Salford City has drawn more than its fair share of attention of late with the BBC moving its broadcasting studios there and more recently a television documentary entitled Class of 92: Out of Their League, highlighting the ups and downs of football ownership from the perspective of 5 ex-Manchester United players: Ryan GiggsGary NevillePhil NevillePaul Scholes and Nicky Butt who in 2012 took a 50% ownership positon in the club.

On Friday I sat with my 18 year-old son, himself a keen player, to catch up on how the team did in their second season, having won promotioClass of 92n in their first season. The first half of the programme was quite depressing to watch as the team failed to perform to expectations and the joint managers approach to motivation was to shout louder and include more and more swear words that the programme makers eventually gave up bleeping them out! It was a great example of management at its worst!

Fortunately the managers reached a point where they stepped back, took a look at themselves in the mirror and asked themselves some questions around their approach and decided to try another way.  Instead of shouting, they started listening and asking.  What is going wrong?  Why?  What can we do to change what we are doing?

As they asked questions and listen to the feedback of their players things started to change.  And as they praised what the team was doing well rather than only focus on what was going wrong, the confidence of the team members returned. This same set of heroic players that had gained them promotion the season beforehand had become a useless group of incompetents.  Not because they had lost their skills but because they had lost their way.

Leadership and management is all about supporting those that we have been empowered to work with to fulfill their potential, to stretch beyond their level of comfort and, as a result, to be successful.

Key to the turnaround with Salford City was asking for feedback and listening to and acting upon what was shared.  Within the corporate world we do this informally through the interaction between managers and their employees (some better than others), as well as more formally through the annual employee survey.

For some the annual employee survey ‘ticks the box’ and ‘strokes the ego’ of the leadership of the organisation that it is listening and that employees are happy (depending on the resultant score of course!).  Some organisations; however, take this very seriously and take action intent on improving the scores in specific areas, with resultant improvements to the survey scores the following year.  The challenge; however, is that the ‘once-a-year’ approach to listening is a little like taking a photo of a moving train, as soon as you have taken the photo it has moved on to other vistas.  So it is with our organisations – as soon as we have taken a snapshot of the organisation at a point in time, changes take place and therefore so does how we feel about the organisation and our roles within.

In response to this survey providers have themselves listened and made changes that supporting organisations ‘listening-in’ more frequently and around key events impacting the future of the organisation.  The annual (census) survey is now being complemented with quarterly (pulse) surveys and more regular (polling) surveys where the voice of all of part of the organisation can be listened to and actions taken in a much more timely and regular fashion.

As the managers at Salford City found to their delight, asking questions, listening to the responses and acting upon what is suggested can turn around a negative situation – the result for them they won promotion for the second season in a row.

Organisations who truly have an appetite for promotion within their industry sectors will do well to learn from the experience of Salford City and explore how the new era of employee voice can help them drive their success too.

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