Thursday, 30 October 2014

Management 101: Creating A 'Listening' Culture

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply"

- Stephen R. Covey

Time is arguably the greatest change agent of all.

Once upon  a  time,  (at  the  beginning  of the Industrial Revolutionwhich began in England and spread to the western world in the 18th and 19th centuries), the top-down hierarchical, commando-style managerial approach was effective. Management set rules and employees were expected to follow them, with little or no resistance. It was simple - workers were in fact rewarded for compliance or would have been sacked for flouting orders or for being 'trouble-makers'.

Then gradually, disillusioned workers 'ganged up' to form unions, realising that there was strength in numbers. They dared to question the norm and were able to change industrial practices.

That was the beginning of the demise of the authoritarian 'because-I-said-so' managerial style.

In the 20th century, the rise of globalisation and the emergence of the "new" employment relationship meant a paradigm shift in managerial  practices.

Fast forward to the 21st century - a period with rapid advances in technology and with a rising influence of new media, and you will notice one constant...

Time indeed changes all  things.

When hearing is not enough

Management in this era cannot hide behind the  veneer of  passive listening  in  order  to  regurgitate what is communicated. Employees today are more educated and more discerning,  easily deducing  insincerity and hypocrisy. They also know when they are being fed 'propaganda'.

Of course, the easiest way to determine whether professionals are truly valued is to note whether or not their most pressing concerns are  addressed in visible ways.

For example, a key, almost global concern for modern employees, is the lukewarm or non-existent support from Management for the career development of workers despite implicit and explicit statements, and in spite of evidence linking career development to attraction and retention of top talent.

This is what I do not understand: Most companies worth their salt these days have standard policies for professional development, so why isn't this crucial issue implemented, tested and revised for effectiveness? 

Why should  you, as a professional with A,B,C qualifications  and experience in X,Y,Z be  left  to 'waste away' in  an unchallenging function    
which    does not stretch you professionally?

And  why  would you continue  in  a company  when Management has within its power, to provide what it had implied it would, during your induction programme - a defined plan for career advancement - yet has consistently failed to do so?

The answer?

You should not remain in a dead-end role when other alternatives are available, neither would you continue in an organisation that consistently fails to keep its promise on a crucial issue. 

You are also likely to exit the company for one that has a verifiable track record of valuing its employees  by:  providing training and support; giving interesting assignments where they could grow; and of great importance, by providing feedback as to how their efforts directly contribute to the company's successes.

Yes, such a company is likely to prioritise  a listening culture at the workplace.

For the sake of objectivity, it  should  be noted  that during changes in Management or factors beyond its control, workers sometimes do not get what  they want. Employees understand this reality and for this reason,  a good communications strategy, highlighting the "Why" component  and the "Crisis-Mode Plan", is recommended for a co-operative Management-employee  relationship.

The link between good communication and leadership effectiveness

Mr. CEO - As the most important driver of organisational perception, note that you cannot create a listening culture if you lack good communication skills yourself.

If you are still unconvinced of  the real effect of communication on your leadership capabilities and on your company's bottom line, then this 2014 research by the Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor group should interest you. They analysed the perceptions of over 6,500 people, in 13 countries, on five continents regarding the link between effective communication and effective leadership. This is what was discovered:

"Open, transparent communication is absolutely critical to effective leadership. It is again the top-ranking attribute, with 74 percent viewing effective communication as very important to great leadership. Yet only 29 percent feel leaders communicate effectively. This gap between expectation and delivery has substantial commercial implications. Indeed, a clear majority of respondents boycotted or bought less from a company during the past 12 months due to poor leadership."

Well there you have it Mr. CEO.

Effective communication is not one of those 'soft' skills you can relegate to the 'good-to-know-fads-with-little-practical-value' section. As a bonus, great communication skills will make you better in your role and a more credible leader.

At the helm of your company, you could start by improving your communication skills and then encourage your management cadre to do the same.

Promote a listening culture at work.  Provide support for communication training in general and for active listening  in particular for your managers.  Develop a system to measure how effectively improvements in communications help attain organisational goals.

You just may be surprised by the results...



