5 businesses encountered this week (and it is only Tuesday)

I love being a work psychologist

I became a work psychologist because I love learning about organizations and what people do. What makes a business tick?

It’s only Monday and here are five picks of whom I have encountered this week (and it is only Tuesday!)

Geographer who locates supermarkets (location, location, location)

Valuer of cars in Russia (great when it freezes and plenty of work until the insurance market matures)

Broker of Nepalese art (deep relationships with artists = supply chain management)

Furniture retailer in Sudan (steady as she goes – continuity and cost leadership)

Retail banker in Sri Lanka (get that customer served – be reliable and dependable)

What I do (my core competence, if you like)

HR always seems so obvious to people in the business.  If it works well, it becomes part of the “taken for granted” set of value assumptions in the underwater part of the cultural iceberg.

Non-formally trained business people take for granted what they do, twice over.  What they seems natural, it also seems childish not to know.

The fun of being a work psychologist is drawing out the assumptions business people have held for so long that they haven’t mentioned them or talked about them to anyone for a long time.

What is it like to have a conversation with a work psychologist?

I am having fun. What do business people gain from talking to me?

  • My interest is a mirror where they can see how their business runs.  They enjoy the experience and are reassured and steadied as they work in other areas that may be shaky.
  • Talking aloud to an appreciative listener allows them to put into words what they have been acting on, but not thinking or saying.  Often we don’t realize what we think until we say it aloud in the presence of someone else.
  • The principles of what they are doing are now out in the open where they can inspect them, consider them, and consider how relevant they will be in the future.  The valuer in Russia, for example, has trained valuers in distant city so he can take advantage of the current boom in valuing assets.  He also knows the boom will peak in a few years.  He is perfectly aware of both facts but may allow the situation to drift if he does not say what he knows aloud in front of someone else.

Why a psychologist and not someone else?

A business person talks to many people – their banker or their associates at the pub.  Why and how are we different?

  • We draw out the assumptions about HR.
  • We are trained to challenge gently, and reveal those long taken for granted assumptions that operate like the underwater part of an iceberg – essential to the visible business but deadly if forgotten.  A friend or banker is concentrating on what they need to hear, not on what the business person needs to hear themselves say.
  • We deliberately restate assumptions clearly so they are on the table for discussion and sharing with other people – new employees, bankers, and people we are talking to during times of change.  A business person talking to a psychologist in any setting, say a conference, a training room, an interview, should come away feeling invigorated.  They should feel clearer about what is important to them and confident that the important things are being attended to.

And it is only Tuesday!  This is a great job.  People are endlessly fascinating when they are talking about a job they love and do well.

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What’s your preferred corporate culture?

Cool 2×2 on organizational culture

While tutoring some very smart undergraduates, I bumped into  very nice 2×2 model that I haven’t seen for years.  Deal & Kennedy’s model is used primarily to explain corporate culture.  It also correlates nicely with two factor personality theory – so it’s pretty useful for helping people understand their preferences for various workplaces.  It’s easy to use and remember and what’s more reading political commentary, I had an insight about competency frameworks that is quite useful.

Get drawing!

Grab a pen.  WordPress is not up for 2×2 tables.  Across the page put feedback (slow on the left and fast on the right), and down the page put risk(high at the top and low at the bottom).

Live or die in the next 20 minutes!

Top left is the fast-feedback high risk quadrant.  This is the world of surgeons, American police, City traders.  Everything happens quickly, and losses and gains can be dramatic.  This is the world of extraverted, neurotics – loud, quick, aggressive and dramatic.  Game of choice: squash! A one-one-one tussle with points scored in a fast and furious contest.

Fast but not furious

Bottom left is slow-feedback low risk quadrant.  This is the world of the factory, the retail bank and even the supermarket cashier.  Good or bad, feedback is quick but no one event is of great consequence.  This is still the world of the extravert.  Sociable people are at a premium provided they are amiable and easily content.  Indeed, they wouldn’t know what to do with aggression.  Game of choice: soccer.  Great teamwork that goes on for an hour-and-a-half with only one or two goals.

