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?


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Recommended reading

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


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  1. Salem Abusaif (via Wholehearted Leadership group on LinkedIn)30 October 2014 at 22:33

    Art of listening is the gate of useful communications, which is the base of mutual respect, which lead to successful sustainable relations.

    1. Indeed Salem. Thank you for your comment.

  2. Nilolai Kopelev (via Publishers and Bloggers group on LinkedIn)31 October 2014 at 08:27

    Great post and the quote. IMHO, listening alone is just the 1rst step. The main objective is to achieve "active and constructive comprehending". I have seen quite a few people who listen to respond, to dismiss, to criticize, or simply to allow you to vent. I think it is a waste of time for both parties, and is very damaging to their relationship, both personal and professional.

    1. Thanks for reading the article Nikolai. Active listening is a part of communication which is actually really difficult, especially when the subject matter is sensitive, but it is necessary. At the workplace, Management needs to show they are listening by addressing issues in visible ways.

  3. I love that you quote from Dr. Stephen Covey's work! 

    1. Indeed that quote from Stephen Covey is very popular and so true in communication. Thanks for your comment. Cheers!


We know you have opinions. Kindly post your comments.