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Podcast Episode 069: Listening to your employees with Geoff Ho

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How do employee surveys get in the way of listening?

How do you listen in face-to-face situations and at scale, to hundreds or thousands of employees?

Oscar speaks with Geoff Ho, a renowned director and behavioural scientist. Geoff has worked in Google’s People Analytics team and is now at Rogers, where he helps shape the management strategies for more than 26,000 employees. His award-winning research is used by governments and organisations around the world.

How do you listen to what’s unsaid, by analysing data?

How do you make sure you listen to large groups of people without bias?

Learn how to conduct a listening tour that actually works, how to design effective focus groups, and how Google listened to its employees and gave them a pay rise.

Geoff maps the process of listening to your employees onto the Five Levels of Listening.
Learn how to become a Deep Listener at scale.

Transcript

Podcast Episode 069: Listening to your employees with Geoff Ho

Geoff Ho:
A lot of companies have started what they call listening programmes and have made it their goal to listen, quote-unquote “listen” as frequently as possible. What I want to say is there’s a difference between hearing something and truly listening, and I think our employees feel this. If you just survey your employees time after time and you don’t do anything with it, employees start questioning, “Have you really listened to what I said? What is actually happening to anything I have told you?” And if you think of, at a personal level, the analogy would be you keep telling someone something that … like, “Hey, I really don’t like this food, mom. Why do you keep cooking it for me?”

Geoff Ho:
But she keeps doing the same thing, you’re not going to feel like she’s being listening to and it’s the same thing with employees. For me it’s a disturbing trend where there’s some companies who are just trying to implement these perpetual surveys every day to continuously pulse, and I completely agree with you in terms of you need to do something with what people are telling you to show that they’ve been heard. In that way, you’re truly building that relationship. It’s a two-way process. If you want them to fill out that survey and you want them to keep talking to you about how they’re feeling, then you’ll have to do something with it. That’s the most important thing, is to show people that you’ve actually heard what they’ve said. It’s not about perpetually telling them that you’re listening to them.

Geoff Ho:
Before I joined Rogers, I was a part of Google’s people analytics team and I ran the annual survey called Googlegeist.

Oscar Trimboli:
Deep Listening, impact beyond words. Hi, I’m Oscar Trimboli and this is the Deep Listening Podcast Series designed to move you from an unconscious listening to a deep and productive listener. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening? Yeah, only 2% of us have had any listening training whatsoever? Frustration, misunderstanding, wasted time and opportunity along with creating poor relationships are just some of the costs of not listening. Each episode of the series is designed to provide you practical, actionable and impactful tips to move you through the five levels of listening.

Oscar Trimboli:
So I invite you to visit OscarTrimboli.com/Facebook to learn about the five levels of listening and how others are making an impact beyond words.

Oscar Trimboli:
Geoff Ho is a director and a behavioural scientist building a strategic research team that combines science, advanced analytics and consulting to shape the way Rogers management strategy for its 25,000 employees across North America comes to live. Prior to joining Rogers, Jeff worked at Google’s people analytics team and four other Fortune and Forbes Global 1000 companies. He’s got a PhD in organisational behaviour from UCLA and just as important, his research has been used by governments and organisations to shape policy. He’s been published in numerous academic journals, bestselling books and receive global media coverage.

Oscar Trimboli:
Jeff and I, today, explore a critical topic inside organisations, listening to your employees. How do you listen simultaneously face to face and at scale? Geoff will explain how to listen to what’s unsaid by unifying operational data and employee feedback data as well, making it meaningful, practical and actionable, to help people be more productive every day at work. So if you’re a human resources leader or people and cultural leader, Geoff will also explain the ways in which it’s critical for you to develop what he calls a people analytics muscle and why it’s more important than ever.

Oscar Trimboli:
I love the way he explains not only why it’s important but how to get it done. Let’s listen to Geoff.

Oscar Trimboli:
Why do you think you struggle with yourself when it comes to listening?

Geoff Ho:
I think that I like to think that I’m a great listener and someone who is more introverted, I tend to listen more. The issues really come in the workplace when someone who leads teams and manages teams … and this gets exacerbated as you move up that hierarchy. There are thousands of people who want you to listen to them, and you think of CEOs who have thousands of employees. And so it’s taking that time to really zoom in when one person is talking to you and quiet yourself down when you know there are so many things going on and so many people want to talk to you. There’s this one person in front of you and really connecting deeply and listening to what that person has to say I think isn’t a unique struggle to me, per se, but a struggle that I think many managers, directors, VPs and executives might face.

