Listening

Listening to people is such an important part of the work I am doing. Our ability to listen helped us change the format of our interviews to accommodate what people were saying. We were able to identify what things we kept hearing and we developed a new method of interviewing people to focus on those things. This change in format not only helped our focus, but it also helped the interviewees gain an understanding of what we were expecting to learn from them.

We originally were going into interviews with a poster, asking people to explain the responsibilities of eight people that were listed on the board. Here, the interviewees had a reference that showed them all of the people involved in on-boarding a new manager, but they had to explain what these people were responsible for from memory or personal experience. Sometimes this left us without a full understanding of what new managers were experiencing.

Some of the people we interviewed may have focused on explaining how difficult it is for new managers to understand who key people were in their new work environment but neglected to explain how these new manager’s learned to physically navigate their new environment. We were hearing similar things from different people but we were having trouble making sure everyone was talking about the same thing. This is where we decided to focus on identifying key obstacles a new manager faces when getting acclimated to their new work environment. We based these key obstacles off of things we heard from new managers, their contacts in HR, senior sponsors, and those people who have recently hired a manager. We were able to identify 19 basic obstacles.

Identifying these obstacles allowed us to use these as a component to our interviews. Instead of just listing people who play a role in the on-boarding process and asking what their responsibilities are, we now asked who was responsible for addressing these key obstacles. The format changed from “What does a Chief Human Resource Officer do?” to “Which one of these people is responsible for helping a new manager identify a mentor?” After just a few interviews, we discovered the person who is hiring the new manager has the most responsibility regarding a new managers obstacles.

Working with Meghan and Matt, we were able to compile our findings into a series of graphics. These were really effective tools for capturing our findings. When we delivered the graphics, our client was surprisingly receptive. Going into the meeting, I thought that we were going to have to walk our clients through what each graphic represented and what it all meant. We covered the walls of the room we were meeting in with our materials from the most recent interviews. To our amazement the conversation with our client was much more productive than usual.

We delivered a graphic that showed how peoples’ perceptions of where responsibilities lie were different from the original perception. The client(s) discussed amongst themselves what they were interpreting from the graphics and how it contradicted the original approach. The most amazing thing was when one of them said “maybe we should change our entire approach.” This comment was entirely unprovoked and was even followed by a discussion of where and when concepts embracing a new approach can be implemented. This type of thinking is a great departure from how conversations with this client usually harp on meaningless details like what color a web-app search bar should be.

If the only thing that comes out of this semester’s work is changing the direction HR is taking from developing something for newly hired managers to focusing on hiring managers, I would consider it a success. Of course, I would love to develop something more meaningful and concrete like what that product or service is going to be. Changing a the direction of a corporate client is a daunting task. All it took was some really killer listening skills and post-its.

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