Interview with the leading expert within communication, Julian Treasure
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m founder and chairman of The Sound Agency, a global audio branding agency that asks and answers the question “how does your brand sound?”. For 16 years I’ve been helping organisations to design with their ears as well as their eyes, creating better customer engagement and experience; now we also make sound to enhance wellbeing and productivity in offices. My vision is a world that sounds beautiful, where conscious listening and speaking create understanding. My five TED talks and eight TEDx talks about aspects of sound have been seen 100 million times, and I’ve written two books: Sound Business and the award-winning How To Be Heard.
What is “The Listening Organization”?
Mostly, it’s rare! Listening is a skill that’s under threat for many reasons, not least technology and pace of change. My TED talk on speaking has six times as many views as my talk on listening, which is a pretty good indicator of organisational communication priorities: say ‘ communication’ and an organisation will immediately be thinking about advertising, PR, social media – almost all outbound, involving speaking and not listening. A listening organisation places listening at the heart of its values and follows through to create listening behaviours in all situations. It listens to its employees, customers and stakeholders. It trains, measures and rewards listening skills. It has structures in place to elicit and reward inbound communication – whether ideas, suggestions, comments or complaints – and it acts on what it hears. The research shows that the benefits are enormous: better staff morale, greater customer loyalty and retention, and better results.
How did you come up with the idea and strategy of “The Listening Organization”?
I can’t claim to have invented this idea, but I am delighted to pull together my own experience over 16 year with the available research and my own thinking to do what I do best – which is to powerfully express something that’s important, obvious when you think about it – and yet largely ignored. Sound affects us all. Listening is fundamental to all relationships and outcomes, whether at home or at work. I am passionate about transforming the listening of organisations and of individuals: it will have a seismic effect on our increasingly crowded and fats-paced world.
Why is “The Listening Organization” relevant to the overall theme of Leading Through Change?
It’s not easy to lead people if you don’t understand them. Conscious listening always creates understanding; the absence of it creates the kind of polarised politics we’ve been enduring over the last few years, especially recently in my country. This is a slippery slope. Never have we needed listening more in the world. Leaders who listen are more alert to change. Listening is the primary warning sense for almost all vertebrates. If alert, we can listen for opportunity, and for danger. Not listening in a fast-changing world is almost bound to end in failure.
What actions should a company take tomorrow to be a listening organization?
It will take time: this is not a memo or a plaque on the wall. It takes commitment from the top, resources, perseverance and structures. Most of all it takes a listening leadership, because just telling people to listen does not work! Training in listening skills is essential, from the top down. Assessment and reward will help – for example, asking about listening skills in 360 degree reviews and giving bonuses for those who do well or improve. Structures making it easy to comment and encourage, rather than suppress, honest feedback are essential too. A great first step would be to join the International Listening Association; also to benchmark and measure progress, Peakon is excellent for employee engagement, and the Leesman Index does the same for office environment. My book How To Be Heard and my new online training might also be useful!