In general, it is not enough to hear what complaints/suggestions are made by the staff via whatever channels, if Management is simply listening to respond, instead of listening to understand, as Stephen R. Covey advises in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, (1989).

Even the most modest effort made by Management to really listen to its staff and  to provide what is desired, within reason, communicates a proactive, caring culture. When professionals feel valued, there are no limits to what they would achieve for the organisation. 

Ask the modern-day employee and you will be told that his happiness at work is not always tied to being offered more money and perks, (although these incentives would be attractive). His true happiness and job satisfaction  are  often linked  to how well he is listened to, understood and appreciated for his work; as well as how well he is treated on an interpersonal level.

A listening culture benefits everyone.

So what are you doing today to create a listening culture at work?


Kindly post your comments below, anonymously if you prefer.   

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Discussion Forum #2 - What Would Make You Happy At Work?


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N.B– First three images courtesy of Stuart Miles; via Last image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici; via 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Discussion Forum #2 - What Would Make You Happy At Work?

Well it had to happen.

It was only a matter of time before some inquisitive researchers decided to do a survey to prove the obvious : That  employees' job satisfaction favourably impacts  organisations.

As we know, happy workers increase productivity, go the 'extra mile' and become willing cheerleaders, (without being asked), of companies' brands, thereby boosting their reputations.

It is all common sense.

But here's the kick: This report reveals, among other things, that happy employees may actually make organisations richer.

Yes, they drive financial outcomes; this is not a vague conjecture.

The ultimate trade-off seems simple  - organisations strive to provide A,B,C (or whatever their employees value the most, which might not necessarily be more money); and the happy, engaged employees do their jobs plus  X,Y,Z .

A win-win situation for both the employees and the companies.

So we want to be helpful.

To smooth out the rough edges in the employment relationship, this discussion forum has been set up to help Management make decisions which would ensure that smart, talented and driven professionals, like yourselves, are happy in their careers.

Before you jump into the discussion, kindly note the guidelines below.

Guidelines for discussion forums

1)   Only comments related to the topic would be approved.

2)   Please edit your comments for clarity before posting.

3) Language should kindly be kept professional and 'clean' as inappropriate contributions will not be approved. Comments written as personal attacks will also be rejected.

4)   Comments  submitted after the deadline will not be published.

And now over to you....

Discussion Forum #2 - What Would Make You Happy At Work?

(27 September 2014 - 25 October 2014 at 00.00 West African Time)

Share all. Reveal all.

Even if you are your own boss, tell us what you believe would make your employees happier  to work for you.

If you are a one-man/woman entrepreneurial wonder, then what drives you in your chosen field?

Start the conversation and invite others to share their opinions as well.


Recommended reading


N.B - First image courtesy of Bplanet, via Second image courtesy of Jscreationzs. Animation courtesy of

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Dying Art Of Managing The Psychological Contracts Of Employees

Some thirteen years ago at the London School of Economics & Political Science,  there was an interesting theme in organisational behavioural science which I found intriguing during my postgraduate studies. Still, I considered it an outdated,  'good-to-know' construct that would not be useful in the 'modern' workplace.  

Of course at that time  I had yet to be thrown into the murky waters of the employment sea. Therefore, I could neither appreciate  the angst professionals felt about their career development, nor understand the worry about the sifting priorities of their employers.  

However, over a decade later, with some experience in my portfolio and musings about the state of  corporateville, I realise that the theme is still as relevant today as it was when I was a student. This is due to the reality of constant organisational change and its implications for the corporate culture and the perceived worth of  employees.  

What you will  find interesting  this :  how this theme is handled in your companies might signal whether or not your employers deserve your expertise, time and more importantly, your continued  commitment and tenure.


The theme?  

The Psychological Contract.  

The origins of the psychological contract, it has been stated, could be traced back to the 1960s. However, Rousseau's (1989) definition of it  being "an individual's beliefs regarding the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between the focal person and another party" is arguably one of the clearest definition to use.  

A main complexity of the psychological contract lies in the fact that it is perceptual, unwritten and might not be shared by the other party, (the organisation), in the exchange relationship.  

