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Tag: what do psychologists do?

Work & organizational psychology, GenY and Geni

My Manifesto


“I am young, I am British, and I love my career.”  That, is my BHAG – my big hairy audacious goal.

What is your BHAG?

If you are here, you are probably interested in that possibility of a startlingly lovable and enjoyable career. So welcome!

  • If you are young, we would like to hear your stories.
  • If you are British, we would like to hear about exciting opportunities that don’t get attention from the mainstream media.
  • If you have thoughts on careers to die for, we want to know!

Who am I?

I am a work psychologist. I am not young, and I am not 100% British.

I have had an interesting career doing work I love – helping people coordinate their careers with the careers of other people.

I did career guidance & coaching. I’ve computerized HR departments. I’ve facilitated strategic planning for turnarounds. I’ve provided redundancy counselling. I’ve mediated pay negotiations. I’ve selected pilots and army officers. I’ve selected apprentices and executive directors for the C-suite.

All this is the glue of large hierarchical organizations. These are the systems behind the traffic lights that allow us to flow through a large organization without bashing into each other.  These are the systems you only notice when they go wrong.  Like Victorian children, good psychologists are seen and not heard.

Where am I going?

Work has changed though. The financial crisis is shining a spotlight on changes that have been coming for a long time. The changes were partly the cause of the crisis as well, but only because they were ignored by business leaders who didn’t understand them or willfully ignored them

Young people of today will have very different careers from my generation. Opportunities will be different.

Knowledge work & Science

#1 We know, for example, that most work in the west is knowledge-based or service oriented. More importantly, we are on the brink of massive discoveries in the all of the sciences. TED talks give us a leisurely and enjoyable way to keep up to date. Because science is where the future lies, if you have the opportunity for a scientific education, take it!

International & Languages

#2 The world has got smaller. Young people travel readily. You will also work across borders more. You will take assignments across borders and work with people all over the world using the internet. China, India, Russian and Brazil are the the countries of the future. Learn a second language! This is no time to live in mono-lingual world!

Networked Economy & Social Media

#3 The internet changes more than our scope. Facebook and Twitter may seem like play-things but they represent an important social innovation – the power to talk directly to each other. As internet thinker, Clay Shirky, says: Group action just got easier. Suddenly, large organizations are not as powerful as they once were. This is a shock to people whose career was tied up in conquering and commanding a large organization. The collapse of the newspapers and broadcast media is all over the news as I write. Importantly, younger people who grew up with Facebook, Spotify and other platforms expect direct, egalitarian interaction. They are ready for new types of organizations and they will move smoothly into the organizations that displace the old powerful hierarchies. Play on social media. Get used to it!

Positive Psychology & Personal Portfolios

#4 The world has also become more respectful of the individual. As “bosses” become less relevant, so too does the Victorian notion that one person knows best. We no longer have shape ourselves in someone else’s mould. We are free to ask: what do we love to do and who wants to do it with us? Whether it is to sail around the world alone or make a new scientific discovery, we have to ask ourselves what it will take to do what we want to do. We have to take ownership of our dreams and have the courage to invest in what we believe is worthwhile. This brings responsibility as well as opportunity and the freedom, and requires skills that few of us developed in the past. We have to learn to manage ourselves and bring supporters and collaborators around us. This is true for the magnificently talented and the ordinary, the scientist and the artist, the crafts person and the sales person. Writing an engaging story is your job now! Don’t wait for someone to write it for you!

Networked Business &  New Business Models

#5 And we have new ‘technologies’ blossoming in this atmosphere. Boeing is trying to build aeroplanes by making the fuselage in one place and the wings in other and bolting together the big pieces like so many pieces of Lego. Mining companies are throwing open their geological records and asking the public to find the veins of gold that they missed. We come to care about design and the experience of the user. We like to make activities playful and sociable and fun. Where obedience might have been the currency of work in days gone by, today the currency is fun. He or she who creates fun wins!

How do work & organizational psychologists contribute to these changes?

For individuals, we have a clear role in helping each one of us take charge of our dreams and to take the first rather scary steps of gathering people around us. For this, we use positive psychology and interventions like gratitude diaries. We also freely put poetry and stories to work and and encourage people to organize their stories as an epic tale using the Hero’s Journey.

When we talk about groups and organizations we are less articulate. We will bring forward many of the techniques of the past. We’ll also study the work of internet watchers like Clay Shirky. We’ll study the work of contemporary anthropologists like David Logan on Tribes.

But then we are on our own trying to figure out what new organizations will look like. What traffic lights will be needed to aid the smooth flow of people through the organization? How will we design the systems that deliver traffic lights that go on and of at the right times?

This blog

This blog is a chronicle of my thinking in that direction. It is a patchwork. In the spirit of the age, I don’t try to produce a finished product. I just write every day making notes about what I hear on the radio and read on the web. I note. I connect. And I sort. Eventually, I understand.

