your fingertips’ and ‘The little book of mentoring’. See: WilliamBuist.com

More help on motivating and managing staff

For more tips and ideas on how to hire, motivate and keep great staff, read these guides;

And for guidance on other employment issues, try some of ByteStart’s other guides;