Geoff Ho:
When I think of the purpose of listening, it’s really to build a relationship with the person we’re listening to and to accomplish what we want to with that relationship. So, as an example, let’s say you have a significant other. When you listen to them, you’re able to understand what they need, what they want from you, and you’re able to build on perhaps one of the most important things in your life. If you don’t listen, you risk losing that, possibly the largest cost you could experience.

Geoff Ho:
With an employee base, a relationship between an employee and an employer, a massive set of employees, it’s a relationship. Employees feel a connection to their employer and therefore they work hard for their employer and help their company accomplish those goals. As a CEO, as leaders in an organisation, you need to be able to listen to your employees in the same way that one would be listening in a personal relationship so that that relationship is maintained and one continues to accomplish those goals together in an organisation. So it’s listening at scale is incredibly important to accomplish in an organization’s objectives.

Geoff Ho:
Before I joined Rogers, I was a part of Google’s people analytics team and I ran the annual survey called Googlegeist, a play off the word “zeitgeist,” the spirit of the times, and folks think Google, super progressive, you must be surveying a billion times a year, right? You love data, and we did have … sometimes we’d post and sometimes we did it more than once a year, but there was the one big one, and this was taken extremely seriously by the CEO, leaders of the company. When results came back and we saw things like folks are unhappy with their pay, massive change would happen.

Geoff Ho:
There was one year where we actually increased salaries by 15 to 20% cross the board. Not to say every company would do this. Google had a lot of money, but that was how seriously the survey was taken when such massive change happens at scale. So when you ask the question, “Hey, which of your companies actually report back to folks? What you do with your stuff?” At Google it wasn’t even a matter of reporting back, it was, you saw that change happen.

Geoff Ho:
There was one year, the survey, we actually delayed it a bit because we wanted to align it to the end of the year to kind of wrap up the year. There was actually an uproar in the company where people were like, “Where’s that survey? I need to take Googlegeist. How are we going to tell you what’s going on with us? We need you to listen to us.” Surveys aren’t bad or good. It’s really showing people that you’re listening to them, and when you do listen to your employees, they will clamour to give you that feedback and they’ll actually demand that survey.

Oscar Trimboli:
As I listen to Geoff, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels he was talking about and what we were listening to in episode five with corporate anthropologist Dr. Michael Henderson, especially when Michael talked about the insanity of comparative engagement scores where you compare organisations and industries.

Michael Henderson:
I’ve got real concern about how organisations are using engagement surveys and often surveys in general. There’s nothing wrong with surveys per se, but I think you need to be very, very aware of the contexts in which the questions are being asked. For example, if you sit around a fire in a traditional culture, the questions that are used around that fire to entertain or to inform or to educate or simply just to connect and share are always contextual, so the people who are asking the questions are in the culture already. And so they are often able to select even the right phrasing of the question to elicit the response that they’re looking for.

Michael Henderson:
Where, as you find with organisational surveys and engagement surveys, the questions are usually generic, not customised. They’re used to design to measure in comparison to other cultures which, anthropologically speaking, is bordering on insane, because you can’t compare one culture with another in terms of metrics. So it seems a really process to go through.

Michael Henderson:
What actually ends up happening is I think the surveys are question biassed rather than listening optimised. So what I mean by that is there’s far more emphasis placed on defending or justifying the questions that are being asked rather than actually really listening to the answers. Let me give you a very practical example of that. One of the things I’ve noticed … This happened fairly recently at a conference I was speaking at. The HR manager went on stage 15 minutes before I was speaking and sort of said, “Look, everybody. I just want to remind you,” and this was a fairly large audience, 8 to 900 people. So the HR manager said, “I just want to remind you all that we’ve got the engagement survey coming out next Thursday. It’s really, really important that you all complete the survey so we get an up to date picture of how you’re all feeling about the business and we get a comparison to how we were last year and also how we’re comparing in the industry. So, just reminding you all to do that,” and walked off stage.

Michael Henderson:
Because I was sitting off stage to sort of stage right, I was able to watch the audience response to her reminder about the engagement survey, and what was fascinating was, and I hope I’m not exaggerating here, I would say over half of the audience rolled their eyes or gave some sort of facial expression that was less than enthusiastic or demonstrating less than full commitment and passion to do the survey. And so I thought, “Well there you are, you’ve got your survey straight in front of you. About 50% of the audience has just demonstrated they’re disengaged by the words ‘engagement survey.'”

Michael Henderson:
So, the big thing about the difference between a tribal setting or traditional cultural setting, and to be honest it doesn’t even need to be a traditional tribal, it can be your own family, is that engagement surveys are in the moment. So, they’re occurring in constant dialogue and if you’re listening to people’s expressions and their metaphors and their analogies, they’re actually telling you right here and right now whether they’re engaged or not, and more particularly, what are they engaged about?

