Opening up the ears

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I have heard it said that the definition of a management consultant is ‘one who charges a fat fee to state the obvious’. If you spend some time practising as a consultant, you come to see that the statement is not totally in jest. Like most good humour, there is an aspect of truth in it.

I seem to find myself addressing the very basics of management during a surprising number of assignments. Admittedly, there are usually a number of factors combining to create the situation you are engaged to address, but one in particular seems to rear its head repeatedly, and causes tremendous problems when it does. I’m referring to a lack of simple listening skills on the part of management.

Your staff can contribute to your business in two ways: by their labour, or by their intellect. Normally we default to listening to the opinions of our key staff, but tend to place much less value on the ideas and observations of more junior members of staff. There is an irony in this — normally the only people who can view your business naively, that is without the lack of objectivity which comes with familiarity or loyalty to the environment, are the new members of staff. New staff are not victim to the ‘its always been done this way’ syndrome.

If your staff are given problems to consider, or the opportunity to provide creative input, the results they achieve can often be surprisingly innovative. Why stress yourself with all the ongoing issues and problems in your business? Think about breaking them up into small pieces and spreading them around your staff.

You should also consider that in a hospitality environment there is the likelihood that well educated, intelligent casual staff are employed. The person pushing the mop may be a third-year medical student or budding engineer, and possess a first class mind. A smart manager will harness those brain watts and put them to good use. Involvement in the interesting aspects of a business will often help to retain those staff.

Psychologists such as Maslow, Hertzburg and McGregor, who contributed so much to our understanding of human motivation, came to the conclusion that there are two key elements to keeping people happy in a work environment. They are: the boosting of self esteem, and the provision of opportunity to advance in life.

Listening to someone is one of the highest forms of compliment and certainly aids building self esteem. The implication that comes when you listen carefully is that you respect the speaker and regard them in a positive light. Your lack of willingness to listen is often interpreted as dislike or contempt by the speaker.

Think about your behaviour toward your staff. Do you naturally talk to and relate to certain members, and not to others? You can create a destructive self-fulfilling prophesy by doing this. The staff who see that they are not among ‘the chosen’ will eventually conclude that there is no future for them where they are, and will loose motivation and eventually leave.

Managers often become so enveloped in the pressures of their activities that they are unconscious of other’s attempts to communicate and do not respond appropriately. This can be compounded by differences in priorities. An issue that is number one priority to a staff member may be priority number 456 to the manager. The problem is that staff view everything from their own perspective, not the manager’s.

The crux of the matter seems to lie in the manager or owner’s attitude to their own skills. If you regard yourself as an ‘expert’ then you are likely to see your role as the policeman or the maker of the rules. Experts often become arrogant, and tend to tell and not to listen.

I often feel that if business leaders listened with more skill and effort, consultants like myself would not be necessary.

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