Little known secrets about what a work and organizational psychologist will do for you in a recession

My job is to help you find forward momentum

I’m a psychologist. What this means, in short, is that you come to see me when you feel frustrated and it is my job to help you find a way forward.

Clinical psychology, social workers, lawyers & doctors

For some people getting out of a bad situation is complicated.  Quite often they are in extremely difficult circumstances and they need social workers, doctors, lawyers, etc. to help them solve practical problems.

They may also have lived in difficult circumstances for so long that they no longer recognize easy circumstances.  Helping them unravel their view of life and live an easier life is the work of clinical psychologists.

Work & organizational psychologists

Most people who come to see me are not in a bad situation.  They are at one of the normal turning points in life where they have to make a decision and they do not have sufficient information.  These turning points are often frustrating and scary, but they are essentially about questions like which organization should I join?  Or, how do I improve my status and my income?  Psychologists like me work less like clinical psychologists, who work with what is in your head, more like social workers, doctors and lawyers.  We help you understand and manage the external world, and in particular the world of organizations and work.

Indeed, we are quite often work for organizations rather than individuals and when we do, we are architects of systems.  We design selection systems.  We design disciplinary codes.  We design bonus systems.  HR systems are just formalized ways of making a lot of personal decisions about what we are doing and where we are going.  When we design the systems well, we give people an easy framework to make their own decisions well.  And we also strengthen the organization, by providing a place where we live and work comfortably and easily.

Work & organizational psychologists ask a lot of questions about work & business

To design good systems, we need to know a lot about jobs and business.  Of course, we don’t know as much as the people who run the business and who have worked in it all their lives.  Businesses and technologies change fast too.  So we are less in the business of knowing, and more in the business of asking questions.

Learning about the financial crisis

I started writing this post this morning after I read a post from the redoubtable Alice Cook, who provides a graph showing that financial debt has grown disproportionately to consumer and corporate debt in the UK.  I knew that generally but didn’t have a graph at my finger tips.  So thank you.  I like to have data stored away neatly.

Personal action during the financial crisis

I am amazed, though, that anyone is amazed by these figures.  Like many people, I feel that the managerial classes in the UK have a lot to answer for.  They should have known these figures intimately and acted accordingly.

The trouble is that blaming others is pretty useless as a psychological technique.  Professionals & business leaders may be to blame.  We might be right to hold them in contempt.  And personally, I wouldn’t feel unhappy if they were prosecuted.  But blaming others doesn’t help us feel better, and more importantly, it doesn’t help use get things right.  So I’ll leave that to others.

As a psychologist, what I have to say is this.

Until we are all a lot better informed, we will simply lurch from one crisis to another

Listed below are the bare bones of an information system that I am used to having at my disposal.

  • Trends in our industry
  • Current economic figures supplied monthly by our bank
  • People around me who read the figures
  • Key figures pertaining to our industry
  • Data on databases so that computer savvy people (including youngsters) can play with data and ask questions
  • Key figures that show the strength and resilience of our business
  • Key figures readily available so computer savvy people can play with them and ask questions

It is true I have not seen this information being made freely available to employees since I have arrived in the UK but I’ve lived elsewhere where a key player in the provision of information to people in business has been, ironically, British-listed banks.

If we want to get out of the biggest mess since the great Depression, we are going to have to do something. And to do something, we have to begin.  The first steps I will tell you, being a psychologist, is to ask questions.

Some easy no-cost first steps that individuals and small business owners should take

You have a computer and internet?  So let’s go.  If you haven’t already done it, it’s time to set up your own economic intelligence system.

FIVE steps will do it.  Set up folders on your email, feeds reader, bookmarkers and hard drive,  and a page on your blog.

1. Google Alerts.  Set up Google Alerts for your industry.

I have alerts for UK jobs and UK GDP and use a ‘rule’ to send them straight to my “intelligence” folder in email.  I read them once a week or when I need a break from other tasks.

2.  As you find useful blogs, subscribe in your feeds reader.

I scan these at my leisure and make a point of reading The Economist on Thursday evenings.

3. Bookmark articles you might want to come back to.

One big folder works better than many little ones.  Bookmarks saves you Google-time when you want to re-call something.

4.  Save useful graphs, data and pictures on your hard drive for the presentation you will make later!

5. Blog from time to time to organize your thoughts.

Then make an index of useful posts on a separate page where your readers can find all your writings on the future of your industry and local economy.

So will being economically-savvy help?

Keeping an eye on the economy does not stop other people from being foolish, of course.  And it can also make you feel panicky when you see a trend that no one else seems to care about.

I find that understanding the economy is like knowing the motorway ahead is congested.  I have created choice for myself.  I can keep driving and join the throngs inching along and losing their tempers.  Or I can pull off, and take a longer route through the back roads.

Neither may be a great outcome and it is also possible to put far too much effort into deciding the best alternative.  But I prefer a leisurely drive down the back roads enjoying the country view than boiling with frustration on an ugly motorway.

And I quite happy to leave behind badly run organizations for a business venture that is smaller and more likely to be here tomorrow.

Follow the good money

If you haven’t already done so, begin.  Spend a few hours a week following the economic data.  It gets easier.

And if we all do it, we won’t be routed by unscrupulous managers, at least for a while.

You know, that credity thing

A young female of White-fronted Capuchi Monkey...
Image via Wikipedia

With apologies to a London cab driver, what do I want to know about the credity thing?

I’m very interested in understanding the financial crisis, the meltdown, the credit crunch, or whatever you want to call our current predicament.  There is a lot of talk about managers’ bonuses and  the USD70 cost per hour for a worker who makes my car (is that a lot?), and surprising little talk about the role of legislation and the culpability of Company Directors.

I would like to know a lot more about the cost break downs in companies currently in the spotlight, and in our vision for Britain in the next 50 years.  Who will do our work?  Who will deliver our letters and our babies?  What work do we want to do and what is it’s price on the world stage?  I would like conversations about all these issues.

Curating clear presentations

For now, I am collecting straightforward descriptions of the crisis and posting them on one page.

Many of you may be familiar with Peter Fryer’s work on emergence in organizations and his concept of Trojan Mice.  If you don’t subscribe to his monthly newsletter, you should.  It’s packed with quotations and links and if you read nothing but his newsletter, you would be well served.

In December, Peter included a magnificent description of SHORT SELLING which will help you explain it to anyone, regardless of their education level.

It’s good for a weekend smile.  Here it is.

Once upon a time, in a village, a man appeared and announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for £10 each. Seeing that there were plenty of many monkeys around the villagers went out to the forest, and started catching them. The man bought thousands at £10.

As supplies of monkeys started to diminish, the villagers ceased their efforts. The man then announced he would now buy at £20. So the villagers renewed their efforts and start­ed catching monkeys again. Soon the supply of monkeys diminished even further and peo­ple started going back to their farms. The man increased his offer to £25 and the supply of monkeys diminished to the extent that it was an effort to even see a monkey, let alone catch one. But the man now announced he would buy monkeys at £50!

However, since he had to go to the city on business, his assistant would now buy on his behalf. In the absence of the man, the assistant said to the villagers: “Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has collected. I will sell them to you at £35 and when the man returns from the city, you can sell them to him for £50 each.” The villagers thought that was a great idea so they collected all their savings and bought all the monkeys.

They never saw the man nor his assistant again. But they had plenty of monkeys Now you have a better understanding of how the stock market works.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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