Michael Henderson:
So, my final piece on this is I think the world’s best engagement survey would be designed by the employees themselves. I think empowering people to ask and design and develop the questions that they want to be asked about the culture would be far more empowering, useful and provide a far deeper listening for the organisation itself to hear what’s really on people’s minds rather than restricting it to what you’ve got in your questions to ask them.

Oscar Trimboli:
Whether working with leaders, managers or employees, they all voice the same frustrations about surveys without action. So now let’s listen to Geoff as he explores and reinforces Michael’s emphasis on asking questions that are conscious of the context.

Geoff Ho:
I come from the background of a scientist. I have a PhD in doing research in organisations and in psychology, and so when you talk about a listening tour, I have nothing against listening tours. I think when a new leader joins an organisation, they definitely need to listen to the people in the organisation to understand the state of it and what is happening and how they can improve it to better accomplish their objectives. I would definitely recommend doing that.

Geoff Ho:
The key for me as a scientist is to make sure the listening is being done deeply and systematically. It’s understanding how your biases personally may come into play from what you’re listening to, understanding not just the content but the context of what people are telling you. I think that deep listening is incredibly important from the scientist’s perspective is as a leader of an organisation, you need to make sure you’re capturing a representative group of people and not just hearing … Let’s say you’re combing into Rogers. There are call centre employees, there’s retail employees, there’s folks who work for our Toronto Blue Jays, there’s your corporate employees, and so it’s very easy to be prone to a bias of hearing great stories from this side and then stories from these other folks aren’t as compelling, and so you kind of ignore a whole swath of employees and you end up with a biassed understanding of what’s going on.

Geoff Ho:
What’s different, I think, for when you’re listening one-on-one versus many people is that, make sure in order to understand the collective view of the organisation is that you’re systematically going about it and that you’re not over-emphasising one group over another.

Oscar Trimboli:
In my consulting work, I’m asked to support leaders on listening tools, and quite often they’re doomed to fail, even before they start because of the point Geoff makes: listening happens before you start the conversation. Make sure you design who, when, where and how you are listening to groups of people. It’s really critical. This is consistently the part of my consulting work where leaders are surprised and occasionally shocked that I ask the question, “Who are you listening to during this tour? Who are you listening to in this meeting?”

Oscar Trimboli:
When they answer that, I ask them, “Is that a deliberate choice? And what’s the consequence of not listening to the people that you just explained?” Don’t get me wrong, you can’t listen to everybody all the time. The logistics mean it’s the largest barrier and can’t be done, and it’s also unproductive to listen to everybody all the time. There’s a point where you have to stop listening and you start to take action.

Oscar Trimboli:
So often I ask the leader, “Are you conscious of the choice you have made? Have you been deliberate about the choice to understand the consequences of who you’re not listening to rather than simply being unconscious of the choices you made?” Which begs a question for you. Who aren’t you listening to right now? And how could that help you be a little bit more productive at work? Let’s explore now the bias of the signature story when it comes to being part of a listening tour.

Oscar Trimboli:
In those listening tours, quite often there is an anchor story that becomes the story they hear, the story the repeat from the tour, and sometimes that can be productive and sometimes not. What frame would you give people to think about stories rather than just the individual story that might be the most articulate person you heard from? What tips would you give a leader on a listening tour to not only get a wide range of views but also, when they hear the views, how they process it?

Geoff Ho:
Yeah, we as humans have a tendency to really remember the sensational stories that come at us. As a leader who wants to truly understand the state of the organisation, it can be dangerous to only pick up on the sensational stories. It’s a human bias we have, and so I would highly recommend that a leader be aware of that fact and really look for … keep that journal and write down objectively what they’re hearing, and circle back on the themes one is hearing.

Geoff Ho:
Thematically if I heard 20 people talk about the management system, the people management is an issue at the company, and five people talking about pay is an issue, versus really anchoring on that one person who is crying about their pay. You don’t want to overemphasise one thing because that story was sensationalised and ignore the fact that there were 20 other people who were talking about management issues, just not as articulately, and they weren’t as great of a storyteller. Really making sure you’re going about it in a structured way so that … Your bias is to remember the sensational. Don’t colour what is truly the facts on the ground.

Oscar Trimboli:
Some of these listening tours happen one-on-one, but generally they’re kind of cafeteria group conversations, meeting room conversations. Do you have any tips for leaders about how to get a balanced perspective from the room rather than those who are only comfortable to speak? So if there are people in the room who are not as confident, what can a leader do to create a safer environment so that they can be heard and they can provide feedback or the story in a group setting?

