Listen. It’s the best way to learn!

  • Listen. It’s the best way to learn!
Chris Sargisson, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

I wrote recently about the importance of negotiation as a management process, and indeed skill. If there’s another skill that today’s business leaders need to employ it’s the simple, but essential, art of listening.

I know you’ll forgive me if I set that against the, dangerously close to over used, phrase of ‘in today’s current climate’. It has to be said, because it’s true.

Let’s look at this from two view points. Firstly, that ‘current climate’ embraces (sorry - here come some more well used phrases) Brexit, the skills shortage and the volatile political environment. To do business in amongst all of that means you need as much knowledge as it’s possible to assimilate. How do you acquire that knowledge? Yep - you’re with me - you listen.

And you listen by engaging with your customers. What you hear will allow you to shape your strategy and plan your future. The very act of listening of course means there has to be a conversation; and that means ensuring that you open two way communication.

And you have to spread your net wider. The views of customers are vital, but so too are those of non - or potential - clients.

One of the biggest advantages of listening is that you’ll be able to address not only what you know but also, vitally, what you don’t already know. New knowledge is crucial.

Now let’s come at it from a second angle. And this is good news. We’ve never been better equipped to listen. The digital tools available to today’s managers and leaders make it more possible than ever to engage, communicate with and learn from our existing and future customers. We can target more precisely, talk more frequently and listen more attentively now than we ever could, even if we’d sent out a thousand researchers with clip boards every week.

Listen; to acquire the data on what people want. And then build strong, meaningful and relevant relationships.

So, then comes the litmus test. Do I ‘practise what I preach?’  To date my commercial career would prove that I can answer yes. Right now, five weeks or so into my role as CEO of the Chamber, I’m happy to say yes again. We’re stepping up engagement with members, so that we can listen to them more. What we’re hearing is being channelled into the strategy for the future. We’re enhancing our two way communications - with members and non members alike. That’s already flagging up some things we didn’t know, as well as confirming some we did.

It’s not entirely, or exclusively, about online or digital communication. Face to face interaction will never be totally replaced as the core of commerce. What it is about is opening all the channels to ensure that you listen, and hear, what people want. In that aforementioned current climate they’re driven to change their minds more often - and you need to keep up with that like never before.

I guess all that’s left for me to say at the moment is  - thanks for listening.

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