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Go on Tour

Throughout my leadership career, one of my staples was regularly connecting with the people I worked with, whether my boss, my direct reports, or my peers across the organization. Years later, I read Scott Eblin’s The Next Level, and he described this technique beautifully when he talked about going on a listening tour. Today we’ll talk about when, why, and how to use this strategy.

Why Go on Tour

Why does a band go on tour? Often, they are promoting a new album. Perhaps they want to grow their popularity in a particular world region. Or maybe this is their farewell tour, where they want to thank their fans and give them one last incredible experience. They may play different venues and craft different set lists depending on the tour strategy.

Similarly, there are numerous reasons for going on a listening tour, which impact who you plan to meet, what questions you ask, what information you convey, and how you share it. Some examples:

  • A New Leader Reporting to You. You’ll want to bring this leader and their team into your department seamlessly, and you’ll want to understand how this team interfaces with the rest of the organization.
  • Strengthening Your Network. My Strengthening Connections blog post gets at the heart of this.
  • A Personal Rebranding. Often when I conduct 360 feedback interviews, my coachee learns about blind spots they didn’t know they had. While the coachee may be able to correct the behavior on their own, a listening tour can often accelerate the process and help change perceptions. The tour can help rebrand the coachee’s image with stakeholders.
  • A New Role. Whether a new role at your existing company or a switch to an entirely different organization, you have new stakeholders, and you’ll need multiple listening tours.

Choose Your Venues

With the tour’s purpose in mind, you must choose your venues. For example, I remember when Pearl Jam decided to only play small, intimate venues to be closer to their fans. For our purpose, the “venues” are the stops on your listening tours, specifically the people you will connect with. Considering the same examples:

  • A New Leader Reporting to You. Of course, you’ll spend time with the new leader. Consider a skip-level meeting with each of that leader’s direct reports. You may also want to talk to key organizational stakeholders who interface with that leader and team.
  • Strengthening Your Network. In his b ook,Eblin talks about looking left, right, and diagonally as we lead. We are generally good about leading up with our boss and down with our direct reports. In today’s environment, it’s critical that we focus on our peers within our department, key stakeholders in other departments, and diagonally to people anywhere in the organization who play a part in our success. 
  • A Personal Rebranding. Who are the stakeholders (up, down, left, right, and diagonally) most impacted by the behavior you want to change? Who are the ones you trust the most to give you feedback to support the change?
  • A New Role. You’ll want a world tour covering all of the above – up, down, left, right, and diagonally.

Plan Your Set List

Just like a band plans out the set list for the show, you want to plan what information you want to convey and what questions you want to ask.

Possible items for a new leader reporting to you:

  • What is working well today?
  • What needs improvement?
  • What did your previous manager do that you want me to continue doing?
  • What did they do you’re hoping I won’t do?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • How do you like to receive feedback?
  • What’s the best way to communicate with you?
  • Where do you see yourself two years from now? Five years from now?
  • Here is the best way to communicate with me.
  • Here is how I like to receive feedback.
  • What questions do you have for me? (always leave time for this)

Possible questions for skip-level meetings (talking to the direct reports of your direct report):

  • What is working well today?
  • What needs improvement?
  • What do you value in your manager’s leadership style?
  • Is there anything you wish your manager did differently?
  • Where do you see yourself two years from now? Five years from now?
  • What questions do you have for me?

Possible questions for strengthening your network

  • What do you rely on my team and me for?
  • How satisfied are you with our results?
  • What is working well today?
  • What needs improvement?
  • What’s a crazy idea that, if implemented, could allow us to get breakthrough performance?
  • How do you like to receive feedback?
  • What’s the best way to communicate with you?
  • What questions do you have for me?

Possible items for rebranding:

  • Explain the feedback you have received.
  • Explain what you are doing to address the feedback.
  • Do you think this will enable me to change the behavior?
  • What else can I do to improve in this area?
  • Ask them to observe you with fresh eyes, knowing you are working on the behavior.
  • Ask them to give you timely, direct, confidential feedback on your progress. Make sure they know to give you positive and constructive feedback.

I’ll close with two of my favorite tours.

My New Leader Tour

I had a new leader move under me many years ago who was well-respected across the organization. He had (and still has) an incredible work ethic and great integrity, and I was excited to be working with him and his team. I conducted a listening tour with each of his direct reports to understand the team’s current state. 30-minute meetings, three simple questions. What is working well? What needs improvement? What questions do you have for me?

Overall, things were going remarkably well. That being said, every direct report cited their daily morning meeting as an area for improvement. The team met for an hour each morning to review the status and work through any hot issues. Typically the hot issues didn’t require the entire team, just a few individuals. Even though everyone on the team felt this way, no one had given the leader this feedback. He pivoted to a 10-minute daily standup but asked everyone to keep the full hour protected on their calendar. After the standup, if there were critical issues, he’d keep only the people needed to resolve that issue and let everyone else depart. Investing four hours of my time in the listening tour earned back more than four hours of productivity across the team every day. Their satisfaction with the leader climbed even higher.

My World Tour

In 2012, my company combined with our most significant competitor to form a new organization. This was a radical change for me. Overnight I went from leading an R&D organization of 150 based almost entirely in a single office to a group of 400 working at offices around the globe, with a much larger remote employee population.

I needed to engage with my new leaders and teams. I wanted them to understand my values and know that I was serious when I told them my door was always open, literally and figuratively, if they wanted to talk. I wanted to do what I could to put people’s minds at ease and understand that this combination was a good thing for both companies and all of us.

Over two months, I visited all our major locations – Fairfax, VA. Malvern, PA. Rochester, NY. Frisco, TX. Salt Lake City, UT. Vashon Island, WA. Puebla, Mexico. Bangalore, India. At every location, I held a town hall where I introduced myself, shared my values and style, walked the team through the current state of the union both for R&D and the company, and answered many questions. I met with every key leader in each office and separately with each team. I had a set list for each meeting. I listened, learned, took notes, and answered questions. To this day, I have a vivid memory of each one of those visits. I learned so much and built some incredible relationships.

Is it time for you to go on tour?

Schedule time with Josh.

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