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Tag: I/O psychology

3 simple ideas for leading in today’s turbulent workplaces

Walk-this-way-by-garryknight-via-Flickr.jpgDespite waves of change, life stood still

We were at war

I went to university at a time of radical social change.  Not to put too fine a point on it, we were in the middle of a revolutionary war.

But psychology was cruising a plateau

My nation might have been at war with itself, but profession was not undergoing great change.  Being a student was a matter of learning about behaviorism and functionalism and Marxism and   .  .  . and  .  .  .

And psychology continued to cruise even when real change had happened

It was only later that cognition made sufficient impact to affect professional life and one look at textbooks will tell you that psychologists were so complacent about the permanency of their approach that they simply edited cognition out of the applied text books.

An astonishing number of people have been left behind

Wave after wave of students have graduated without knowing how to do cognitive task analysis and if they have a glimmer, they do cognitive task analysis without agency.

If you believe the typical psychologist, people do work without knowing what they are doing or caring about what they do.

Mindfulness means the story of here & now

Students don’t even study management because organizations “just are”.    It doesn’t even seem to occur to psychologists that context is king.  Mindfulness does not seem to suggest that paying attention to the moment may be important because the moment is important.  We look for generalizations because we believe that generalizations hold and following perfect recipes is the formula for the good life.

How deadening.  How certain to create depression and ill health.  How certain to lead to economic and financial disaster.

How odd.

From paying attention to action in the moment

If

  • Context
  • Attention
  • Visualizing (not planning) and getting feedback (not making assumptions)

are both better descriptions and prescriptions of life at work, then what are the actions?

Last night, I read Gail Fairhurst’s paper on new ways of understanding leadership.  She describes new ways of thinking about work.

  1. “Delve deep into context” and be content with understanding all the different ways that the people present understand and talk about the issues.
  2. “carve out room for maneuver while others remain stymied by disparate or oppositional Discourses (Huspek, 2000)”
  3. “draw upon alternative Discourses” to have fun

OK, the have fun bit was mine.  But, the remainder of the 3 points are from Gail T. Fairhurst.

This is very different from the psychology and management of my youth which assumed:

  • There is a good way to do this
  • The old guard know best
  • This is what you have to do (and please leave mind, spirit and sense of humour at the door!)

To recap: The action of  here & now

  1. The truth is in the wide range of realities described by people who are present.
  2. Some views  will be mind-hoovering, locked in old conflicts and defining the world as impossible.  Find the way forward.  There always is one.
  3. Present (and act out) alternatives in a spirit of fun.

In thirty years’ time, people may think differently again. And so they should.  What counts are the views of people who are there at the time!

 

Resources

Fairhust, G. T. (2009).  Considering context in discursive leadership research. Human Relations, 62(11), 1607-1633.

Download a copy fast because Journals don’t give away freebies all that often.

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Psychologists: Eyes and Ears To Spot Opportunties

Time is never wasted in reconnaissance

An old military friend of mine said: “Time is never wasted in reconnaissance.” It surely isn’t, though in ordinary life the word has unpleasant connotations. We don’t want to spy on people.  Nor do we want to get into the habit of thinking we can know what the future holds. When we think we know what will happen, we stop paying attention.

But whether we are going to party or to a war, it is useful prepare. It is very helpful to know what questions to ask about a place. It is useful to learn what we can to free up time to pay attention to more important things. Most of all, it is useful to learn about other people’s intent.

My mission is to understand the world they are trying to create

If I creep up to the crest of the brow to spy on my enemy, I want to know how many there are and how they are armed.

I also want to know what they are going to do, or rather try to do.

My mission is to understand the future that they are trying to create!

After all, I might prefer that future to one that I am going to make myself!  Sitting and watching them might be a very good choice for me!

Our mission is always to understand other people’s intent.  That’s why you hire psychologists!

What can psychologists do that you can’t do?

We often claim to be able to read intent with some magic tests and potions!  What we are good at is reading the other person’s intent and not confusing it with yours.

  • We are more accurate, just because we are less involved in the situation.
  • We also like reading intent. We are happy to do it all day long. We don’t get bored and impatient with people who are unclear about what they are going to do. And many people fit that category. They really have no idea what they will do in the morning. We’ll wait and watch and tell you when they have made up their minds.
  • Because this is our job, we will be mindful of ethics. There is spying and spying. And when you go too far in your spying, we’ll tell you to stop. We’ll tell you when you really have no right to information. We’ll tell you when it’s best that you don’t know because knowing will damage the give-and-take that is essential to forming a good relationship with other people. We’ll tell you when it is easy for the other person to fool you and when you should look away, lest you fall for the scam.
  • We will also teach you. What are the right questions to be asking? What can be asked and answered? If you are looking for conflict, what is the potential for negotiation? If you thought you have to divide the spoils, could you not multiple the spoils?  We ask what might happen to intent on both sides when you understand each other.