What a work & organizational psychologist does for you

When I understand, then I can explain.  And when I can explain, then I can deliver the services needed by individual performers and the managers who help them coordinate.

When they have an issue, I help them resolve it quickly with

a) A clear model to organize the questions

b) Vicarious self-efficacy through the stories of other people at a similar junction

c) Continued social support by sticking with them till they are done.

So, to work!

What are the issues of working in the 21st century? Who is taking a playful approach to their work? Where are they? And how can pursue the work we love?

Do leave comments.  Only 10% of readers comment.  Wouldn’t it be great if the British internet were different and 20% or 30% of people felt free to add their voice to the debate?

Jo Jordan

Olney, England

2 May 2010

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Work psychology thinks about work on 1,2,3,4,5,6 dimensions

The cloud, work, working and the cloud

For three years now, I’ve been engrossed in the overlap between social media and work psychology.

A  memo published by Techcrunch today purporting to come from Steve Ballmer, head of Microsoft sums up the new opportunities in the cloud wonderfully simply.

Substitute “work” for “cloud” and you have the vision of work psychology.  We don’t only work with the cloud.  We work in the same way though on all dimensions.

  • The cloud creates opportunities and responsibilities
  • The cloud  learns and helps you learn, decide and take action
  • The cloud enhances your social and professional interactions
  • The cloud wants smarter devices
  • The cloud drives server advances that drive the cloud

Poets make exactly the same points.  We are shaped by our work and work is shaped by us in turn. Work is good when it actively engages with our imagination, helping it to flourish and in turn being shaped by our curiosity and innovation.

Clearly Ballmer is talking about the artifacts of the virtual world of telephone line, servers and satellites in space.  If imagination is our fifth dimension.  Then the cloud is our 6th.

Work psychologists think about work on all  dimensions: 3D, time, imagination & the cloud.

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My predictions for the future of business 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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What do psychologists and HR managers contibute to a flourishing organization?

A psychologist by any other name

I belong to an odd profession. I am a psychologist, I specialize in work & organizations and in some jurisdictions I am called an occupational psychologist or an industrial psychologist or an industrial/organizational psychologist.  Sometimes I am called a business psychologist.

I usually work for myself but we do our work at our clients.  So my office is my car, my laptop and my smartphone.  When we get to our clients we are likely to “check in” at the general managers’ suite.  As we are concerned with people, much of our work interweaves with HR management.

So what do psychologists do?

I like to phrase that differently.  What do we contribute to an organization which is flourishing?

We have three tasks

  • To reduce the cost of management
  • To raise productivity and initiative
  • To pass on the benefits to the workforce

Whether we deal with a big business or a neighborhood store, whether we work with government or an investment bank, our job is to reduce management cost, raise productivity and initiative and pass on the benefits to the workforce.

It’s also our job to tell the story.  It is our job to say out loud what is happening, to hold up a mirror so that people can see themselves reducing the waste of management, enjoying their work more, and making more money.

That’s what we do.

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I have the power, but dare I use it?

The Power Of One

One song can spark a moment,

One flower can wake the dream.

One tree can start a forest,

One bird can herald spring.

One smile begins a friendship,

One handclasp lifts a soul.

One star can guide a ship at sea,

One word can frame the goal.

One vote can change a nation,

One sunbeam lights a room.

One candle wipes out darkness,

One laugh will conquer gloom.

One step must start each journey,

One word must start each prayer.

One hope will raise our spirits,

One touch can show you care.

One voice can speak with wisdom,

One heart can know what’s true.

One life can make the difference,

You see, IT’S UP TO YOU!

Author Unknown

A Psychologist’s View of the The Power of One


Most people who consult a psychologist feel powerless, or at least overwhelmed by circumstances.  They don’t want to hear about the power of one!  First, they want simply to be heard.  They want to be acknowledged and not feel foolish for feeling powerless.  Then ideally they want the power of many.  They want the circumstances fixed ~ now!  Of course, that’s the psychologist’s job:  to help put their predicament in perspective and to stay withe them until they are willing to move forward again.

Portfolio workers

Increasingly though, work & organizational psychologists help people who run portfolio careers. Portfolio workers often consult us when they are feeling powerless, or unappreciated!  The reality though is that they have massive power.  In a sense, each person works in a niche.  In reality, they work at the nexus of a great network.  Everything they do, or don’t do, potentially makes a massive difference to the world.

Portfolio workers are the new bosses

There are many things that frustrate us and on which we voice an opinion in the pub or on a blog.  In the ‘olden days’, solving those problems would be in the gift of a ‘boss’.  In our interconnected world, we can do anything about anything.  Because we are so powerful now, we need to take the responsibility of ‘bosses’ on our shoulders.

Are we ready to change the world?

