Answers to complex issues often start with simple steps, don’t overlook the power of listening to affect change in the achievement gap.
We recognize that in nearly all facets of life, from upbringing to education and on through professional opportunities there are historical achievement gaps that impede the application of good things come to those who work for them. While there is no substitute for hard work, regardless of one’s starting point, there should be little dispute that some start their journey with more obstacles that others. Recently there was a video floating around the web that attempted to explain the impacts of privilege with a group of students preparing for a simple race. Recognizing these obstacles helps us to see that we are not always comparing apples to apples when thinking about where we start our journey.
Listening to fuel change includes three key aspects: Recognizing our role, collaborating for creative solutions and following through with our vision for making the world suck less (#MTWSL), we have to ask – where do we start?
Recognizing my own role
How do we level the playing field to create equitable opportunities for those who have been overlooked and/or underprivileged in their pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? While the question is loaded and rather complex, the answer may be closer than we realize. Dr. Hugo Slim is viewed as a leading scholar in humanitarian studies and ethics. Slim notes, “The testimony of individual voices reveals the experience of hidden groups, and counters the bias of those who speak for or ignore them.” Perhaps in so saying Dr. Slim echoes Michael Jackson in calling for each of us to look at the person in the mirror and ask whether he is listening for a change.
Who has ignored the voices of those who have been overlooked? Me.
Who has a bias as well as a misplaced ego is speaking for others who are underprivileged? Me.
Collaborating for creative solutions
Aid to an individual, family, community or nation effectively comes in the form of creative collaboration rather than supplanting the culture of the parties being assisted. David Dollar’s work in reviewing community development on an international level has many lessons applicable to localized assistance. Dollar notes in Eyes Wide Open that External resources can be helpful in assisting the local stake holders to analyze options, implement unique plans for systemic changes and evaluate these revolutions as they gain momentum. Collaboration requires those who help to listen rather than speak for; to listen rather than ignore voices from within the community being served. Listening to the testimony of others, according to Dr. Hugo Slim, “Has the capacity to break down generalisations [sic] and misinformation about communities, their economies, needs, power structures, social organization and goals.”
Who can do more damage than good if their good intentions are not put in check? Me.
Following through with our vision of equality
In committing our current international efforts to developmentalism we often seek to paint with the broad strokes of best practices and apply those principles to all situations. We apply micro success, which should be celebrated, to macro solutions and don’t achieve the same results. Unfortunately answers are not one size fits all. While many of the same issues affect people and communities across the globe, the answers to those issues are as numerous as the cultures they are embedded in. Progress cannot trample over or disregard the distinct nature of those beliefs, traditions and cultures. This diversity creates both unique challenges as well as core foundations for sustainable solutions.
Who can do more good by listening rather than speaking? Me.
In short, if we want to make positive changes to reduce the achievement gap and increase equitable opportunities, the place to start is a simple as simply listening. Recognize bias, hold your tongue and exercise the sense of hearing.
“. . . the testimony of individual voices reveals the experience of hidden groups, and counters the bias of those who speak for or ignore them. It has the capacity to break down generalisations [sic] and misinformation about communities, their economies, needs, power structures, social organization and goals. While this may complicate the design of relief and development projects, it may ultimately make them more equitable and effective.” - Dr. Hugo Slim, Listening for a Change
IZ Ventures more than business coaching & consulting - we help you Connect, Collaborate & Conquer.
Practical principles of leadership - video on listening
To be productive one has to first produce and secondly to produce productively.
Productivity is rather simple and in the pursuit of enhancing productivity perhaps therein lies the key to success – keeping things simple. What are we producing and are we producing it efficiently?
It may not be that surprising to discover than many companies are not that clear on what their core offering is. In the business world there are goods and there are services and there are companies that do both, but those two components are the primary mode of value for any entity in the marketplace. Those organizations that know what their value offering is and how to position that value are the companies that have the best opportunity (nothing is guaranteed) to operate as a viable business.
The primary obstacle for any individual who seeks to start a business is to make the decision to go for it. Put another way, the primary step in starting is simply starting. When a person has identified a good or service that they can bring to the marketplace with value, they must first overcome their own fear of failure (atychiphobia). This applies to starting anything, whether it’s a new business, a new direction or a new discipline within an existing organization.