Explaining further, researchers in the field of organisational behaviour stated that a psychological contract emerges when an individual, (employee), believes that his contributions obliges the organisation to reciprocate in a similar manner.   The analysis of  this theme is thorough and as you delve into different dimensions of the construct, it becomes complex.  

However, three points echoed in some studies need to be highlighted:

1) Research made by Robinson in 1996, (although weak in some areas), revealed that unmet obligations had more dire consequences than unmet expectations.  

2) Morrison & Robinson (1997) explained that a psychological contract breach was a perception that a company has failed to fulfil one or more obligations comprising the psychological contract.  

3) Unmet promises may or may not result in perceived breach. Similarly, perceived breach may or may not result in violation and would depend on certain factors which Morrison & Robinson (1997) listed including outcome assessment and attribution.  

While it may not be necessary at this point to discuss the factors leading to violations, what the researchers noted was that a psychological contract violation captures the emotional angle of anger, resentment, bitterness, outrage etc, all resulting from a perception of betrayal or of being mistreated.  

Violations in the psychological contract could have serious repercussions for the organisation.

Why Management Should Take The Psychological Contract Seriously



The psychological contract is useful in understanding the changing employment relationship especially as it affects the attitudes and behaviours of employees. This is because the employee is likely to be influenced by how he perceives the organisation supports him and whether or not he feels that his contributions to his employer are valued, and if so, whether such appreciation is  manifested in ways he deserves. 

The most difficult angle of the psychological contract I believe, is the fact that it is subjective, being formed in the mind of a specific employee. This, to be fair,  makes it difficult for the organisation to tackle, given that Employee A might have a different psychological contract from Employee B. 

If you also consider the fact that a psychological contract is not written in ink, there is a risk for Management to  ignore its usefulness in the employment relationship. After all, if Management did not explicitly promise/pledge/state that they would provide A,B,C then surely they shouldn't be vilified for not  fulfilling  X,Y,Z.  

But this is where Management gets it wrong because unfulfilled expectations, or worse, obligations, make employees unhappy, dissatisfied with their jobs and disillusioned with their employers. These feelings can cost the organisation dearly in terms of high turnover, lost productivity, a dented corporate image and a whole host of organisational woes. 

It is common knowledge that happy, engaged, ('tuned on'), workers do great things for companies. On the flip side,  unhappy, disengaged employees cost companies millions; a situation which may even have far-reaching effects on the personal lives of professionals.

Moreover, there is empirical evidence that violations of  psychological contracts impact the organisation significantly. Results supplied by some researchers below would interest Management in general and HR executives in particular:

1) Violations, (note that these are more serious than unmet expectations or unfulfilled obligations), were found to decrease the following:  employees' trust in their employers, satisfaction with their jobs and organisations, as well as their intentions to remain. (Robinson & Rousseau 1994; Robinson & Morrison, 1995).  

2) In extreme cases of violation, employees may seek revenge or retaliation, engaging in sabotage, theft, (the single most expensive form of non-violent crime against the organisation), or may display aggressive behaviour. (Fisher & Brown, 1982; Greenberg, 1990; Robinson & Bennett, In Press; Tripp & Bies, In Press). 

3) Violations may also lead to expensive lawsuits which if publicised, may damage an organisation's external reputation (McLean Parks & Schmedemann, 1994).

4) Following psychological contract violations, employees are more likely to become less loyal to the organisation, may exit, voice disappointment to management, neglect work and present the company as unfavourable to others. (Turnley & Feldman, 1999). 

5) Pugh et al. (2000) found the long-term consequence -  when an employee perceives contract breach with the employer, it affects the employee's trust and makes him adopt a cynical view of the (new) employment relationship, which is mediated by worry. 

Given the significant effects of  psychological contract breach/violation on employees' attitudes and behaviours, which impact job performance and productivity, it becomes imperative for Management  to take this theme seriously.  

Putting  The  Psychological  Contract Into Perspective

Let us explore a practical scenario.  

