Business Psychologists & people performance

M.S. Mahendra c.1923I am often asked what Business Psychologists do. And more to the point, why it is that you would consult a Business Psychologist, over say, a Management Consultant, Personnel or Human Resources Specialist, Organisational Coach, Change Strategist, Cultural Anthropologist, Lion Tamer (see note*), or Training and Development Advisor.

  • More than psychometric tests. Of course all the professionals mentioned have particular expertise, and there are those, especially HR specialists, who have access to some of the same tools and techniques as a Business Psychologist. For example there are many trained to administer and interpret psychological tests and questionnaires. However when you deal with a Business Psychologist the full range of methods become available. You also get an individual who is able to develop a new tool if there is nothing suitable ‘off-the-shelf’. This is important because it’s difficult to manage other people, if you cannot measure what they do. And we know what to measure, and how to measure it.
  • Who has questions for my answers? Tools are important, but the main way in which a Business Psychologist can add value to your business (or organisation) is not necessarily by designing a psychological test, or producing a new interview system, competency map, leadership programme, executive coaching framework, or change management schedule; but by knowing which questions to ask and solutions to apply. So not what Henry Kissinger (former US Secretary of State) said to the White House press corps about ‘questions for his answers’, but an intense desire to discover the real questions and to come up with the right answers.
  • Diagnostic savvy. Sounds simple, but it is rather harder in practice. Other professionals are only concerned with part of the picture. Business Psychologists apply their diagnostic savvy to the complete ‘behavioural’ canvas. In particular how individuals perform, and can be helped to perform better; how people operate in teams, and how to stop team derailment; and how teams or groups fit into the organisational structure and culture. And of course, how organisational imperatives (such as the HR plan) are aligned with teams and individuals in order to make a business run as effectively as possible.
  • Straight from the horse’s mouth. And finally the research base that makes business psychology unique also informs much of the thinking in HR and people management generally. So in using a Business Psychologist you are dealing with someone who understands the science that underpins people and performance issues – and compared to other professionals in the field, this is probably the biggest differentiator of them all.
  • Team building.. For instance many readers will have encountered team building exercises, and may be familiar with, say,  Belbin’s Team Roles. This is a useful way of looking at teams, but it does little to get to grips with the ‘relationships’ between team members and the effects these have on performance, or how teams monitor their operations, or adapt to changing conditions. I’m afraid there’s a lot more to it than just using a questionnaire or two, and serious questions often need to be asked about the ‘health’ of relationships, and whether the culture of an organisation is helping or hindering team productivity.
  • Competitive advantage. So if it’s a careful analysis of the structure of your business at a human level that’s important, coupled to a considered view of how to bring out the best in people (so they will deliver quicker, contribute more and stay longer), call a Business Psychologist. Who, by the way, will also be able to give you a sound business case for any interventions that are suggested.

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*This is a joke… However there are behaviourists at work in this space, and whilst humans are animals, simple ‘training’ techniques are not the way to get people to engage with work! Pass me that carrot.

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