Productivity requires vision.
“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” – John F. Kennedy, former U.S. President
Everything has a consequence, those who are looking to start something or make a change need to find the confidence to move forward with what their vision and values are telling them to do. Having vision is of great value, when an individual sees a need for change the next step is to put some thought, action and endurance into motion to see that thing through.
Productivity requires movement.
Efficiency is a measure the ability to produce something in relationship to the output of resources utilized. Resources include raw materials, capital and labor. For so many that make the leap to start their own business, they think, “If I was making $20 per hour and now I am making $30 per hour as a business owner, I am really making it.” What they don’t take into account is that they are self-employed and paying themselves $30 an hour but if that is also all they are charging then they are setting nothing aside for overhead costs such as vehicle maintenance, office supplies, utilities, taxes and etc.
Productivity requires data.
“If your business depends on you, you don't own a business-you have a job. And it's the worst job in the world because you're working for a lunatic...You can't close it when you want to, because if it's closed you don't get paid. You can't leave it when you want to, because if you leave there's nobody there to do the work. You can't sell it when you want to, because who wants to buy a job?” —Michael Gerber, author of E-Myth
Productivity has to do with being efficient with your resources while providing your product or service. Being able to measure productivity involves knowing your production costs, the adage that the numbers don’t lie is true as long as you track your numbers accurately and allow them to speak for themselves without manipulation. If you seek to be productive the first steps involve finding a means to track your costs such as labor, materials, overhead costs and profitability goals.
Productivity requires listening. (Video on listening HERE)
While the point of this article is not to be a deep expose into the intricacies of cost analysis in relationship to productivity goals, it is important to note that they only way to track productivity is first to be tracking something. A simple excel spreadsheet can assist to track time and materials applied to a project. Start by tracking expenditures and revenue daily and where there are spikes in either dig into where those inconsistencies are coming from. Allow the numbers to show you what is and what isn’t working, or to at least understand the expenditure of resources going into pursuing your vision.
Productivity requires tracking.
“I never lie because I don’t fear anyone. You only lie when you’re afraid.” – John Gotti, crime boss
Failure to launch is rooted in the fear of failure. We stop ourselves short of putting our vision into motion because we undervalue our ability to create value, rise above obstacles and adapt as we receive new information along the way. Failure to improve is rooted in the same fear of failure (more HERE). Often we deceive ourselves into thinking things are working because of tradition, ie this is how things have always been done and so it’s safe to continue swimming with the stream, or because of blind commitment to a system of productivity that has handed down to us, where there is less resistance by simply keeping with the plan rather than challenging the machine.
Productivity requires honesty.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results, yet the status quo is doing the same thing expecting the same results. The market is constantly changing and the pace of change is running at a rate that is leaving those who are not adapting in the dust. When we don’t ask the hard questions, such as is this working, is this sustainable and is there a better way, then we cut ourselves short of unlocking productivity improvements.
Productivity requires adaptation.
Productivity can seem complex, but at the core it is rather simple. Stay clear about what it is that you are producing, a good or service, and whether you are doing so efficiently. Keeping things simple is a key to being productive. Having a clear vision is the foundation, operating on your values is essential to keeping your identity intact, challenging your fears is a daily test and tracking your numbers is a key discipline. The numbers are simple, they don’t lie but they can be silenced.
What is the importance of listening?
Is there a tool that is more effective for those in a position of leadership (PIAPOL) to engage their employees, develop their teams and communicate value than by simply listening?
More on this in our article on the importance of listening to creating a good working environment (HERE).
Creating a good working environment is not an easy task but it should be the goal for any company that wants to remain competitive in the current market where finding good people is often more difficult than finding good customers.
Insights from Lola will help you as a leader, an employee and as a peer. Your personal development is in your hands, get motivated and get moving forward.
Read and see more 👉 Listening, you can also view our leadership fable on listening (HERE).
Kids As Managers (playlist) break core principles down into their functional truth and provides insights that are simple yet deep. More to come in series Questions With Lola.