Leave it with me

Bottom right is slow-feedback low risk quadrant.  This is the world of very low skilled or very high skilled.  The work is deceptively simple.  Take an accountant.   A piece of paper is processed and there is no sense of the world changing.   A better example is a lawyer who writes your will.  You rely entirely on it being correct when it is inspected many, many years later by other lawyers.   The essence of this work is this long delay and ability to do fine work with no feedback.  This is the world of stable, unemotional introverts.  Game of choice : jogging.  One foot after another!

He’s my brother, he ain’t heavy

Top right is slow-feedback high risk quadrant.  This is the world of civil engineers putting up buildings  which will only show that nasty shortcut many years later.  It is also the world of educators – all those hours put in to person who may or may not make good.  This is the world of neurotic introverts.  A mark of people in this quadrant is other people take them to be a fool and abuse their good will.  They are also prone to feeling disappointed with the world.  Game of choice: golf.  You can lose it all on the last hole.

So what is my observation for leadership competencies?

Generally, the most obvious leader is someone who is extraverted and unanxious.  Leaders like quick feedback and are neither too prone to hi risk (likely to be quick tempered) or too prone to lo risk (too amiable and unable to hold the line).

Listening to the commentary on political candidates, I suspect that this rule-of-thumb holds in the lower levels of leadership (Lieutenant to Colonel).  At higher levels, the willingness to reserve judgement and wait to see how events unfold might also be important.

Any thoughts?  What is your preferred culture?

UPDATE:  Anyone from any quadrant can lead and be a good politician. Generally though, we will be happy in our basic trade depending on its match with our personality.    We will also learn to use all quadrants with practice, though under pressure, we are likely to revert to our preferred choice.

Knowing your preferences helps you understand why you dislike some tasks and how you can recraft them to make them more comfortable. It also helps you understand other people’s styles.

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The essence of leadership is follow me

Even if it is only out of curiosity

Now who said that? Colin Powell, I believe, speaking to HR managers in the UK.

Culture, attitudes, behavior

My friend Steve Roesler at AllThingsWorkplace posted today on workplace culture, and how hard it is to change behavior. This is a central topic in social and organizational psychology. Can we change an attitude without changing behavior? Can we change behavior without changing culture? What sustains culture?

Earlier today I read a similar article in TimesOnLine on whether politicians can change British drinking culture by decree.

David Aaronvitch used a neat phrase:

“Fashion, popular culture, whatever you call it, found a way round authority, because it didn’t depend upon authority, or even upon establishment approval.”

This is the same phenomenon that Steve is talking about: informal culture and power. Should we despair as the TimesOnLine suggests? Brits are drunks – live with it and laugh at politicians nannying us again? Can cultures be modified?

How do we change patterns?

My social media friends will phrase this differently: can we organize viral campaigns?

I think we often put the cart before the horse.

Change effects tend to be spiral, or recursive. In other words, the change creates the change. And a forward change can cause a backward effect, necessary for the forward change.

So why the cart before the horse? We want the cart to be moving along with the horse following.

To get change, we have to join in. We have to be there in other words. We have put ourselves out there and be changed in the process. We have to believe that cart is worth pulling. We have to notice when it starts to roll back and judge whether to roll with it or dig our heels in.  We have to believe in it enough to feel the harness rubbing . . .

It is the linkage that is critical.

Being a player

In organizations, it is the willingness to be a player: to really put our money on the table. Willingness to win and to lose with everyone else.

  • Are we willing to sit at the table and make tough choices? And be accountable for the consequences?
  • Do we believe in our people enough to be accountable on the bad days?
  • Can we have the courageous conversations about what is truly rotten?
  • Can we accept the challenge about how we have treated people?
  • Can we do all of this will only one end in mind – keeping the group there for its members?

We don’t want to be talked at.  We want to talk with people who are also vulnerable in that their pride, future, pleasure, is also at stake.  We want to talk seriously with people about why we are doing this, whatever this is, and authentically discuss what is at stake for everyone.

Can we link our our futures to that cart?

Leading from within

This is the competency that HR Managers struggle with.

This is the competency that I hope social media managers will learn early ~ to be a player.

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