Thursday // January 26, 2017

Leading through Listening: Enhancing the Client Experience

In October, EMJ announced Jay Jolley’s transition into the role of Chairman of the Board of Directors. His footsteps to this position include various leadership roles at EMJ.

Jay started his EMJ journey as a Project Manager shortly after his 1982 graduation from Tennessee Technological University. In the following years, he assumed the roles of Vice President, President, and then Chief Executive Officer.

While these roles hold several responsibilities in common, one shared duty stands out as foremost: listening. Jay feels his greatest responsibility as a leader has been to listen, and with that, the responsibility to teach his team the value of listening.


In a 1996 EMJ newsletter, Jay wrote an article simply entitled, “Listen to This,” where he advised readers to become better listeners by doing the following:

Don’t interrupt or interject unless you don’t understand something.
Ask questions, but only after you hear everything being said.
Don’t rehearse a response. Be patient.
Paraphrase or mirror. Repeat back the speaker’s key words.
Don’t daydream or let your mind wander while someone is talking.

“Listening is one of the hardest parts of good communication, because we all have a tendency to offer opinions, interrupt or even daydream while others are speaking,” Jay added.

Jay also honed in on the need for people to wait their turn to speak. “I try to remember that the person speaking feels as strongly about his/her points as you feel about yours.”

Today, Jay’s advice is just as relevant as it was over 20 years ago, and teaching the value of listening is still a cornerstone of the corporation’s work. It is listed as one of the four key steps in EMJ’s Concept-to-Completion (C2C) approach to client experience, which is used when working with clients, partners and colleagues. EMJ team members are encouraged to follow the steps to gain a thorough understanding of the task at hand.

“Clients will tell you what’s valuable to them, and our job is to pay attention to what they are telling us,” said Burt Odom, President and CEO of EMJ Corporation. “And, not just what they are saying, but what they really mean.”

EMJ’s team is reminded daily to listen thoroughly to understand clients’ needs and motivators, project goals (including budget, time and quality), as well as questions and concerns. While listening is fundamentally sitting down with a client to ask questions and receive information as Jay outlines in his article, listening should continue from the earliest stage of the project through the grand opening and beyond.

Understanding the client’s goals, vision, concerns and expectations ultimately transforms into tangible value for clients and a better project experience for all parties.

Read more about the value of listening in these project case studies:
Shaw Create Center
Fountains of Farrah
Palm Beach Outlets
Walmart-Sam’s Club Combo

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