Geoff Ho:
I think in essence, a leader listening tour is essentially a focus group about the state of the company or whatever it is the leader wants to understand, and in a focus group, one has to be very cognizant of individuals who dominate a conversation. It’s really being prepared to ask and elevate folks who are not speaking up. Asking, “Hey Jim, I haven’t heard from you in a while. What are your thoughts on this?” So if there are certain people who are talking too much, it’s picking up on those folks who aren’t and really encouraging them to speaking up and listening deeply to them, because I think you’ve … I’ve heard on one of your podcasts is sometimes the people who are most quiet, who have the most valuable things to say and one has to be aware as a leader that you’re going to have different types of folks.

Geoff Ho:
You’re going to have extroverts, you’re going to have introverts, and sometimes the introverts are the ones who spend a lot of time thinking before they speak. In that sense, you’re going to get the most valuable information from them because they’ve really processed your question. So being aware of the fact that you have different types of people in those groups of people you’re talking to and making sure you’ve got equal speaking time there.

Oscar Trimboli:
So here’s Oscar’s quick tips for hearing other voices in the room rather than the loudest. First, ask people to capture their thoughts on this topic alone, by themselves, just with a pen or a piece of paper, but just by themselves. Ask them to write down more than one thing. Ask them to write five to seven things. This will help to create a comparison and a distinction in the way they’re thinking as well, and the more ideas they can generate, the quicker they can get past the first idea in their heads. So ask them to write down five to seven things that they’re thinking about on this topic.

Oscar Trimboli:
Give them a full five minutes to complete this exercise. Allow them the space and the place to fully explore their ideas rather than merely the first thing that is coming to their mind. Next, ask them to notice what themes or categories they might see these five to seven topics falling into. Theme-ing and finding commonalities is a really useful way to help them distil how they’re thinking but just as importantly how they’re going to speak to it as well.

Oscar Trimboli:
Then, pair up people and by pairing people up, you’ll reduce the risk of people not wanting to be embarrassed by speaking up. There’s a low risk to speak to another person about it. There’s a high risk to speak about these topics in a group. So the next tip, pair up the people and ask them to share the themes rather than the specifics that they’re come to understand. And then, finally, ask the person who’s listened to them to comment on what they’ve heard. This does two things. It helps the listener to clarify what they’ve heard, and to synthesise the themes. In doing so, you’ll remove duplication and redundancy, and this is by far the fastest way to hear from everybody in the room rather than merely the loudest.

Oscar Trimboli:
Take us into a room where there’s a really skillful focus group facilitator. What will be one or two or three things they do really well to get the group to a place and space where it flows?

Geoff Ho:
One of the things that a leader listening tour is different from the focus group is that the leader is usually the boss of these people, and so that can cause people to say things that are not entirely truthful, that may be playing to, “Hey, what does my CEO really want to hear? What will make me look good in front of my CEO? Because I don’t want to display vulnerability. I don’t want to complain about these things.”

Geoff Ho:
And so, one of the things that is truly important for creating that environment where people feel safe to speak up is for the leader themselves to display a little bit of vulnerability. A little bit taking that first step of showing honesty, displaying trust, telling the CEO or the leader telling those folks in the group a little something that shows that they’re being open and honest.

Geoff Ho:
So it might be that CEO saying, “The company I last came from, we really had problems with X, Y and Z, and so this is something that I really want to know, are these issues here in this company?” And that kind of opens the door for that individual to … or the group to feel open about speaking about issues. Or the leader might say, “I’ve always had issues speaking openly and honestly with my folks in my last company. I really want to change that dynamic here.” That sort of speaks to a vulnerability that leader has. And so the group may be more open to speaking about their vulnerability and issues.

Oscar Trimboli:
I’m grateful you’ve kind of meandered down this beautiful rabbit warren of the listening tour. You’ve changed my mind on something, so I’m really grateful for that in the frame of the focus group and what people will tell a leader because they’re the leader and how raising my consciousness to the trade off between the leader being present in the focus group as opposed to the leader asking the questions in the focus group.

Geoff Ho:
The leader … Usually folks who have ascended to that level really trust their judgement and instincts, and so they may want to look the person in the eye and really, deeply listen to that individual. That type of listening is irreplaceable. Hearing it secondhand is not the same, and so that’s one of the, I think, pros of a leader doing it themselves. On the other hand, as you’ve mentioned, there’s a real benefit of having, say, a research team, a team such as the one that I have, a research and advisor team go in as an objective set of folks who have no stake. We don’t judge your performance. We are aggregating the themes and bringing it back to the CEO, and so you’re anonymized. That enables one to truly be more honest because it becomes anonymized, and the people you’re interacting with don’t have any … It can’t affect your career, per se.

