When beginning your Chief of Staff role, we encourage following the Dale Carnegie approach of listening first. Whether you are a current or new employee, spending ample time observing and learning from your colleagues sets a strong precedent for your role—it creates open lines of communication, provides context, and builds stronger relationships.
What is a listening tour? A listening tour is a series of active conversations with your colleagues to gather information, insights, context, and new ideas on how your role can be most effective. Diving into your new Chief of Staff role without input from others can lead to serious consequences later.
While a listening tour opens the door for communication and conversation, it is also an opportunity for you to better define and explain your role. Of course, you don’t know all the ins and outs of your role at the start, but you can share what you do know to create clarity and assuage concerns.
1. Determine Your Audience
First, understand whom you need to talk to. Most often, listening tours are conducted with those who work closest with you and your leader. You’ve likely had several conversations with your leader already, and those should continue. Conversations with his/her direct reports and members of the leadership team are important as well. We also recommend going beyond the leadership team to feel the pulse of the organization. Speaking to middle managers can often uncover information different from what you hear from SVPs. Gather a list of approximately 8-10 people for your first listening tour.
2. Communicate Your Purpose
Before embarking on your conversations, it is helpful to provide context and rationale for your efforts. Give your colleagues an opportunity to reflect and make the most of the conversation by sending a communication about your goal with the listening tour. Something like, “As a new Chief of Staff, I want to take adequate time at the start of this role to understand the unique needs and challenges of our organization. Therefore, I ask for your insights, ideas, and perspectives and will be scheduling time on each of your calendars over the next few weeks. I am hopeful that our dialogue will help ensure the effectiveness of my role and benefit all of us.”
3. Prepare Your Questions
As any strong Chief of Staff knows, it is important to be prepared. Therefore, make sure you have an overall goal and direction for each conversation. Remember, these conversations should flow naturally and not feel like an interrogation of your colleagues. You needn’t ask the same questions of everyone. Some may have specific challenges to discuss with you and others may ask, “What exactly will you do in this role?” Although you should be doing more listening than talking in these conversations, remember that people will want to learn more about the decision behind creating your new position. Asking your colleagues, “What were your initial thoughts or concerns when you learned about this Chief of Staff role?” can be a great way to break the ice on any confusion or concern they may have.
This is a listening tour, not a political rally. You must listen closely to what your colleagues are saying in every conversation. Probe their responses to get to the heart of what they are telling you, but do so respectfully. Ask a question and stop talking. Be attentive and active in your listening.
5. Keep Listening
The purpose of the listening tour is not “one and done.” Through your initial listening, you create an open line of communication with your colleagues, and it is important for you to continue to listen throughout your role, not only at the beginning. This is a critical step that cannot be overlooked. Take time regularly to have informal conversations with your colleagues beyond scheduled one-on-ones or leadership team meetings. Circle back on topics addressed during your conversations to show you were paying attention and you are working to enhance your work environment.