My first vehicle developed a knock in the engine and I didn’t know what was causing it. But my grandpa was visiting.

“Start it up,” Grandpa said.

I did, and then opened the hood and stood in front of my old truck.

“Always stand to the side,” Grandpa said. “Then if something slips or moves you won’t get run over.” He had repaired vehicles of every kind since he was fourteen years old.

We listened to the motor and its steady knock but I couldn’t tell exactly where it came from. Grandpa asked for a long screwdriver. I wondered what he would adjust, but he put the metal end to the engine and then pressed his ear to the handle. (Don’t do this the other way around!) Grandpa moved the blade of the screwdriver along the motor until he paused in the centre.

“There’s one valve that’s sticking.” It was the only one that needed replacing.

In any organization it’s important to hear what isn’t working.

To hear more clearly:

  1. Connect with people who move and empower the company, and really listen. Key Performance Indicators are vital, but personal engagement gives qualitative as well as quantitative insight.
  2. Ask good questions:
  3. Follow through and use what you hear. Credibility and openness both grow when employees see that their input is significant. If it takes time to implement, remember to tie it back to what you heard from team members so they know it made a difference.
  4. Keep shame, blame and fear out of the equation if you want real input. Focus forward, not back. Defensive leaders don’t hear well. And if people think they’ll be fired or held back for bad news, they keep quiet. Those trying to help fix things shouldn’t get run over by the organization.
  • What’s missing that could make us better?
  • Where could we use our strengths to accomplish more?
  • If you could change just one thing, what would it be?

Listening at work can help you achieve higher performance and hear about problems before they become destructive or even devastating. The more solid your connection with people, the more clearly you’ll hear.