Geoff Ho:
The other benefit is that that research team can systematically go about it and are trained to minimise the biases we talked about, that individuals themselves might have bringing it into a conversation. In my opinion it comes down to having that trust with the people you’re speaking with and if the people in the group trust that leader then the leader, assuming they deeply listen, will get what they’re looking out of it, but if you don’t have that trust built in, the leader, even if they deeply listen, it’s going to be difficult to pick up the true answers to the questions they’re looking for.

Geoff Ho:
This happens at scale as well, which is why we talked about, as an organisation we have to actually act on what we’re listening to from our employees, otherwise you break that trust and they either don’t respond to that survey or they don’t take it seriously and so you end up having a useless survey as well. So I think there are parallels there around building that trust. It may be done slightly differently, building it with an entire organisation versus with a group of individuals. With regard to the listening tour, I’d say there’s a big movement toward data analytics and surveys and that is something … that is my bread and butter but I want to emphasise that deeply listening one-on-one or in a focus group is irreplaceable, as we talked about earlier. Looking people in the eye and leveraging the five levels of listening to truly get the depth of understanding of the folks on your team and in your organisation will give you colour that a survey and data cannot.

Geoff Ho:
And so I just want to say that that level of listening in that listening tour, if done correctly and done well, is an essential part of listening to your employees.

Oscar Trimboli:
Is there any science behind the face to face and human connection?

Geoff Ho:
There is so much information that is conveyed non-verbally when we interact with people, and that is something while we may not be listening with our ears, we are visually listening to that individual. Oscar, you’re not in front of me, but if I see you crossing your arms while you’re talking to me, there may be something I’m saying that is threatening to you and I would be able to unconsciously intuit that information and I don’t think we’re at a point where we’re able to collect that information at scale yet.

Oscar Trimboli:
Geoff, you have a different approach. Not only are you using the information that’s collected in surveys, but you’re doing so much more with that.

Geoff Ho:
Yeah, yeah, and I really parallel this to your levels of listening. So a lot of companies have it down to listen to the content, and so for me that’s a basic survey question of, are you happy with your pay? Yes or no? Right? That’s easy to understand what the content is. But there’s context one has to listen to as well. I think companies are getting better at this. So an example of this is, “Hey, folks at this company. You’re unhappy with your pay.” But, hey maybe folks cross our industry aren’t happy with the pay. That’s just something that no one’s happy with their pay. That’s context, right?

Geoff Ho:
And so those two levels, it’s important to get the content and the context, and I think companies are starting to get there. What I think we start to do really well at Google and at Rogers is listening to perhaps what is unsaid. And so, when we get information from a survey of folks are happy with their managers or not unhappy with their managers, that’s the content. We start to link that data to whether people are turning over or not. So when you look at a whole set of employees, you split in half the folks who’ve left the company versus remain at the company. Is there something going on with whether people are unhappy with their managers or they’re happy with their managers. Is it about their pay? Is it about growth and development opportunities?

Geoff Ho:
And so with that, when we start linking that data together, we hear what people are telling us on the survey, but what are they actually doing? What is actually important to them? Things we start to see cross industries that I’ve looked at is that growth and development is incredibly important for actually retaining people. If I see that at my company, I have growth and development opportunities, I’m going to stick around. And so while people will tell us whether they’re happy or not with growth and development, what’s unsaid is that I’m going to leave your company if I don’t have growth and development opportunities. And so that’s where you get into true insights and you’re truly able to use what you’ve heard from your employees from what they haven’t said, to take action do help improve that organization’s retention.

Geoff Ho:
So that’s just one example of some of the things we’re starting to do as we leverage things like survey data with actual things people at the company are doing and other things we might link to our people performing well or not. Are people actually motivated? So there’s lots of things we want to start connecting our data to, to start hearing what’s unsaid and to start driving deeper insight.

Oscar Trimboli:
What’s the big barrier for organisations simply joining the dots? Because not many people are doing this.

Geoff Ho:
I think there are three levels or three types of barriers. The first, I would say, is just knowing that you can do this with your data. Within, I’d say, in particular the HR field, it’s not historically been a data-driven field. I think when you get into finance, marketing, senior management, they’re used to working with data, but fundamentally when you’re working with people and people data, it’s not something I think that HR has built a muscle for and so it’s something people have to be aware of, and that’s something I’ve started to try to speak more broadly to. But I think just awareness that you can listen to your people and listen to what’s unsaid by linking your data together.

