Listen to Understand – Not Simply to Reply

I have worked for a few organizations where the concept of the CEO was to help customers improve their business by understanding their business and business needs, create solutions via services with hardware and software, and provide support throughout the entire life-cycle.  Using these concepts in addition to my own beliefs, I recently presented to a group of prospects and customers.  I have long been convinced that selling a widget only goes so far.  Solving business problems, embeds you into the fabric of an enterprise.

Far too often, people believe in what they are doing without understanding it.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”, Stephen R. Covey.

That sums it up nicely.  This is so true in our personal and professional lives.  It has been my experience in the organizations which I have toiled throughout my career (20+ years) that many folks in IT or in the technology industry as a whole simply do not ‘understand‘.  They do not understand what the business is attempting to ‘develop’.  They do not understand what an organization is trying to ‘evolve’ to.  They do not understand what their peers are attempting to ‘solve’ in another division.  As I too am in the industry, I have to include myself when I proclaim that we must strive to ‘understand through listening’.  We cannot afford to make the mistake of not asking questions and challenging the answers:

Employee –> “Our direction is to virtualize everything!”

Typical  Response –> “OK, how much do you need?”

Appropriate listening –> “Why?  Is the business headed toward change in the strategy or model of doing business?  What brought this on?  How will this effect the way you do business?”

In the short-term, serving the need for licensing will suffice; however, we do ourselves an injustice or disservice if we leave it at that.  It’s like buying plane tickets before we know where we are going.  We know we need to go somewhere but have not thought of the path since we do not know the destination.  How will we know when we get there?  What are the pitfalls along the way?  Guiding organizations away from pitfalls sounds easy but can take an extensive amount of knowledge about the business model, not just the IT elements.

As I was presenting and walking through the tables where the customers and prospects were sitting, I went through the slides I had prepared and shared personal experience to the risks associated with myopic thinking (understanding).  I talked about a firm that I was consulting.  The IT folks had identified 55 mission critical applications.  Ironically, the business (through multiple workshops with multiple business units and one-on-one interviews) identified 55 mission critical functions.  When correlated (functions to processes to applications), there were only 9 that overlapped both lists.  The firm was astounded.  They thought they had things covered, not only from a Business Continuity perspective but also a Disaster Recovery perspective.  As I shared this experience, I asked the room if they had talked to the facilities guys lately, let alone the business units to be certain of alignment.  One brave soul meekly said, “No”.  I went on to share that this firm was able to reduce the number of clustered applications because their cargo unit had way over protected given the amount of risk and dollars associated with an outage in that business unit.

If I had not ‘listened’, the organization would have been under protected in a majority of the business and continued to over protect in other areas.  The point really is that I ‘understood the business, the processes, the direction, and the matrix of infrastructure instead of taking their word for it.  We need to challenge the ‘conversation’ and standard thoughts.

Most Importantly, listen!  Listen to understand, not simply reply.


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