A new employee, Mr. X, has just been hired and is immediately enrolled into a week-long induction programme, which consists of tours around the branch, 'bonding' lunch/dinner sessions with new colleagues and bosses, setting up of his work space  etc. He is shown around the company and is  being told -  via word of mouth from one of his new bosses during a company-sponsored 'happy hour' after work; by watching company videos; by reading employees' testimonials; or by listening to stories of older employees -  that the company embraces diversity.

He gets the distinct impression that the rights of minority groups are respected including :  the right to a fair hearing; the right to sound procedures determining his pay, compensation package, promotions etc; and the right to be treated with professional courtesy during his tenure at the organisation.

Slowly his perceptions of what the employers owe him, in return for professionally performing duties listed in his job description, are formed, one of which is a zero tolerance for discrimination. Even if  'discrimination'  is not clearly defined in the employee handbook, Mr. X is convinced that should a grievance occurs, he will be able to argue his case. He would be confident of a standard investigation and of a fair outcome.

Now fast-forward a year or two and Mr. X finds himself in a dilemma. He has been subjected to racial slurs from his immediate boss on several occasions, which have escalated to verbal attacks/ridicule and intimidation, cleverly linked to 'criticisms' of his job performance. He reports the situation to his boss' superior but is abruptly told to focus on his job and to do as he is told.

He is surprised, not only by the outcome, but  also by the lack of concern/objectivity displayed by a supposedly trusted executive. He may experience at this point, a psychological contract breach as he is neither being given a fair hearing, nor being treated with respect, two elements inherent in his psychological contract which have not been fulfilled.

Mr. X takes it further and lodges a complaint with HR. The complaint is 'filed' and an informal meeting is arranged whereby he, his boss, his boss' superior and the HR manager are present.

Mr. X does have his say, as do the other parties present. The meeting concludes with Mr. X being told that he had misunderstood the "direction" given by his boss. He is also informed that perhaps due to cultural differences and nuances in language styles, he might have  "imagined" the abuse and had taken the wrong way, the "robust, passionate advice" of  his boss, borne out of the latter's concern for the consistently unsatisfactory performance of Mr.  X.  It is further explained that his lacklustre performance has been particularly a concern for Management in view of the possibility of a new role in  the nearest future, if only he could utilise his time more effectively and avoid wasting his energies on perceived injustices.

Mr. X leaves the meeting with the notion that his boss' shortcomings have been watered down and that the issue would not be pursued further. He is also aware of  the unspoken threat that his 'incompetence' has been noted and may cost him a favourable performance review and by extension, a promotion, especially if he files another complaint.

The behaviour of his boss continues and Mr. X is subjected to more intimidation and veiled threats.

As time elapses, Mr. X experiences helplessness, anger and betrayal in varying degrees of severity, leading to increased stress and health problems. He believes that the 'zero tolerance for discrimination' element of his psychological contract has been violated.  Indeed, he is convinced that the organisation has reneged on its obligation to address issues of discrimination/abuse in a fair, transparent way. He may be motivated to take action since he believes his employers do not value him, his well-being or his contributions.

Remember that his perception of the situation is deeply personal and subjective and might not be shared by Management, or 'make sense' to those in authority if they were privy to his cognitive views.

Mr. X may engage in some of the negative behaviours listed by researchers relating to psychological contract violations. He may  quit or sue the company for emotional damages and poor health caused by the toxic workplace.

As a calculated move, he stays for a certain period but makes it his mission to discredit his employer's reputation wherever possible. He may also retaliate in 'clever' ways by engaging in sabotage, by missing work deliberately and by being unreliable.


Whether he stays or leaves, his attitude and actions would have a negative impact on the organisation.  

Now imagine several employees feeling betrayed by the company for violations in elements of their psychological contracts. (Mr. X may have also shared his experiences with trusted co-workers who may have suffered similar woes). 

Imagine the damage that situation could cause the organisation.

Performance levels would dwindle and if the company's main operations are steeped in sales or services, the drop in numbers and/or flight of customers would translate to significant losses for the establishment. 

The scenario above is sadly not far-fetched as many professionals who are wronged by their bosses and/or who do not receive the support or fairness they require from the organisations, are far from being the cheerleaders their employers would want.