Geoff Ho:
And so, when, for example, people are leaving and they don’t tell you why they’ve left, you can actually link this data and infer why they left. And so I think that awareness is lacking. So that’s number one. Number two, I think there’s a real difficulty with our systems and data is embedded in systems and one has to work through that complexity of connecting that data. You really need to bring together experts in our information technology and HR folks, and then folks who can also run the statistical analyses to actually make that happen.

Geoff Ho:
Then once you actually drive those insights, the additional barrier is actually getting that data in front of your executives and having them understand and translating that information to having them take action on it. I was at Google where we had a well functioning people analytics group that was really great at doing this. It’s not something that I think is an inherent muscle in companies, and so at Rogers we’ve been building a team and really helping our executives understand how to listen to people both in content and context and with what’s unsaid.

Oscar Trimboli:
With this opportunity with the explosion of data that you can collect now, what three warning tips would you give people to avoid when it comes to a people analytics approach?

Geoff Ho:
I definitely have warnings around how you go about this properly. The first thing I’d say is that correlation isn’t causation, and many times when you just link a bunch of data together, you are going to find correlations. With higher ice cream consumption, you actually see higher crime rates, and this is just a correlation that’s found everywhere and people are going to think, “Hey, does that mean when we’re eating ice cream, we’re going to be criminals? What is going on here? Or do criminals eat ice cream?” And really the explanation there is that it’s the temperature, is the real factor that is causing both. Higher temperature means that people want to eat ice cream because it’s hot outside, and then also, when there’s higher temperatures, everyone’s outside including the criminals, and so they’re more prone to just doing what they do.

Geoff Ho:
And so, in this type of people data as well, it’s really easy to just pick out correlations in the data, and this happens with massive data sets everywhere. You just start thinking, “Hey, maybe I should take action on this particular correlation,” and that’s very dangerous. And so, one has to make sure when you’re looking at that type of data, that you have the right individuals doing that type of analysis and that it’s informed by the context of the situation. That’s where listening to the context really matters, and so I’m using the contest as an example, but you need to have folks who understand the thing that it is you’re studying, whether it’s engagement or the performance or the turnover within that group. Make sure you’re listening to that context and not just taking that content devoid of the context.

Geoff Ho:
Number two, as one is starting to do this type of analytics work, it’s important to make sure you have folks with the mindset of the leaders there is to really do something with it. As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t do stuff with the survey data, with the data you’re connecting, there’s really no point to doing it, and you end up with disengaged and jaded employees who are filling out surveys with really nothing being done with it. Or you end up with an analytics team who’s just connecting data and running models and nothing’s being done with it, so they’re not going to be happy with that either. So you really have to make sure you have leaders who are ready to listen to that data and take action on it.

Geoff Ho:
That mindset shift is something that I spend a lot of time working on. I’m just in meetings all day with leaders trying to help them understand why they need to listen to this data and listen to their employees via the data and analytics that we’re generating.

Oscar Trimboli:
Those tips, again, from Geoff. Correlation is not causation and I see leaders make this assumption with employee feedback data all too often. They run down many rabbit warrens of information that’s about correlation rather than the actual cause and this is why operational data is so useful in overlaying the employee data you’ve got to understand, is there actually a causation? And I think this is a really powerful point that Geoff has made through the interview. Next, overlay the context when you listen. Geoff is pretty consistent about making sure that you understand the context as well as what Michael Henderson said back in episode five around listening for context and the power that brings to the action plan.

Oscar Trimboli:
Finally, Geoff says take the bias towards action and implementation. That’s what employees really want you to do. They don’t want more analysis. They don’t want analysis paralysis. They want their leaders to take action and get on with it. Where is your organisation along the journey of developing this people analytics muscle that Geoff talks about? And are you using those muscles right now to do the heavy lifting on the weighty issues or are you simply doing the small weights? Are you just lifting up the cosmetic issues? I think tackling those really heavy issues head on, even if they’re long term issues, communicating those consistently back to the staff will send a huge listening message back to the staff that what they say matters and they’re going to act on it. Listening is the willingness to have your mind changed and the difference between hearing and listening is the action you take to change the current situation.

Oscar Trimboli:
I’m curious what you’re most proud of in terms of impact with your people analytics work and listening at scale.

Geoff Ho:
Understanding that you can listen to your employees is a fairly new thing, and understanding that you can listen to them at different levels is even newer, and so for me, that analytics piece, the more advanced analytics where we’re connecting the data, that’s really where you get into the listening to the context, listening to what’s unsaid and listening to the meaning, and that’s where you’re really able to understand deeply your employees, understanding what makes them happy, what makes them healthy, what makes them perform better, and really ultimately generates the insights to help you improve the things you want to improve.

