Deep listening is a powerful tool for leaders. CEOs who can proactively and intentionally listen to engage employees and drive performance further – and it’s something we support new CEOs with as they embark on their tenure.

In our recent article on proactive listening as a CEO, we assessed the multiple ways leaders can improve their listening skills, with an emphasis on a ‘listening tour’.

We now take a closer look at this technique in action, and examine the benefits that it can bring to both leaders and employees.

How ENGAGE’s evidence-based approach has supported CEOs and senior leaders

We supported a newly promoted CEO of a global household product manufacturer to conduct deep listening exercises in his first few months in the role.

Our approach focused on two core areas; a physical listening tour of the manufacturer’s sites to carry out in-person sessions with leaders, managers and frontline employees, and an online listening tool, which gathered input from employees unable to attend the in-person sessions.

The listening tour allowed the new CEO to gain insights into:

  • The level of understanding and support for the current strategy
  • What people thought the biggest change in the strategic environment was likely to be over the next ten years
  • The biggest changes likely to occur in both how and where the company could drive growth
  • The most significant barrier that senior leaders (including the CEO) could remove to help the business become more effective

Our smart text analytics, combined with predictive statistical techniques, helped the CEO to hone in on the factors that would help him, and the firm, succeed fastest.

One of the biggest takeaways from the CEO’s listening tour was to embrace greater diversity of thought to ignite true innovation within the organisation. This was demonstrated by the feedback received, stating that the same voices were being listened to when tackling big strategic questions.

There was also a great by-product of the approach. By simply getting out across the business, being seen to ask simple questions and actively listening to employees’ responses, the new CEO sparked a change. He was rekindling the pioneering innovation, deep collaboration and positive energy of employee voices that gave the firm its original competitive edge in its earlier days.

A real-life example of how CEO listening tours can produce game-changing insights

Oscar Munoz is the (recently retired) United Airlines chairman and CEO and in his new book, “Turnaround Time: Uniting an Airline and Its Employees in the Friendly Skies”, he tells a great tale of how a conversation with a flight attendant gave him one of his deepest insights into the turnaround challenge he was facing.

He describes an encounter with a flight attendant named Amy: “It involved me walking up to the galley and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Oscar. Just checking to see how things are going.’ The reply: ‘You know, Oscar, I’m just tired of always having to say sorry. I’m sorry our flight is late. I’m sorry our food isn’t good. I’m sorry our coffee sucks. I’m sorry you can’t sit next to your child…’.”

Munoz’s takeaway was simple: “It was important to appeal to our people’s strong sense of professional pride, and then match that pride with the resources, procedures, and alignment that they needed to actually do their job. So the concept of me going out and listening to everybody was how we developed our strategy.”

Fuelled by a CEO’s decision to go out and listen directly to their people, stories were heard, insights were gained and an organisation was improved.

A competitive advantage for new CEOs and leaders

The above examples demonstrate the clear advantages of CEO listening tours, and the positive impact of people-led change.

At a time when leaders are juggling new employee expectations and post-pandemic workplace changes, deep listening tours provide multiple opportunities for leaders to not only build solid relationships, but also help organisations stand out from competitors.

If you would like to learn more about how we can support you as a new CEO, be sure to reach out to our expert ENGAGE team.