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September 01, 2013
Listen to your associates—Part of the fifth element in digital business
By: Mark McDonald

A successful digital business is more than the sum of its information, technology and connections. It may be easy to measure advertising, eyeballs, likes, sales, etc, but there is a fifth element in digital business—people.

Raising human ability is the expectation for everything digital. Human ability places people at the center of the digital business model—customers and associates alike.

The digital world places new demands on associates as previously predictable and predefined business processes give way to the demands of the non-stop customer. The impact on associates is real as digital business requires them to be more customer centric, adaptive, understanding, faster and tolerant of consistent change.

Being an associate in a digital business is thrilling and challenging. It also generates tension, problems, and frustrations that associates need to express from time to time. How executives and managers respond to these frustrations and problems will be a significant factor in the flexibility and ability of the entire workforce.

A long time ago I received one of those broadcast emails sharing some homespun advice and an expression of what an associate expected from their manager. I kept that email for more than 15 years referring to it whenever an associate approached me with a challenge. I did not always heed this advice, but when I did it always built confidence and capability in the associate and stronger relationships all around.

It is called Listen to Me and its written from the perspective of the associate advising their manager.

Listen to me

When I ask you to listen to me
And you start giving advice
You have not done what I asked

When I ask you to listen to me
And you begin to tell me why I should not feel that way
You are trivializing my feelings

When I ask you to listen to me
And you feel that you have to do something to solve my problem,
You have failed me, strange as that may seem

All that i asked was that you listen,
Not to talk, or do...
Just to hear me

I can do it myself:
I am not helpless
Maybe discouraged and faltering,
But not helpless

When you do something for me that I need to do for myself,
You contribute to my fear and weakness

But when you accept the simple fact that I do feel what I feel,
No matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you, and you can get about the business of understanding what is behind the irrational feeling. And when that's clear, the answers are obvious and I do not need advice.

Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what is behind them

So please listen and hear me... wait a minute and I will listen to you

I wish I remembered who authored the email and the advice, but I have carried this message across too many devices, email system conversions and organizations to know.

"Listen to me" gets at the fundamental need for everyone to be heard, respected and encouraged. Three things important in any workplace, but critical in the dynamic world of digital business.

Digital business success involves management innovation and evolution. Aspects often hidden in the drive to digital transformation. If success requires a dynamic workforce and culture, that workforce has to come from somewhere.

Management innovators talk about democratizing the workforce, increasing transparency and responsibility, and the future of work in the digital age. All of those changes start with the basic nature of human relationships.

While everything changes with digital, many things remain the same. In this case, it is the power of people and how they come together, listen and engage, that starts adopting a different attitude, particularly in the face of natural tensions created in digital transformation.

It starts whenever someone approaches you and asks—can you listen to me?

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