Shut up and listen

This is the third instalment of my reflections on the PULSE mission to Change Yourself; Change Communities; Change GSK   (click on the links to read my reflections on the first two if you haven’t already)

I’m now six weeks into my assignment, have settled in well and now feel like I’m contributing valuable inputs to my very fast-paced global project. I’m very much enjoying the here and now, living the experience to the full (and begging it to go more slowly!). GSK does seem a long way away, but is definitely not forgotten. I’m very proud to tell people GSK is my employer when introducing myself, and how privileged I am to be a part of the inspirational programme that is PULSE. Everyone is very grateful for the resource GSK freely shares for the benefit of NGOs.   Having recently had my 30-day check-in and a touch base with my GSK manager, now is a good time to start to reflect on how I might contribute to changing GSK through my PULSE experience. PULSE is not a one-way process.

The inspiring, energising, yet practical PULSE orientation training we attended in May seems like an eon away – but there were a couple of stand-out moments for me that I’ve drawn on in my first weeks at Save the Children, and they both relate to listening …

1.) Take time to listen

See the source image
Click on the image to open the talk (17′)

We were shown a fantastic TED talk by Ernesto Sirolli (from which I stole the title for this blog). What is the link between Italian tomatoes and hippos? … funnily enough it is listening! I won’t tell you too much more, because I highly recommend you take a few minutes to watch it for yourself. The purpose of this video was to instil in us the importance of taking the time to observe, absorb and listen – maybe for up to 4 weeks – before jumping in with suggestions, solutions and getting down to tasks for our NGO.


I really took this on board, and during my first weeks I have listened, made notes (a whole book of them in just 3 weeks!), reflected and made sense of the purpose, structure, processes and culture in my new workplace.   I wasn’t mute; I asked curious questions to find out more, and revelled in the naïvety of having fresh eyes and offering a new perspective with my observations. I didn’t however jump too quickly to my objectives, plans and actions – I made my first objective to listen, learn and build relationships – how liberating that has been. Almost 4 weeks to the day, I finally got down to what I might have called ‘real work’ – establishing a new project team and regular meetings for the 13 STC members who will lead on the integrated centenary campaign.   I’ve had some lovely feedback on how well I’ve learnt and understood the organisation in such a short time. It wasn’t by coincidence – I put it down to the fact that I paused and really listened, and that is now paying off. Listening is not time wasted, it is integral to setting us up for success. I believe we can apply that principle much more effectively at GSK too, let’s listen and learn a bit more before we race off at high-speed into the world of plans, actions, tasks, deliverables and metrics.

2.) Great leaders listen

One of the final sessions of our orientation turned into an impromptu listening session with Ahsiya Mencin, the PULSE lead and the recently appointed Head of Employee Experience. We were 55 people in one room; from all corners of the GSK world – be that geography, division or role. After a few minutes of personal reflection, where we jotted down our thoughts on a few simple questions, the floor was opened up to talk and more importantly listen.   Everyone contributed; candidly, honestly and respectfully – sharing their perspectives on what doesn’t feel right and recommendations on ways in which we might grow our culture for the better.

There were no defensive reactions, no judgements, no justifications … just courage, trust and a sense of optimism that we are a powerful force that can be a ripple for change. The majority of us were happy to put our name to our notes, so they could be collated and explored further. In the weeks that followed, more listening sessions were set up to delve deeper into aspects of leadership, empowerment and complexity; so many great insights were shared. It was fabulous to see a summary of these sessions go to GSK’s Office of the CEO last week.  I feel that my voice was heard – I think I even recognised one of my quotes in the summary! Being truly listened to makes staff feel trusted, empowered and valued – that is the key to unlocking our culture. Thank you to the PULSE team for enabling this and modelling great leadership.

I know I’m a good talker, and I don’t intend to change that; but speaking at the right time is integral to enabling others to listen and our voice to be heard too. I am also a good listener, and am pleased to have used this skill to good effect in my early weeks on PULSE.   But I won’t stop here – it is a skill that, without a doubt, we can all benefit from continually improving and putting into practise more often.

So slow down, make time and shut up and listen – The power within each of us might then change GSK …. oh, and don’t feed the hippos!!


  1. What great reflection and summary. As hard as it will be for me … I will try to ‘shut up and listen’!

  2. “listening is not time wasted”….I love that thought and quote, thank you! Happy to hear that you are doing so well. I, too, feel like it has taken me a month to really begin my grant work here.

  3. Hi Karen,
    What an inspirational Blog! I am so impressed how you’ve managed to theme your articles around the PULSE change mission and really pleased that you found your Orientation training useful to take time to really listen before jumping in to “feed the Hippos”! Thanks for sharing the video too as its a useful reminder for everyone to take time to understand your surroundings before launching in to make changes. I’m sure Ahsiya and Colleen will be really pleased to know that you found the listening session during orientation especially useful and that the follow up sessions then helped to make your voice heard and be valued! Keep doing what you are doing – I know you will be a huge success and it’s a pleasure to read of your progress along the way!

  4. Really enjoyed reading this blog 🙂 Even though I am 6898 miles away from you (thanks google) I could relate to parts of your reflections of your first month. The parts not so much were you references to “fast paced” and being able to listen to closely to everything (still working on my Swahili learning!!).

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