In fact,  former aggrieved employees, could take their 'reign of terror' online and reveal all in social media, as reported in this article. In this digital age, social media is a powerful tool for making or breaking corporate reputations, with very real consequences.  In the report provided by the Telegraph, 30% of businesses in the UK also stated that their online reputation had been affected by the online activity of existing employees. 

Note to Management - be careful how you treat your  employees...  


Tips for Effectively Managing Psychological Contracts 

As stated earlier, managing  the psychological contract of one employee is no easy feat; managing the collective psychological contract of your entire staff seems almost impossible.   


But it is achievable and I will explain how.  

As Rousseau (1997) found, the  psychological contract is formed during the hiring and socialisation period, (induction), of a new entrant.  

This period, after the standard employment contract has signed, is when the new employee gets a glimpse of the corporate culture and a sense of what to expect from his employers in the reciprocal exchange, if he does X,Y,Z.  

So it would make sense to clearly communicate the company's values, expectations and procedures using different methods during the induction/socialisation period. These  values should match  elements shaped in the psychological contracts of the employees.

A good way this could be achieved is by a constant two-way communication stream between the new staff and the appointed executives. New entrants should not be left to 'figure it out' after only a brief introduction.

Clear and consistent communication also eliminates conjectures and helps the organisation to manage the collective expectations of its employees in a supportive way. Fulfilled expectations and obligations make up positive indicators of psychological contracts, resulting in happy, engaged employees who deliver favourable results for the company. 

Below are specific actions Management could adopt: 

1) Train the staff who would be handling the induction programmes to communicate clearly what the company values/procedures are and how complaints related to interpersonal issues and career development are handled. New entrants should know how complaints could be escalated to top management, without fear or intimidation. Key HR officials to handle specific issues should be named and contact details provided. Provide them with the employee handbook but highlight important sections.

2) Educate supervisors/managers on the need to be an 'open book' in matters of transparency and accountability; to be seen as approachable to new entrants. An immediate boss is instrumental in shaping the perceptions of a new employee.

3) Explain via the intranet and other internal communication platforms that the new entrants would be assigned 'mentors' in their first year. These experienced employees would ease the assimilation of new staff into the company and will help to address the latter's initial concerns. More serious issues would be forwarded to designated HR officials.

Employees who feel 'listened to' are likely to become empowered and would direct their enthusiasm to their duties.

A win-win situation for both Management and employees.



It is true that companies differ in sizes, values and cultures, so  some might doubt that the above-mentioned recommendations would be applicable to their companies.  

Nonetheless,  as researchers have stated that psychological contracts are formed during the socialisation/hiring process, Management could use the induction period as an opportunity to manage the expectations of new entrants with strategic communications in a collaborative relationship. This move will help employers prevent psychological contract breaches and violations which are detrimental to their organisations.  

A good foundation of trust at the beginning would be useful in periods of inevitable change where employees' expectations cannot be fulfilled for practical reasons or due to unforeseen circumstances. 

Unmet expectations are not likely to result in breaches or violations in the psychological contracts if, among other things, communication is used to clarify the following - how changes would affect employees; how timely and transparent the information is; how procedures are used; and how decisions are reached. These things are sometimes more important to employees than unfavourable outcomes. 

So Management, you should accord this theme the importance it deserves in the employment relationship. Strive to resurrect the dying art of managing your employees' psychological contracts for a more productive workplace.  

Now, let's hear your views.  

What do you think about the psychological contract? What are your suggestions for managing the expectations of employees?  

Kindly post your comments below.

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Recommended reading 

Need help in writing?  


Hire me for a writing assignment, some consulting work and/or coaching sessions in formal writing and communications.   

Contact me by:   


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B) Calling for advice and a  free consultation:

Nigeria:              0704 631 0592 

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N.B–  All images are available on the archive. First image courtesy of Nongpimmy. Second image courtesy of  Stuart Miles. Third image courtesy of Iosphere. Fourth image courtesy of Rattigon. Fifth image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici. Sixth image courtesy of Jesadaphorn and last image courtesy of  Vlado.