Active Listening

Employee retention is a significant issue in a time of fierce competition for talent. In an economy where unemployment is high (8.6% as per the BLS in mid-December) and the country is allowing less talent in (the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office received sufficient H-1B petitions to reach the cap of 85,000 for FY 2012), fostering the development of and engagement with current employees is vital.

Studies have shown that individuals leave jobs for a multitude of reasons, namely more money, more autonomy, or because they take issue with their supervisor’s leadership style. For more information, here are two resources: Society for Human Resource Management and Gallup.

In an effort to prevent costly turnover, which can balloon to 150% of the employee’s annual compensation, consider a simple engagement tactic that will help solidify your place as an engaging leader.

Listen.

Give each of your employees a specified set of time each week to express frustration, seek advice on how to address challenges, discuss what is working well, and detail how they are exceeding expectations. Leaders who listen well foster greater trust in their relationships. More likely than not, this will help lead to engagement and higher levels of productivity, allowing the team to reach goals faster.

When listening, it is important to remove yourself and your agendas from the conversation. There are three levels of active listening. Getting to level three as quickly as possible will allow you to better understand and serve your employees.

Level 1 – Me Focused Listening. This occurs when you listen to what the other person has to say and you think about what it means to you. If an employee tells you about a mistake he made and all you can think about is how your boss is going to be mad at you, you are at level one.

Level 2 – Through Their Eyes Listening.  The second level brings an awareness of the person and what she sees. You have the ability to understand the situation through her eyes. You can understand how and why she did what she did. You have the ability to validate the experience back to her in a way that she understands that you understand.

Level 3 – Universal Listening. At the most engaged level of listening, you are receiving information not directly observable. You are not only hearing with your ears, but you are hearing with your heart. You notice that his arms cross when he gets defensive. You notice that he slouches in the chair or looks down when embarrassed. You can sense changes in his tone of voice and link it to feelings during the event in question. You are very contemplative, listening universally.

The competition for talent isn’t letting up anytime soon. Be known as the leader who takes the time to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities of others. Save yourself money, time, and stress by fostering a unique level of engagement with your employees. Establish regular meetings where you have the chance to listen universally and practice servant leadership. Conducting a “stay” interview is much less expensive than conducting an exit interview.