Listening for the Unexpected

Listening for the Unexpected

Muehrcke, Jill

Listening, real listening, takes skill and practice. When done right, listening is one of the best tools you have for creating an innovative, productive organization.

Yet few people reap the benefits of active listening. Instead, they hurry through conversations, thinking about what they want to say next, impatient to move on, missing the germ of an idea that often appears in the most surprising places (see “How to Listen, and Listen Well” on page 31).

Shrewd leaders not only hone the art of deep listening; they also make listening a hallmark of the organizations they lead. They create systems for listening, as David Bornstein explains in How to Change to World (see “Four Practices of Innovative Organizations” on page 30).

In “Regular People, Spectacular Results” (page 18), Paul Lemberg and Tom Matzen describe such an organization-wide system for listening. They detail a way to be sure your organization finds and retains the best possible people, using the kind of careful listening that reveals people’s deepest values. At first glance, this recruitment system may seem like a radical break from tradition, but it’s based on a solid process, founded on values and guiding principles. Not only docs it save time and money, hut it assures that your employees want to be part of your organization and love what they’re doing.

Such breakthroughs come most often when we put aside our preconceptions and simply listen. Once you start listening to people, there are no limits to the opportunities you’ll uncover. You’ll find that the most valuable answers come when you’re not looking for an answer, and the greatest insights arise from the unforeseen.

Listen to your donors, clients, employees, and other stakeholders to find out what they really want, not what you think they want (see “What Do Donors Want?” on page 32 and “How to Increase Donations from Local Businesses” on page 7). Be alert to new ways of fulfilling your mission. For example, “Why You Should Consider Trademark Protection” (page 10) explains how registering your organization’s name and services can help you raise funds as well as keep your identity safe and guard against devastating lawsuits. For other innovative approaches, see “Creative Fundraising Ideas” on page 8 and “Charity Begins on the Web: Tips to Enhance Online Fundraising” on page 25.

One of the best vehicles to a dialogue about your organization is the strategic plan. As your board and staff work together on a plan, they forge a powerful interaction, a strong relationship, and mutual understanding that can come only from deep listening (see “Strategic Planning on a Budget” on page 14 and “Who’s Minding the Store?” on page 21). Such a plan isn’t a piece of paper you file away but a dynamic part of your daily conversations and decisions.

Don’t just hear what people say. Make listening a conscious habit that’s part of everything you and your organization do. Open your mind, and let the listening begin.

Jill Muehrcke

Editor, Nonprofit World

Copyright Society For Nonprofit Organizations Jul/Aug 2005

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