Originally published on Simply Communicate
So the Pope has spoken passionately on climate change and drawn the traditional flak from the far right and others who don’t like interference in their activities. In South Africa we are well used to politicians and others telling the church to ‘stop meddling in politics’, to ‘stop meddling in things that you know nothing about.’
But it is interesting, because I am an HR professional. What do I know about climate change or the International Criminal Court or foreign policy matters? Does that mean I should have no opinions, should not hold scientists and politicians to account? That is the strength and purpose of democracy. It recognises that all of us have a right and an obligation to take an active part in what is done in our name. Whether we are the Pope or a clerk, a CEO or a street sweeper, politicians and business leaders make decisions and take actions that affect us and the future of our world. We have every right, and we have an obligation, to speak out. If the Pope is barred from giving his carefully considered perspective, if others not directly involved are to keep quiet, we are left with the voice only of those caught up in it all, those with a vested interest in specific outcomes. Will we leave the decision of whether to go to war to military chiefs and arms manufacturers?
You and I might not know much about how things work; we may not be able to give advice on steps to be taken, but we have a right to talk about the outcomes we want to see, the values we hold dear and the future we desire. We have a right to question practices that violate the freedoms of others, the ‘end justifies the means’ approach to business and politics. We have a right to stand up for those who are marginalised by the ‘greater good’ philosophy of those in power. And the voice of those who think differently from us, who have different values, should be encouraged and cherished rather than denounced and ridiculed.
The same is true in a business. As leaders and managers, we need to welcome and encourage those who are willing to bring a contrary view, to challenge entrenched practices and values. They might not be right, but if we are not willing to listen, we are stuck with a small band of like-minded people doing what they have always done.
It’s not going to happen by itself. We need to be actively listening. We need to get out onto the factory floor, or wherever our people are working and talking. What is important to them? What makes sense to them? What worries them – whether about the business or about the world, their families or your customers? They won’t bare their souls the first time you ask them; you have to earn their trust. They have to get used to the idea of a boss who wants to know.
I can think of three questions that could become part of your staple diet.
> What are you working on?
> Is there a better way to do it?
> How does it help the customer?
The first tells them you are interested in what they are doing. The other two show them what is important to you and how to think outward instead of inward.
What questions do you ask the people around you?