Every Organization Should Shut Up and Listen

One year into a three-year study, two Visiting Scholars at Stanford University have found that for-profit businesses are way ahead of nonprofits in reaping the benefits of listening to the people who use their services.

For-profits invite customers into company processes to help shape outcomes. They recognize the value of working with customers on marketing, creative processes, prototypes, and even hiring, and they’re listening at scale. They listen because they know it can make them money. Every $1 invested yields returns of $2–100.

Nonprofits, on the whole, have failed to listen and routinely underperform as a result. But the biggest problem may be an attitude that they’re the more fortunate helping the less fortunate, an assumption that those in need of aid have no expertise or valuable insights to contribute, resulting in lower impact.

“When you design with only 10 percent of the relevant intel, you come up with answers that are only 10 percent solved,” said Jess Rimington, one of the study’s authors. “We urgently need to unlock to the other 90 percent waiting.”

84 percent of interviewees said that the mindset of the for impact tribe as the primary barrier to listening. A lack of willingness to invest in innovation also negatively affects nonprofits and social enterprise. Not talking too much helps too.

Listening can be a critical component of impact and profit but this goes a lot deeper than surveys. It’s trusting your user’s expertise to determine outcomes in your company.

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Photo Credit: Jonas Christian Hansen