One listening channel for every ten broadcasting channels. We have two ears and one mouth - why are we shouting and not listening?

Laura Potgieter |  31 January 2023

Communication is defined as shared meaning and understanding, through the exchange of ideas, information, and messages. Yet, as communicators, the global trend of a severe lack of dialogue and too little emphasis placed on listening and closing feedback loops is glaring. Leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say; the essence of storytelling through conversation has been lost in translation.

Employees and customers often say they have not seen any communication or action as a result of surveys they engage in. Regardless of how the information is collected, to keep employees engaged and productive, organisations must stay on top of their pulse to get their views / opinions, requirements, potential problems, and motivations in real-time, and most importantly, respond accordingly through targeted interventions.

The DevCom team has developed a specific method of conducting research over the past 17 years, focusing on qualitative data-gathering to get to the heart of issues, by probing deeper and engaging in difficult conversations. Our three-step qualitative research process ensures that our clients and beneficiaries receive analytics that resolve their issues and express their perceptions and stories authentically. When used and acted upon, surveys can then drive significant changes in organisational culture, leadership behaviours, and broader business operations.

We have won 45 Global and Local Awards, all based on solid research principles. Each award required us to document our approach and its results, and we have been using these results and case studies to successfully influence our client’s decision to invest in research. We use communication to address business needs, to realise the business strategy and to use research in baseline form. We then evaluate and measure to inform and direct the implementation of the communication solutions. As part of our annual strategic review, we recently analysed the impact of our approach as strategic communicators focused on implementing the global standard. We concluded that our consistent approach to always do qualitative research, has become a bespoke and effective research innovation.

DevCom has conducted 207 research studies since 2005 for 68 clients in 15 different industries. Of these, only two projects did not result in an action plan that led to implementation and results. We asked our clients to participate in a research evaluation process to prove our case and a sample size of 16% (11 out of 68) completed a facilitated survey or interview, informing the trends that drive clients to approach us for projects and research. Interesting but not surprisingly, either our clients didn’t use research before partnering with DevCom or they only did quantitative surveys. If they used qualitative research, it constituted approximately 20% of their research efforts.

The following trends identified over the course of 17 years of doing research is why our clients are driven to approach us for the projects and research.

  1. The client has an employee engagement or culture survey done annually, which informs them on WHAT is wrong, not WHY, and how to fix it. Clients usually approach us to understand the context of existing quantitative research or business measurement indicators. 
  2. There is a challenge in production, manufacturing, or operational areas that they can’t resolve. They have tried different approaches but don’t move the needle in resolving measurable business issues. 
  3. There is a challenge in customer, employee, or community relations, and they have tried the traditional routes and still don’t solve the problems that have a business impact. They usually approach us with relational or human issues that pose a business risk and are generally urgent.

These are typically the business results our clients achieve after research:

We need to shift from broadcasting messages at people and instead engage them in a meaningful, productive dialogue. The value of the narrative of changing behaviour lies in listening and then believing what your customers and employees say. When the messages aren’t landing, leaders shout louder and don’t ask why. We have two ears and one mouth, yet, for 10 broadcasting channels in the business, there is only one listening channel. People are wired for connection, and solutions almost always come from the bottom up, but it is common for leaders in organisations to ignore their employees’ and customers’ growing demands. To drive real, tangible improvements throughout the company, it is important to look beyond surveys and listen to the full voice of all the people they engage with.

Our Founder and CEO, Mari Lee joined Katie Macaulay for a podcast where they spoke about the value of qualitative research and also shared some tips for all internal communicators. 

You can listen to the podcast on Spotify for free here.