One way to really improve your leadership skills and make your organization more effective is to listen to others. You can do this by going on listening tours, where you ask for feedback and suggestions from everyone involved. This can be a really powerful way to get ideas and make positive changes!
What is a listening tour?
A listening tour is when a leader takes the time to talk and listen to different people in the community, hearing their thoughts and ideas to make things better. Listening tours can involve talking to employees, clients, volunteers, sponsors - any stakeholder. Listening tours can be in-person, online, or through surveys as long as it involves gathering information from people.
When should I do a listening tour?
Listening tours are especially valuable when something new or a big change occurs. For example, if you take on a new leadership role or want to implement a new system - or think a new system might be necessary. However, I also suggest they be conducted on a regular basis to keep in touch with stakeholders. Listening tours are great to conduct regularly with all of your direct reports to get feedback and keep a pulse on your organization.
How does a listening tour improve my organization?
A listening tour will improve your organization by providing valuable information. Often we think we know why things are happening and make our own assumptions and hypotheses, but our views are tainted by our own experiences and view of the situation. By taking the time to listen to other people intentionally, we gain valuable information that can open us up to new ideas and solutions. The key to a listening tour is to be open and curious and to spend time listening to what other people are saying instead of jumping in with our own judgments. It's best to withhold all judgment until you have had a chance to talk to a range of people.
You will gain valuable information on your skills as a leader and on systems and ideas to inform your decisions and improve your operations and impact. As leaders, we often don't receive honest feedback, so we must build in practices to intentionally seek feedback to grow and improve.
Build Relationships and Trust
Listening tours also build relationships and trust as we demonstrate to people that their opinions matter. People want to feel heard and have their ideas acknowledged, and a listening tour is one of the best ways to build that feeling.
A listening tour also increases engagement as it increases stakeholders' feeling of being involved in the process. It is especially important to follow through on steps you learn from your tour and to acknowledge the change as having come from stakeholders. Making changes based on what you learned increases engagement as people see they really do have a part to play in outcomes and gives your team a greater sense of control and efficacy.
How to conduct a listening tour
Make a plan
Look at your schedule and map out when you will meet with people and how will you meet. For example, do you want to grab a coffee with each of your direct reports over the next month? Or maybe you want to make a day of nonstop Zoom calls? It depends on how many people are on your team, how often you meet, and what the goals of the tour are. The most important step is to schedule how and when you will meet with each person.
As a teacher, I had over 150 students, and my goal was to have 1:1 time with each one each month. That meant I limited my time to 5 minutes, and I set aside a set amount of time each day with the goal of having at least 10 every day. It is much more effective for regular meetings to have a smaller group that is reporting to you, but my intention was for relationship building, so I needed to make sure I was touching base with all on a regular basis.
If your goal is gathering information, you can consider meeting with representative samples. You do not need to meet with all stakeholders in that case, but if your goal is relationship-building or engagement, you want to meet with everyone. For relationship building, you want to have regular meetings (ideally weekly!!); for engagement, the key is showing that you are acting on the information you gather.
Have a go-to question
This is a question that you ask everyone on your tour. These tours are much more effective when you ask the same questions of all stakeholders. (If you want some ideas for questions, download my free list of questions.) You can have just one question or a series of questions. Try to keep your questions to less than 3 unless you are researching for a specific change initiative.
Ask open-ended questions that allow your stakeholders to think and leave open possibilities for a variety of responses that they may have. The point is to discover how other people see the situation, so you want to invite conversation with your question.
Don't forget to practice open-body language and a positive tone of voice to make sure people actually respond to you when you ask a question!
Track your meetings
Make sure to track everyone you talk to and one thing you learned from talking to them. This way you can be intentional about meeting with everyone and can quickly see who you still need to meet with. Using a tracker also holds you accountable so you don't just talk to the people you enjoy the most or who are the noisest. I have done this with Excel spreadsheets or just a table in a OneNote. I prefer to make a sheet for every team member, the date I talked with them, and what I learned. I use the tracker to make sure I am meeting with everyone and to track what I am learning.
Start your listening tour today!
Make a deliberate effort today to actively listen to your team members. By doing so, you can gather valuable insights that can enhance your leadership skills and improve your organization. This will also help in building trust and engagement, leading to the development of a strong team capable of taking your organization to greater heights.