Intent is organic ~ it responds to understanding

Intent is not fixed. Intent morphs as action unfolds and people perceive or misperceive what is going on. Our job is to help you understand the dynamics of intent.  How can  we influence a situation to avoid worst case scenarios and improve the possibilities for surprising and delightful outcomes? We can’t make anyone else do what we want.

But we can look at the world through their eyes and let them see the world through our eyes. 

Together we might see a world that neither of us has seen before

That’s what psychologists do

  • They lend you eyes and ears to help you sense the unfolding of intent.
  • They show you ways of displaying the world so that you see more of it and others see what you see.
  • And they help capture incipient mutual intent so that we can do better things together.

Let me give you an example of psychologists at work

Let’s imagine that we are hiring engineers from around the world. We ask them to do the Myers-Briggs online. They may even know their Myers-Briggs profile by heart.

We find an engineer who has the skills and know-how that we want and to our surprise, he is an ISFJ.  We could say that is very un-engineer like, or we could engage defensively.  We can ask, for example, whether they will not get bored buy the “feelingless” nature of our business.  Or we can sense opportunity.

Our eyes might light up at the idea of someone who has the high level skills we need and who is helpful, supportive and pleasant. Together we might be able to re-jig the structure of jobs to give them a central supportive coordinating role which we’ve never made before because we thought we couldn’t fill it.

What has the psychologist contributed here?

1.  We knew what questions could be asked and answered in an economical way.

2.  We profiled intent.

3.  We respected and privileged the ethics of information about other people. We let them see what we did with the information about them and we let them influence what we did with it.

4.  In the process, we broadened our repertoire of intent. We found new things that we hadn’t known we could do or which had been too improbable to plan for.

5.  We saved you time, confusion and missed opportunities.

That’s what psychologists do. We lend you eyes and ears to spot mutual intent that you may miss.

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Want efficiency? Make the space and time for people to be efficient.

Chain-of-command

Imagine 6 000 students gathering in a hall and becoming a little rowdy.  The police arrive. The local Chief Constable arrives.   So does the head of the riot police.  Who is in charge?  Who decides what will happen?

Well, the riot police often think they are in charge because they are bigger and more powerful. The local Chief Constable is likely to assert him or herself, though, and say, “I am in charge in this place.  Everyone will take their instructions for me.”

Chain-of-command in business

We might think that this reasoning only begins in the uniformed services. But it is relevant in business as well.

At any moment, it is someone’s job to make a decision.  We should not get in their way. Even when we are bigger and more powerful, we may not have all the information we need to make a good decision.  Nor can we follow through.  We simply have no business making decisions that we will not see through to the very end.

Work & organizational psychologists and the chain-of-command

Work & organizational psychologists, or occupational psychologists as they are known in UK, or IO psychologists as they are known in the US, are well trained to identify who is making the decision and what information they need to make it.

We often have massive status but we should not get in the way of the people who are doing the work. We wouldn’t get in the way of a surgeon and we should not get in the way of anyone else either.

Work & organizational psychologists respect the skill of decision making in each and every job

The information that people use to make decisions is also not immediately obvious to us.  Skilled workers have mental models for organizing their work.  They have goals, they recognize information as signals, and they pick up information as feedback which tells them whether they are approaching their goals.  We don’t have their expertise and when we move things around, we can utterly muddle the way they organize information.  Taking a single piece of paper off someone’s desk can be akin to knocking out a a supporting wall of a house -whereupon, it all falls down.

When we are working in someone elses workplace, we are trying to read what they are noticing, what they are responding to, and what they are trying to achieve.  None of this may be obvious particularly if they’ve been doing the job for a long time.

Work & organizational psychologists do not set up goals or targets for other people

Setting up goals or targets for skilled people is utterly absurd. When we do so, we imply that they have no mental models or expertise to organize and to bring into being a smoothly operating system.

Setting up targets shows incompetence on our part.

Goals & targets are set up in basic professional training

The time to set goals and targets is during professional training.  At that point people are learning what information is available and how it comes together into a working system.

Everything we do thereafter needs to recognize that organization or requires a hefty reinvestment.  We will always look first to see if we can wrap a system around skill models before we take that route.

So how do we work out how people make decisions?

  • We watch what they do.
  • We watch how they respond to different situations.
  • We notice what irritates them because that tells us their efficient operations have been disrupted.
  • When it is safe to do so, we interrupt and listen to their inner talk as they try to remember where they are in a complicated process!

