The Radical Act of Deep Listening in Restoring Your Competitive Edge

The business landscape is changing rapidly.  If you’re in business, you know exactly what I mean.  So how do you keep your competitive edge when it seems like your competitors are inching ahead?

Let’s look at one aspect of a solution, and that is better listening.  As my friend and business owner Christine Prefontaine of Loup Design says, “In a noisy world, deep listening is a radical act.”  I agree with her.

But how do you actually execute on “deep listening” in your organization?  Well, first you hire Christine to help, but besides that, here are three practical tips that can enhance your organizational listening.

Avoid the management bubble – get out of the office.  It’s so easy to spend the entire week in meetings assessing problems, discussing strategy, keeping everyone “in the loop”.  But do you notice at some point there is a diminishing return to those meetings?  I don’t propose to know what the exact right balance is of meetings vs field time, I think that depends on the organization, though in pretty much every organization I assess, including my own, I will confidently say we are spending too much time in meetings talking to ourselves, and far less time in the field listening to our employees, our front line staff and (shocker) our customers.  Deep listening requires a purposeful re-orientation of how much time you’re spending talking to your internal team vs listening to your stakeholders.  The businesses that are getting ahead are getting ahead because they know very clearly what the customer wants and are doing a hell of a job executing on that.

If you’re focused on looking good and being right, you’re also probably losing. At some point, most organizations that are successful lose the underdog hustle and take on a form of hubris that is more focused on looking good and being right as “the industry leader” or “expert” and less focused on winning in today’s environment.  This leads to the eventual death of the business.  Are you listening to signs your organization is out of touch with and denying the reality of the marketplace, and instead overly confident that how things have always been done will stand the test of time?  If so, now’s a great time to double down on customer listening.  Be willing to be wrong, and listen very carefully to what your customers are saying and be willing at adjusting and respond quickly.

Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, to begin with. When companies first start there is a passionate groundswell around the mission.  But as years go by, why we do what we do gets replaced with what we do and eventually an obsession with how we do it.  Which turns into a defensive position as to why what we do is better than everyone else.  This sucks the life out of an organization and so if you’re in that spot, go back to listening to and re-orienting yourself on why you’re doing what you do.  Depending on how long it has been since you asked this question, this might take some real effort to reveal.  Though it’s critical to re-gaining your competitive edge and passion.

Finally, I’ll say, as a leader, better organizational listening begins with some air in the room to listen to yourself again.  Build in some downtime, it’s amazing how several days away from the office clarifies the path you need to take.