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Posts Tagged ‘organizational psychology

Facets of business psychology

Being a business psychologist can be giddy-making. Well, that is our job.  To have the giddy-experience so other people don’t have to.

Industrial or work psychology

When we want to improve productivity, we ask “what is the best way of doing this work?”  Whether you do it or whether I do it, what is the best way (and when we get sophisticated, what is the error range and variance)?

Personnel psychology

When we want to choose someone to do the job, who will find it easiest to do the job?

Organizational psychology

What is the best way of organizing the work so that we can all get along with the minimum of emotional friction?

The thinking behind business psychology

The answers to these question do not necessarily contradict each other but the thought process behind them is contradicting.

Work psychology assumes we are all the same and can learn easily. Personnel psychology assumes we are all different and our differences are hard to change.  Work & personnel psychology looks at what we do as individuals and organizational psychology might ask us to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of the group.

Who’s right and who is wrong?  No one.  Each question offers a slightly different perspective.  And that is giddy-making.  What we are good at is separating the questions  and asking them one at a time so that we don’t end up with a confused, useless mess. That is what we are trained to do and we train for a long time – 5 years.

Modern questions in business psychology

Our giddy life doesn’t stop with the 3 traditional questions, though.

Old management theory assumed that change was slow, that there was a ‘best way’, that people were happy with the social and political relationships suffered and enjoyed by their forefathers, and that someone, somewhere knew what to do and how to do it and that the world would be sufficiently obliging to wait while they decided what to do and told everyone in the organization.

We know now that the world is not like that.

Work psychology

Laying out work for others to do while we decide is so, so, last century and bankrupt motor corp, we should be shot for suggesting it.

We’ve known for I don’t know how long in the military, and at least 40 years in psychology, that we should set a goal that is appropriate for a person’s skill level, give them the resources, free access to incoming feedback, and let them get on with it.

People cannot function with our constant back-seating driving.  And the world will not wait for an organization that is that slow.  It might seem like it will wait but that is probably because of some artificial barrier to entry.  Best to see how much that barrier costs and how long that will be sustained.  More under organizational.

Personnel psychology

Much of the work we do in personnel psychology is for really large organizations, like armies, where gathering “objective” information and allocating people on a “best fi”t model makes sense.   We introduce efficiencies for everyone.

In smaller organizations, we are expensive ,and frankly managers don’t listen.  Why is it that?  This is an organizational psychology issue not a personnel psychology issue. So let’s move on.

Organizational psychology

Getting along in an organization is about human relations and “passing the ball” without dropping it.  Management and organizational theory comes into play along with a raft of other issues, including politics.

The biggest issue in organizational psychology is “what is in it for me?” When managers are insecure, they will look for people who will protect their interests.

In big organizations, it is our job to reassure the managers and put the brakes on their worst self-interested excesses.  We flag up artificial barriers to entry that are maintained at huge financial and moral cost (e.g. apartheid in South Africa and excessive privilege like doctor’s payments in the US).  We put in procedures to balance managerial interest with organizational interest, in pay, for example, and in the selection of people who are good for the organization and not simply good for the manager.

We provide stability, in other words.  Sometimes we even introduce a generative, healthy upward spiral.  Though world events in the last two years show clearly that preventing a destructive tail spin would be a pretty good outcome.

We have to include people.  Honorably.  Allowing a core group to take over is very, very destructive.

Future organizations

Having said that.  What is the future of large organizations?

We are much more likely to move towards a system of local modularization in which smaller companies cooperate to complete specific contracts as the aerospace industry did with the Boeing 787.  Our business will change accordingly.

My predictions for the future of business psychology

This is how I see our profession moving.

Work psychology

In depth understanding of the work of an industry and the critical factors affecting productivity and learning in each sub-sector.  We will become a mirror to the industry.

Personnel psychology

Continue to show people the limits of occupations.  To give an obvious example, if I am a sprinter I’ll run the sprints not the marathon, and so on.

Beyond this well developed technology that needs to be updated to keep us informed about the limits of new professions, we might possibly change our focus to understanding careers over a lifetime: how do we develop a narrative that sustains us over the rapid changes in industry structures that we are likely to see over 50 years of our working life?

I think developmental psychology might become more important than personnel psychology and understanding business might become more important that the brute horsepower of “intelligence”.

Organizational psychology

The biggest change will be the nature of organizational life and the work that we are called upon to do. Companies will become smaller and more specialized and a new beast will emerge. Akin to entrepreneurial and holding companies, and replete with negotiation-minded supply chain specialists, these new organizations will create the projects and organizational conditions that set the boundary conditions for specialists to work together to be creative.

Specifically, it is my best guess, at March 2010, that these new organizations will analyse the markets and flag up what markets want, host discussions between relevant suppliers and arrange consortium funding, and carry the market risk themselves, though conceivably they may make innovative arrangements on the demand side too.

Further, some firms will specialize in backing up the market “seers” with infrastructure to allow global cooperation – firms like Cisco and firms specializing in virtual law and financing.

And then we will have people doing their stuff.  The producers.  Who are doing what they love and who morph and develop as they respond to the market. Hmm, I think there may be a role for people who develop the industry, much like the aerospace industry in the UK.

These aren’t my ideas. The first three strands were developed by Hagel & Brown, now of Deloittes.