Video by IZ.Media
Music Summer Out In Cali by Wordsplayed from the album Clowntown
Creating a good working environment is not an easy task but it should be the goal for any company that wants to remain competitive in the current market where finding good people is often more difficult than finding good customers. When we reached out to multiple leaders across various industries, we found one ingredient that is key to developing a team that operates in the positive margins of employee engagement is the simple art of listening.
Danny Morgan, who is a store manager for a national retailer in Eugene, Oregon, shared, “I can tell you it’s not about the money no matter what they say, we all work for the money but it’s not about the money – ain’t about the fetti.” So it if isn’t about the money, what can leaders do to ensure they are communicating to their employees that they are invested in them as people? Mr. Morgan told us, “Every moment to listen, every second of praise and every time letting them know that they can come to you with anything knowing that you will provide a positive spin or reaction.” Listening to team members shows them that they are worth our time and that we care to hear what they have to say. Employees may not always come to you when it’s convenient, but it is important to remember to make time for them as what they share may not seem important but it could be critical to them.
Fire fighters know a thing or two about building a team. Team work is important to all professions, but it is critical when a group must band together to respond to life and death scenarios. Coy Morris, who fights fires with his team near Seattle, Washington, notes that, “Finding the common goal(s) amongst you and your team. Which in and of itself demands open and safe conversation.” Who initiates the process of establishing common goals and building a culture of open communication? For Mr. Morris, “I think the organization sets the mission, the team balances objectives with reality, but I think it starts with management.” Even though fire-fighting is dangerous, this alone is not enough to forge individuals into a strong team as there are plenty of dysfunctional teams that work in high pressure situations. Many of these teams are able to pull it together when necessary but how much more positive would the environment be if they were able to function cohesively? Danny Morgan reminds us that building respect goes both ways, from leaders to and from employees, “One important thing [to remember] is it takes time, one day at a time.”
Tom Los who leads a team for a local government entity in Moses Lake, Washington notes that listening can bring engagement as well as new opportunities for the organization, “I listen to my staff and then give them projects and tasks which mixes their job up. They really enjoy it. If someone has an idea, I try to embrace it as much as possible and let them do it.” When those in a position of leadership fail to listen they may be holding the team back from sharing ideas that could solve problems or push the organization forward. Service industries are built upon the strength of their team members to work together to carry the values of the organization through consistently on every project. Denis Beaulieu who operates in project management leading property restoration and abatement teams in Moorpark, California echoes the importance of listening, “Making sure that they are heard when asked. Have their ideas mean something and not just ask for an opinion or suggestion but try them and see if they work. Don’t discount anyone’s ideas or make yours more important.”
As noted by many that we interviewed, the catchwords and principles we hear from business leadership books go only as far as we are willing to apply them in our teams. What we want to know from real people who are practicing team work, leadership and developing organizations that operate on their values, is how they flesh out these principles in their day to day lives. Denis builds upon his comments from before regarding listening, “Empower people. They feel more a part of the organization when they feel they are part of it and not just working for it. Most important people want to feel they belong.” To be successful in a position of leadership, individuals must remember where they came from, what they desired while they were in the trenches and serve as an intermediary between the makers of decisions (the suits) and the daily decision makers (those in the field). Rex Fox who serves in the leadership team for a credit union based out of Eugene, Oregon, outlines a few key touch points relevant to listening, “Be approachable. Learn about the staff and what is important to them. Be trustworthy and trust your staff (but inspect). Roll up your sleeves and help when needed, but don’t do their jobs for them.” Rex brings up a great point that when we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty being shoulder to shoulder with our team members there is an organic exchange between individuals that cannot be built any other way.
Listening provides a means to blur the lines between management and employees that often holds a company back from reaching it’s potential. When a person in a position of leadership takes the time to listen, they remind themselves and the whole team that we are all in this together. Much can be learned about individuals, teams, issues and opportunities by simply taking a moment to hear and receive input from those who are investing in the team, the customers and the culture.
Please note this is one segment in a series related to creating a good working environment based upon brief interviews that we conducted with multiple professionals across various industries, leadership roles and viewpoints on the topic. Stay tuned for more. Shoot us an email or comment if you have something to say on this as well.
Jon Isaacson / IZ Ventures - More than coaching and consulting, we help you Connect, Collaborate & Conquer. #MTWSL
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