Yesterday we talked about become a better listener. Today, I want to ask you a question. What do you do with what you heard? Several years ago I spent my time in manufacturing, working with several large suppliers who supplied the larger automotive manufacturers. In my role, I was responsible for developing partnerships with many of my clients’ best clients and suppliers. I was given an opportunity to facilitate at several manufacturing conferences where we had our clients’ CEOs and leadership teams present us with their view of the future on world class manufacturing. After several key discussions, I thought I had come away with several great ideas to help my clients build stronger relationships with their best clients. We were all thrilled.
When we broke into teams of specialists, I was surprised to hear what they heard during the executive presentations. Since I was the facilitator for the programs, it was my job to debrief all key team leaders to what they heard and then get them to begin taking action on new programs for our clients. What surprised me was that each team came away with something completely different than their professional peers. The engineers heard one thing, the program managers something else, and, to be fair, my executive stakeholders heard something completely different than the other two groups.
How could this happen? Did they attend a different program? The distance was huge between these key groups. My CEO client was fit to be tied. He asked me if I had ever seen or heard this before and I told him not really but I was sure could get to the bottom of it. After several discussions with other team leaders, I came away with several conclusions that I share here so that we can get the most out of better listening skills.
I discovered that each team came to the meeting with their unique view of the world. They had their own biases and a world view that placed a high value on what their specialty was. It was only natural that engineers would be excited about the engineering piece of their clients’ vision. They heard the parts they could play in the new projects and were already thinking about the different ways they could help their clients improve their products through better engineering.
The second group was made up of financial people. They all looked at the clients on the basis of how they could decrease costs and drive up productivity. Their discussions centered on how to bring down the cost of the products and services sold to clients. They were excited at the possibilities of decreasing costs for the clients. They also could relate most to helping our clients improve their financial and operating practices.
The third group was the sales and marketing group. They were excited about the possibilities of helping clients create the best products and services. They talked about how to help clients cobrand their products with theirs to create a breakthrough product. This group also was buzzing about creating the best products in their markets.
The final group was my clients’ CEOs and they were focusing on what these discussions were going to do to their customers’ markets. How they were going to become the best providers of products in their markets. Their clients’ vision was going to revitalize their own manufacturing capabilities and integrate their supply chain across multiple organizations.
Now what’s the lesson of this story? People can be committed to listening and still not heard the whole story. Good listening requires not only good listening skills, but the ability to develop a clear understanding from all the different stakeholders within a client organization. It requires leaders to have the ability to get a wide range input from the many disciplines within their business. It requires a leader who is able to hear from the different stakeholders where the best opportunities exist for them to serve their client’s needs, both said and unsaid. Good leaders understand that they must be able to listen well, but also confirm what they heard before committing all their resources to a single course of action. It requires many different skills to build a sustainable and innovative business.
If you want to build an innovative organization, it requires you to do many things well. Over the next 90 days, we start sharing these skills to help you build an innovative organization and market leader. Stick around; we have several great experts and ideas to share with you over the next several weeks and months. See you then.