My advice to young business psychologists

In not so brief words, that’s where I see us going.  My advice to young psychologists is

1. Pick an industry that you love and understand how it is developing and changing and the skills needed within it.

2. Learn more developmental psychology and narrative counselling than psychometrics.  Testing is a mature field.  Little is happening there.

3.  Think whether you want to serve producers, coordinators or entrepreneurs.  Maybe try all three out. Maybe in you industry you have to do all three.  Or, maybe you should specialize.

You need to map the ecology of your industry, see where your heart is, and join the people you love to serve.

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Every one would like to be a manager

In my years of teaching at Universities, I found students queuing up to learn management and personnel psychology, industrial psychology, organizational psychology, etc.

Few though, had any idea what management entailed. And they are horrified when they find out.

. . . it is well paid, but . . .

The financial rewards are high. Yes, the trappings of good clothes, assistants, and international travel are glamorous.

I could say that “this is what is wanted in return for these goodies”. But that sounds like a bargain. You give us this – and we give you the rewards that you desire.

It doesn’t work like that.

On the surface, yes. Incompetent managers, who have themselves made a Faustian bargain, will tell you that your job is to brown-nose the boss. The website is full of how to impress your boss.  Well, the same skills will be valuable when you want to impress the gangs in prison-where you just might find yourself.

Management is NOT about impressing the boss. If you boss wants impressing, he, or she, is a pratt. End-run them. I suppose that is why most big organizations are run so badly. Most people understand this rule and end-run their boss.

Management does have a purpose

Management is about coordinating the various parts of an enterprise. I’ll give you an example.

Psychologists are part of general management

As psychologists, we belong to the general management function

Let’s take a real example. A few weeks ago, in an effort to stop a visiting friend from stepping into a busy street in Edinburgh, I took my eyes off my feet, tripped over some metal protruding out of the concrete.  I fell flat on my face.

It hurt, a lot. It was Edinburgh after all, so it hurt my dignity too. I looked drunk, which I wasn’t.

Fortunately, I didn’t break anything – including my glasses. I just bruised and grazed my knee.

My point is this. That metal has been there a long time. I am not the first to trip over it. It is a menace to the blind, the elderly, wheelchairs . . . and me.  A decent psychologist looks out for such situations.

Why? Dozen of city officials walk that street – they issue parking tickets, they inspect shops. How is it that a metal obstruction that trips people has gone unnoticed and unsorted?  A decent psychologist would look at the organizational structure that allows the error to occur and to persist.

This is the UK – we have ‘targets’ the way other countries have ‘bandits’.  An organizational psychologist would be alert to the consequences and their own responsibilities in the face of such a policy.  A decent organizational psychologist would bear in mind that his or her job is ‘general management’ – the way parts of an organization come together to form common cause.

When an accident happens, a relative junior will investigate what happened and why.  A relatively junior lawyer will review the legal liability.  A more senior psychologist thinks about the incident at a systemic level. They ask

  • Who follows up these incidents?
  • Who is responsible for minimizing these incidents?
  • What is the relative importance of checking for hazards on the pavement and checking for unapproved adverts, for example, which we have paid many people to do?
  • How did we get to the point that none of us have sorted out an obstruction on the pavement for years?

Within an organization, a psychologist will ask a manager why his or her subordinates have walked past an obstruction, again and again?

If targets are to blame, remove the targets! If the manager say that s/he has no authority to remove the targets, they have abdicated.  In a Weberian bureaucracy, they have said clearly “I cannot make the decision. Please refer to my superior.”   If they do not put your through, or make an appointment for you with their superior, then you only have one choice – to seek that appointment yourself.

If you are external to the organization, and their organizational structure is concealed, then go directly to the Chief Executive – with that argument.

This happened. I inquired from the public officer nominally responsible. They did not have the authority to solve the problem. They declined to refer me to their manager, which I understand is their obligation when they do not have the authority to resolve my request.

I now refer this to you  and ask you to direct it to someone who does have authority.

To psychologists, if these incidents are happening in your organization, you aren’t fulfilling your responsibility as general managers. Different sections aren’t meshing.

Bring it to the attention of a line manager, once. Once. Then go to their managers. And keep going. Politely. Sweetly. That is your job.

Psychology requires the exercise of authority, not brown-nosing a boss.

That is why not everyone really wants to be a manager .   .  . or a work & organizational psychologist

That is why a lot of students duck out of organizational psychology, once they get in to it.

Our trade is not only about earning money. It is not about brown-nosing a boss.

It is about exercising responsibility in accordance with the law. Pay bonuses that lead to recklessness or metal protuberances in the pavement, are prima facie evidence that the common cause of the organization is being neglected  If they aren’t resolved on first raising, that is prime facie evidence that some general staff are asleep.  To put no finer point on it – problems that persist are prima facie evidence that people earning much beyond 25K are stealing their wages.

That includes us – psychologists.  It is our job to raise these matters and insist they are resolved.

That’s why, after all, a lot of students don’t want the job.

I was following up the new field of “performance studies“.   I have lost the link unfortunately.   Here are five statements and questions I re-phrased in “plain-language”.

1.  We make the company every day by what we do.

2.  Together we act out a story.

3.  Remember there is more that one story we could tell.

4.  Why do I have to speak for you?  What can’t people speak for themselves?

5.  What does the story we are acting out say about our relationships with each other and are we willing to talk about this question?


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