Podcast: Leadership Amplitude Episode 7

Take a deep dive into leadership development and team optimization.

Talent management: The voice of the employee

Leaders really want their employees to be happy and fulfilled. To do that, you need to think in terms of increasing retention, increasing engagement.


Anna Slaydon: When developing your organizational strategy, do you factor in the voice of your employees? We’re joined by Chuck Gaskin, Chief Associate Engagement Officer with BB&T, as he talks more about listening to the voice of employees and developing relationships of trust. We join the conversation already in progress.

And Chuck, I do want to go back to something that you touched on a couple times which is the voice of the people and I’ve heard you use that phrase before. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that is and why leaders should be concerned with that?

Chuck Gaskin: Oh, wow. Among leaders, and again, the perspective, Anna, would be none of this is textbook kind of stuff. It’s this is what I encounter on a regular basis when I meet with leaders in all industries, in all sized companies is this issue of hearing the voice of the employee. Leaders really want their employees to be happy. They want their employees to be fulfilled. That is an absolute. I don’t work with businesses where they view their employees of a dispensable or, “If this one doesn’t work out, we’ll get another one.” That’s not the way leaders think, not at all. What they look at is how can I retain my talent? How can I reduce turnover?

And I like to think of it honestly in terms of increasing retention, increasing engagement. Economically, if you think in terms of labor economics or talent economics, it’s really that function, isn’t it? It’s raising retention and raising engagement. You do those two things as a business leader and you can own your market. You can own wallet, the share of wallet that you’re trying to achieve. You can become far better as you raise the retention of your employees as you raise their engagement. And who in the world would want to lose that kind of talent?

So the way you do that, you listen. And I’m going to give you some insights and I hope this will really be helpful for our leaders. The BB&T Leadership Institute has done a lot of work on, a lot of research on engagement. And it’s a fluid kind of challenge for us. We are really trying to stay at the edge with that, really the leading edge in terms of understanding, and certainly, we’re not the only party that’s exploring that but boy, do we have a focus on it and boy, do we want to be the very best at employee retention we can. And one way we do that honestly is we look at leaders and we look at what they do well, what they are faced with. It’s a challenge.

And I’m going to give you one here. The word is empathy. The word is empathy and empathy means my willingness to understand where someone’s coming from before I advance where I’m coming from. Now, think about that for a minute. Understanding where other people are coming from. The issue is leaders struggle with listening to the voices of those who are doing the work. I’ve done a lot work in terms of—we call it sort of four box analytics where we look at leaders in terms of are they strategic? Are they more tactical? Are they more people oriented? Or are they more task oriented? Those are the quadrants.

And what I find consistently among most leadership teams is that most leadership teams are clearly better at setting the vision, seeing the big picture, being able to cast that vision to their employees, “This is what we can accomplish. This is how we’re gonna do it and I'm counting on all of you to achieve it.” Sort of this champion kind of mentality, if you will. Here’s where leaders struggle. No, not all leaders. You might be listening right now and thinking, “I understand where people are coming from. I do hear their voice. Chuck, I’m great at that.”

Well, if you are, that is unusual, first of all. And secondly, that is a competitive advantage you have. So long as you have others who are helping you cast the strategic vision as well. But you as a leader, if you get in the day to day stuff and really understand what’s going on, that can be a tremendous asset in this kind of economy. But here’s the thing. You don’t have to be that leader. You just have to have the self-awareness.

At the Institute, we talk at The BB&T Leadership Institute, we talk a lot about self-awareness. And leaders who can be self-aware, who can understand, “That’s not my gift. That’s not where I’m strong,” okay. That’s self-awareness. That’s saying, “I know it needs to be done. I’m just not really as good doing it as maybe a lot of other people are.” Okay, good. That’s self-awareness. Find people who can help you better hear the voice of the employee. So leaders, how do you do that?

Well, if leaders, by nature, are more strategic and sometimes are challenged with either finding the time or just having the natural propensity to listen, if that’s a challenge, then how do you do that? Well, you get people around you who are better at it and when you get together, you make sure you ask questions that really probe to the people who are actually gonna be doing the job. Let me give you an example. If I cast a vision—and by the way, I’m more of a visionary as a leader. I'm a little bit more challenged listening to the day to day stuff. I have the interpersonal skills but I’m more excitable, if you will, at the strategic level.

So what I’ve learned to do and there’s a real science to this and it works psychologically, is that you ask the kinds of questions that the people who are in the day to day operations are gonna be asking. For example, if you cast a vision, they’re gonna ask, “Well, how are we gonna do this?” or “Where are we gonna get the stuff we need in order to accomplish this task?” They’re asking very tactical day to day kinds of questions and if you as a leadership team can learn to do that, then you can make tremendous in roads in your effectiveness.

Still cast your vision. Still think big picture but you almost have to, in a surrogate kind of way, you have to be the voice of that employee. You have to anticipate what those employees are gonna ask and you have to do the time out signal in your meeting and say, “Okay. We’ve got this great vision. We’ve got a great way of doing things but can the employees do it?”

And let’s be real here. You don’t censure people who say, “I don't know that we can do it.” You don’t say, “No, you gotta have a positive attitude.” You say, “Well, why can’t we do it? What do you see is the challenge? What have you heard the employees say that might be an issue here? Who might we include but before we talk about this topic again, who are a few people who are doing this day in and day out that one or two of us can go take to lunch or sit down and talk with and get a real better understanding of what the challenges might be? Who are those people?” And if you don’t know who those people are as a leader, I’m not gonna slap you on the wrist for that.

What I am gonna say is, “Okay. Self-awareness time. You’re not maybe as connected with your employees as you probably want to be. What are some things you can do to maybe better connect with employees? Might you open the office door a little bit more? Might you get out on the plant floor and walk around? Might you, in that hospital, go into the nurse’s lounge or the doctor’s lounge and take a cup of coffee and say, “Hey. Let’s take 15 minutes. Tell me what’s going on. Tell me what I need to know that I may not know.”

At the very core of that is the word trust. Employees, and I hear this so much, Anna, when I’m out about with leadership teams and with their employee teams. I’ll hear the trust word. I’ll say, “Well, I just don’t know,” I’m an employee and I say, “I just don’t know if I can say this because that’s not what she wants to hear or that’s not what he wants to hear.” And when I hear those kinds of things, Anna, it’s not that a red flag goes up. It’s just an awareness flag goes up. It’s like, “Okay. What can that leader do to be more approachable? What behaviors might they compensate for that will make them more trustworthy?”

Because I don’t think the leader is not trustworthy but what might be the—what can they do to be perceived as more trustworthy? And leaders, do your employees trust you and do you have the kinds of relationships with them where they understand you’re the leader. They hold you accountable as the leader and they respect you as the leader but they also feel like they have a relationship with you. They feel like you know their name. They feel like you really believe in them, that you trust them. To be trustworthy, we have to trust and some leaders, honestly, struggle with that, Anna. Relationships of trust. Are you trustworthy? I’m certain you are. But do your employees know that you’re trustworthy? And have you created an environment where they really feel comfortable sharing with you openly and honestly where they are in a relationship of trust?

Anna Slaydon: Thanks for listening in on our conversation. We’ll pick back up on the next episode. In the meantime, I have some great news. We have been steadily growing. Not only in new content with thought provoking, new episodes lined up but also in audio quality. Help us continue to grow in 2019 by rating and reviewing our podcast, as well as sharing us with a friend or colleague. Episodes are available anywhere you get your podcast including iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. For show notes or for additional information, find us at BBTleadershipinstitute.com. Leadership Amplitude is a podcast production of The BB&T Leadership Institute. All rights reserved.

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