Mark Hinderliter, PhD

By Mark Hinderliter, PhD

Listening Strategies as a Competitive Edge

Listening Strategies as a Competitive Edge 150 150 Mark Hinderliter


Several years ago I was working with the CEO of a national specialty retail chain.

One of the questions I asked her was “As the CEO of your company, what is the most important thing you do?”  The answer was short and direct.  “Listening.”  

I was a little taken back by the simplicity of the answer, so I said, “tell me more about that.”   She went on to say that when she visited stores she listened to her associates and her customers in very intentional ways.  When business was slow, she would take some associates to the food court for refreshments and conversation.  As part of the conversation, this CEO would always ask two questions.  The first was “What could we do to make working here an even better experience for you (associates)?”  The second question was, “What product ideas do you have that you think our customers would really like?”

This CEO did the same thing with her customers.  Customers usually came in small groups, so when they finished up, she would invite some to the food court and have a similar conversation.  “As customers, what could we do to make this an even better shopping experience?”  Again, as with the associates, ‘What products would you like to see in our stores that would interest you?”   What she was doing was conducting informal focus groups as part of her store visits. While this company has an R & D department, the CEO said that many of their new products came from these discussions with associates and customers.

The epiphany for me in this conversation was this.  Good leaders have listening skills, great leaders have listening strategies.  This CEO was very intentional and strategic in her approach to listening to associates that take care of their customers, and the customers themselves.  The benefits of these listening strategies were improved operations, employee engagement, and product innovation.  Pretty big dividends for a simple-to-execute, but powerful strategy.

What listening strategies can you implement to better understand your employees and customers?   How much of an advantage could your strategy provide?

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