And above all, we are patient.

The people we are working with may have inefficient habits.  But, it is much more likely that they have deep professional considerations for what they are doing.

Our job is to broker boundaries and space for people to do their work

Our first obligation as psychologists is to broker the space in the organization for people to follow the logic of their trade or profession.

Are we doing that?  Are we adequately setting the boundaries and making the space and time for people to be effective?

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4 “get your head arounds” of the new science of psychology

Today, a very useful though long blog post on the new science of psychology popped up on my Google Alerts.  Blogspot was acting slow, so here are my comments.

#1 Formal differences between classical science and new science

For 20 or so key terms describing the difference between old fashioned methods & stats in psychology and new methods that are consistent with new forms of management

#2  Phase states illustrated with examples from psychotherapy and neuroscience

New science doesn’t look for incremental improvements, it looks for the sudden change of state – a bud bursts into bloom, an egg hatches, a baby is born.

#3  Procrastination is acknowledgment of pending self-re-organization

Going from wish to intent, from planning to procrastination – crossing the Rubicon – is a matter of “bearing the unbearable”.  We resist – we apply negative feedback – out of fear of who we will become – or a prolonged goodbye.

We are unwilling to be successful because we cannot “bear the unbearable”.

#4  The supportive psychologist is an active player in the change process

Psychologists aren’t ‘objective’.  We have to be sufficiently bold to be part of the change process and for the change process to change them too.  That is the essential ingredient of empathy.

Leaders require the some capacity but provide the empathy in the hurly-burly of life.  We work in more protected settings and with a promise to put the interests of our client above our own.  A leader puts the interests of the group above his or her own and includes our individual interests in so far as they strengthen the group.

A good article but blogspot, fail.

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What managers – and work psychologists – get paid for?

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.

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Work psychology: 2008 AD

Do you know what work psychologists do?

Thirty-one years ago, I decided to study psychology.  And for 28 years, I have practiced as a work psychologist.  Can you imagine my surprise when some readers said this blog was their first encounter with my esteemed trade?  So what do we do?

What do we do all day?

I love being a work psychologist and I think it is important for you to know I go to my ‘office’ every day with a spring in my step, looking forward to the people I will meet during the course of the day.   Most of our lives are spent ‘on the road’.  We usually work at our clients’ factories and offices, and we need strong arms to carry around briefcases laden with confidential papers.  When you see us, we are likely to be taking part in some HR exercise – recruitment, selection, or team-building, say.  When you don’t see us, we will be reconciling paperwork, doing computer work, or talking to senior managers about the direction of the company, and ways to organize, lead, up skill, confront challenges, and look after each other.

Why do clients hire us?

We deal with the pulse of the organization.  Ideally, we want everyone to enjoy their work as much as we do.  There is fascination in what we do, but little mystery.  Our understanding of how organizations work has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 100 years.  The last ten years have been particularly interesting as the limits of old ‘mechanical’ organizations have been reached and we’ve begun to embrace the fluidity and flexibility of the internet.

The psychologist’s role is to bring to the party up-to-date information about the way work practices are changing around the world, hands-on experience of changes in other companies, and deep commitment to supporting you as you think through changes in the immediate and foreseeable future.

What is special about what we do?

Just looking at us work is not sufficient to see the value we add.  You can see us talking to people – lots of people do that!  You see the briefcases – a prop?

The key to what psychologists do is deep training and ongoing exposure to work situations around the world.  When we talk with you, we are not asking whether we like you.  Nor, are we are asking about things we want.

Our interest is in accurately understanding your motivation and your circumstances, reflecting them against the changing world of business and work, and helping you work through the mix of emotions you feel as you cast your story in terms of today’s economic conditions – globalization, credit crunch, and new technologies.

This is a complicated process.  Even in the simplest business, we have on the one hand the things we want, and one the other, ‘what’s out there’.  And that gap in knowledge is not all we cope with.  When we really want something, we feel fear and trepidation.  Our job is to stay with you while you work through your anxiety and take the first step towards what will ultimately be success and very deep satisfaction.

Psychologists understand this process, see it is normal, and are there to help steer you through all three questions: you, your opportunities, your emotions.

When we work in most modern businesses, 5, 10, 15, 10 000, 100 000 of us are going through the same process.  When I decide, for example, to pursue my story in certain ways, my actions change your circumstances.   The key to good organization is that the give-and-take between us as we follow our own dreams strengthens us individuals and as a group.  Therein, the discussions we hold with senior managers.

Some case studies next?  Do let me know if I have made it any clearer what we do for a living!

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