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ATD Blog

One Thing TD Execs Should Do Right Now: Listen

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

In the TD world, we have had lots of conversations about how the pandemic has accelerated the move toward remote work and virtual learning. But it appears that our response to the virus, combined with the social justice movement, has accelerated another trend.

Before these latest disruptions, companies were already becoming more concerned with employee well-being. We were going beyond physical health and productivity to emotional and mental health, social connectivity, financial education, sense of purpose and fulfillment, and more. World events have accelerated that movement and the need to for it. Like any other leader, we need to listen, listen differently, and listen more. And as talent development professionals, we need to help others to do the same.

This is a time for us to listen differently. We must broaden our focus from just the work being done to the person doing it, from “What are you doing?” to “How are you doing?” The workplace didn’t just move from the office to the home. It changed. People are facing a (potentially new) set of issues about their health, safety, and livelihoods. We need to understand what is affecting them.

We will have to listen more than once. It will take time for people to trust that you are listening. And the concerns they carry with them will not go away after a single conversation. We can be deliberate about reaching out to individuals more often, pulling teams together, and making more connections with people who live and now work alone. We can institute a virtual open-door policy by setting virtual open office hours and randomly reaching out to those who don’t drop by. In that same way, we can create occasions for more spontaneous connections among team members by creating virtual water coolers and setting aside time for cohorts to connect.

As TD professionals, we also have an opportunity to help others to listen more and differently. We can provide coaching, tools, and training on how to have difficult conversations, about how to listen, and when and how to act. We can (continue to) teach about empathy, inclusion, and a host of other skills critical for successful managers. Those skills may never be more important than they are right now.

We can prepare others on how they can best handle difficult situations that are beyond their training and about how to connect troubled employees to resources that can help them. And we can help them to understand that it is OK to be imperfect or feel overwhelmed.

This is the era of the whole person. Work life is not separated from the rest of life. Concerns about health and safety, social injustice, family, and friends aren’t checked at the office door. For the foreseeable future, many of us won’t even enter the office door. We are working with the whole, complex, amazing person. And to understand who that is, we’ll have to listen.

About the Author

Timothy J. Tobin is a learning and leadership development professional with over 25 years of experience. He is committed to helping people and organizations achieve their greatest potential. Throughout his career, he has been directly responsible for the development of thousands of leaders from C-level to first time leaders across multiple industries. He is the author of Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire, and Motivate (Berrett Koehler).

Tim is Vice President, Franchisee Onboarding and Learning, at Choice Hotels International. Previously, he was vice president for global learning and leadership development at Marriott International. Tim has also held senior learning and leadership development roles in multiple professional services organizations both as a consultant and internally as a department head. He has stood up and elevated multiple corporate universities.

Tim has led outstanding teams throughout his career. Programs developed under his leadership have won multiple awards including Chief Learning Officer awards for Global Leadership Development and Innovative Learning, Bersin & Associates awards for Leadership Development Strategy Excellence, Enabling High Impact Learning, Learning and Talent Initiative Excellence, and Operational Excellence, and the Helios HR Apollo award for outstanding employee development programs. In 2017, Tim was recognized for Outstanding Services to the Learning Industry by the Global Council on Corporate Universities.

Tim received an Ed.D. in Human Resources Development from George Washington University, an M.A. in Organizational Management from University of Phoenix, and a B.A. in Psychology from University of Delaware. He also maintains both a SHRM-SCP and SPHR certifications. He has been an adjunct professor spanning over 20 years at several universities including University of Maryland, Catholic University, Trinity University and George Washington University. He has also been a member of several academic and professional advisory boards.

Tim is a frequent invited speaker and panelist and has presented his work at numerous regional, national and international conferences. His writing has been published in diverse outlets such as Harvard Business Review Blog, The International Journal of Strategic Business Alliances, Drucker Forum, SmartCEO Magazine, Leadership Excellence, Organization Management Journal, and Social Psychology and Education, among other academic and popular press outlets.

On a personal note, Tim has completed numerous endurance athletic events including a 4.4-mile open water swim, multiple century bike rides, over a dozen marathons, and more than five ironman triathlons.

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