Geoff Ho:
I think I’m just incredibly proud of what we’ve done, not just at Google but at Rogers. When I first arrived at Rogers a few years ago we knew we wanted to improve the retention of our employees. It’s a known issue in companies with call centre and retail employees that you have turnover. It’s something that happens, and at Rogers we really wanted to improve the retention of those employees. One of the first things the head of HR asked me to do was, “Hey Geoff, we need you to help us figure this out, because we’ve just been throwing initiative after initiative to tackle turnover and it’s something that we haven’t been able to move the needle on.”

Geoff Ho:
And so when I joined, I helped us start understanding that we need to listen to our employees. We need to listen to just the content of why they’re leaving. That’s the exit survey. Let’s look at that information. X, Y and Z came out of that. That’s number one. We also have to listen to what’s being unsaid, and that’s where we link what I was telling you about earlier, that employee survey data to the actual data of them leaving the company. So when you look at folks who have left the company versus those who haven’t, what actually differentiates those two groups from the employee survey?

Geoff Ho:
We’ll see things like growth and development is incredibly important, and so those two data sources, the content of what’s being said, also the analytics and insight we generate from what’s being unsaid, we bring those things together. And then we also do things like exit interviews and have open ended questions on our exit surveys where it’s really in depth insight. I think of that as meaning in some ways, listening to the meaning, because it’s when you look the person in the eye and you hear exactly what they’re telling you, and we systematically can code those things as well.

Geoff Ho:
So you bring together those three sources of data, and I think of those as levels of listening or also different research methodologies to really listen to your employees. We’re really able to triangulate on why people are leaving the company from a retail perspective, from a call centre perspective, from a corporate perspective, and you see really different things coming out. So we took those things, we present those to our executives, and real action was taken to improve the experiences of our employees, and we’re starting to see an uptick in retention.

Geoff Ho:
There were some massive initiatives that happened as a result of this and I’m just really proud of the fact that we’ve listened to our employees, we’re generating insights and we’re really taking action on it to improve things at Rogers.

Oscar Trimboli:
It’s a joy to speak to people like Geoff at the top of their game, thoughtful, clever, practical, pragmatic. Thinking about the things I took away from listening to Geoff, the first one is surveying your staff without action is just hearing. High performance organisations, people and cultural leaders, human resources teams partner with their people manager community to take immediate, specific and well communicated action. How does that feel inside your organisation today, whether you’re an employee or a leader? It’s action, is the difference between hearing and listening.

Oscar Trimboli:
The next thing I took out is human resources needs to build a people analytics muscle combining survey data with operational data to better listen to what’s unsaid. It was really interesting, the time that Geoff had taken to learn, read and completely internalise what the five levels of listening means as it relates to employee data. I think he did a great job of that, and ultimately, Geoff’s point, nothing replaces a leader meeting their organisation and their people face to face. How well do you listen, face to face? Hearing Geoff speak about the importance of listening face to face, I wonder what gets your way when it comes to the way you listen.

Oscar Trimboli:
You can find out about your listening barriers simply by taking the listening quiz. You’ll receive a personalised report with your listening barriers and a three step action plan that will get you on the path to results much faster. So if you visit ListeningQuiz.com, that’s ListeningQuiz.com, you’ll be able to take a very quick assessment and be able to start the path to move from a distracted listener to a deep and impactful listener as well.

Oscar Trimboli:
Listening at level four is something that I would practise all the time, and when my guests have a little bit of time left over, I always ask them a few questions. At the end of this episode, let’s call it an outtake, I’ve asked Geoff to deconstruct and critique the five levels of listening, and where it can be improved and where he thinks it’s working well. So if you have the time, that’s right at the end of the episode.

Oscar Trimboli:
Welcome to the Deep Listening Community, our Deep Listening Community Group. You can visit OscarTrimboli.com/Community and there I’d love to welcome some new people who’ve joined recently. Hi and hello to Isaac, to Susan, to Gavin, to Dinga, to Branwell, to Lisa, to Ellie, to Christie, to Jenny, to [Amalie 00:47:13] and to Jessica. It’s great to see everybody sharing information there.

Oscar Trimboli:
People in the Deep Listening Community Group get early access to things like the listening quiz. They also get early access to the Deep Listening Managers Masterclass content where they can provide some feedback on the prototypes there as well. Going forward, we’ll also release the episodes of the Deep Listening Podcast to the Deep Listening Community one week prior to them being published to subscribers as well. So if you want to get the content sooner rather than later, just join the Deep Listening Community there too. It’s a great benefit of being part of the community.

Oscar Trimboli:
Thanks to you for listening. I’m really grateful, but I’m also grateful to some people who took some time out to actually write a review in their favourite podcast app. This comes from Belgium. The headline was, “Love it. Great insights, wonderful guests. I’ve learned tonnes already. I’m a better sales rep as a result. Thanks, Oscar. Listening leads to better leadership. Oscar’s brilliant interviews reminds us all that we too often just listen with our eyes and don’t listen deeply to others in our daily conversations. These podcasts will guide you to become a better leader, a better partner, a better parent, and have deeper relationships with everyone, including yourself.” Thanks.

Oscar Trimboli:
“Deeply empowering learning for everyone. There are so many wonderful nuggets throughout every episode. Since listening to these podcasts, I easily implemented some of the tricks and tips to improve my listening. My biggest change has been remaining focused while listening and avoiding distractions. This change came about after listening to episode eight, ‘Listen like a foreign language interpreter,’ where I learned some secrets from Christina. Having said that, listening to the episode dedicated to the five levels of listening is definitely amazing. The human race would be kind of a more peaceful place if we all employ the tips from the podcast. Thank you, Oscar.” Wow, that’s a great review to finish up on. Thanks so much for listening.

Oscar Trimboli:
Together we’re on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the world, and the most practical thing you could do to help us reach this goal is to share an episode of the Deep Listening Podcast with just one other person you know who will benefit from it by improving their listening. A big thank you to all of you and thanks for listening.

Oscar Trimboli:
As a scientist, if you were to say, “So, Oscar’s hypothesis is the five levels of listening,” what would be the hypothesis that disproves the five levels of listening? What’s not in the model? My favourite quote is George Buck’s, “All models are wrong, some models are useful.” I’ve always come from the perspective that it was my client consulting that built the five levels of listening, not me, and that’s how my clients made meaning of the listening.

Geoff Ho:
I think there’s different ways you could structure it. And you’ve probably played around with different models, and I think-

Oscar Trimboli:
Oh yes.

Geoff Ho:
In any model, you want what you call elegance. You want full coverage of different types of listening yet you want the minimum possible components, and you’ve landed on five. I’m not 100% clear on the difference between context and what’s unsaid, and I think that you could, if you were trying to make it more simple, make the context also what’s unsaid. But you have your reasons for splitting it out, so I think it’s really a matter of how you want to structure it. If you want more parsimony or less components to deal with, that’d probably be the one way to go about it. So for me, kind of that unsaid versus context could be brought together.

Geoff Ho:
So, what’s unsaid, you could also argue is context. So for me that’s from a very kind of superficial understanding of things you’ve studied very deeply, I think are things that you might split out and then the meaning piece, I think that is a very difficult thing to derive as you’re listening. I think that’s something where you may think of as post-processing, but if you can do that as you’re listening, that is incredibly … that might be the highest level of listening. So for me it’s probable that I’m not there yet, which is why it’s hard for me to think of, “Yeah, I’m listening,” while actually listening for meaning, that’s an incredible level. So, usually I get the meaning as I think after the conversation.

Oscar Trimboli:
Listening for meaning is helping them listen for their meaning. It’s not you making meaning of it.

Geoff Ho:
I see.

Oscar Trimboli:
So if you’re trying to make meaning of it while you’re listening, you’re actually the shrewd listener and you’re completely distracted while you’re trying to make meaning.

Geoff Ho:
I see, I see.

Oscar Trimboli:
It’s interesting because it’s an obvious interpretation to make that you as the listener needs to listen for the meaning. This model is actually inverted and the only level that you as the listener should be focused on is yourself. The rest of those levels are to help the speaker explore their content, their context, their unset and their meaning. It’s not your job to create more content, create more context, create more unsaid, create more meaning. It’s to help the speaker discover their meaning rather than you attributing a meaning from it.

Oscar Trimboli:
And this is very much in a [dialogic 00:53:39] context, where I think the beautiful thing about your work is it’s at scale and there’s a meta model that sits above this, which is called individual groups, organisations and systems. It’s a lovely distinction about, is context really unsaid? It’s something that two other people have kind of said, “So what’s the actual distinction here?” So the distinction is it’s not about what you’re for the context. It’s helping the speaker explore their context more deeply. It’s helping the speaker explore their unsaid better.

Oscar Trimboli:
Because people go, “Oh, listening is so hard,” and I say, “You’re doing it wrong. You actually have to be an empty vessel in the process and help them to understand what they’re not listening to themselves ultimately,” and that’s where you become a potent listener because they just go, “Oh my goodness, that was so powerful.” But your job is not there for you to listen, it’s to help them listen to themselves.

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