Do we really want to solve the problem in the way we say?  Have we thought about the side-effects?  Are we willing to take responsibility for the side effects?

We have become so powerful that the fun of complaining in the pub is over for us!

And use our influence wisely?

What we really have to do is to list all the changes in the world that we want to see.  Put them in order of importance.  Become sufficiently expert to understand the ripples that we will cause and the costs of our solution to other people.  And do it.

The interconnnected world is also a moral world.  Sitting around complaining when you have the power to act marks us as parasites.  But action requires moral accountability.

Are we willing to be accountable for the small things we do, and not do?

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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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If your organization could do one thing with enthusiasm?

Popular subject, this recession!

I love it when someone visits my blog and I love it even more when someone leaves a comment.  Sadly, though, on a blog, originally taglined beautiful work, I get more traffic about the role or HR and the recession than for topics like poetry.

So you want to know about HR and the recession?

These are my qualifications to talk on the subject:

1. I am a WORK psychologist.

I pay attention as much attention to the work we do, and the context that we do it in, as I do to the techniques of HR and the psychology of the work.

Here is an important point I have noticed:  Writers on HR are not exploring the recession itself. 

My observations are this:  this is not a recession.  It is not a depression either.  The financial system is too central to the economy and too large, with one quarter of our livelihoods in UK, for this to be regarded as a cold, or a serious bout of flu.  Indeed, I don’t think metaphors of illness or failure will take us far and it is best to think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly: the one goes and another emerges.

Where will we be in five year’s time?  What industries will be surgent?  What will jobs look like?

I spoke to someone in Johannesburg today.  He had just been into Zimbabwe and I told him of the Forbes’ prediction that Africa will supplant China as the supplier of low cost labour in five years.  Look at Africa with that filter and notice the scenarios you now consider.  Look at the processes you now perceive to be the ones we should protect, cherish and nurture.

We are not in a position of more-or-less.  We are in a position of radical change.  We need, I think, to be discussing the nature of work in the UK and how work will change by the time we are out of this crisis.

2.  My second qualification is that I have lived through a serous recession before, sadly.

We go through phases in these situations much like the phases of bereavement.  We deny, we get angry, we barter, we accept.

At the moment, we are in the early phases, with many people believing that somehow this will all go away while a few others expressing a little anger – about fat cats, particularly.

Few of us are exploring our options in any depth.  And, even fewer of us are taking a leadership position in which we help other people understand what is happening and how they can work together towards a better future.

My experience of these situations is that the presence or absence of that leadership, workplace by workplace, will make a difference to the final outcome.  The last thing we need is to develop a pattern of each man for himself, women and children look after yourselves.

Leadership matters.  And leadership means believing in our followers, and showing it.

3.  I am a psychologist.

In any stressful situation, we are faced with the easy choice: be defensive and protect what’s ours.  Or, we can step up and be proactive and generative.  Which is often very hard.

Let’s take Obama’s inauguration as an example.

Obama’s inauguration will be one of the largest in history – people want to be there.  Obama is doing some predictable things.  He is looking for ways to include as many people as possible.  And he is capping donations at USD50K.  Both laudable.

This quotation struck my eye:

This inauguration is more than just a celebration of an election,” she said. “This is an event that can be used to inspire and galvanize the public to act. That is what we’re aiming for.”

To spend all that effort (and money) on a celebration of past successess is not enough – not now, not after such a campaign.   The collective party in Washington and across the country, if not the world. lays the foundation for the next round of effort.

Rahm Emmanuel, incoming White House Chief of Staff is quoted as saying:  Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.

Indeed, a good crisis allows us to think through what is important to us and how we will work together in the future.  I desperately want to read stories in the HR blogs on what we are doing together to meet the challenges of the future, together.

Before we launch into micro-actions of making people redundant or whatever else (there’s been lots of traffic on psychometric tests of all things), how do we want people to act?

What collective action are we hoping to inspire and galvanize?  What is the good use to which we will put this crisis?


5 questions to find the best place to be during a prolonged recession

Where is this recession going?

I’ve spent some time following economic information about the recession and I think there is a fair chance that it will be L shaped.  I think the financial shock has been so bad that it is not good enough to wait.  I think the correct analogy is that we have had an earthquake, the house has cracked, and we would be smart to attend to the foundations.  In fact, why not take advantage to ‘build a better’ house were we have a more comfortable, more sociable and more exciting life.

I think that is the project politicians should be attending to, and I think we should too.  The sooner we identify the kind of “house” we want to live in, the sooner they can get on with organizing it!

Where do we find exciting opportunities during a prolonged recession?

As a psychologist, I listen out for the way people describe things. I look to the structure of their statements to identify what really excites them, what is going somewhere and where there is room for other people.

#1  Does the person describe action?

Do I know who is doing what, when, where and how?

#2  Is this a project that other people can join?

Do I know when and where other people can join the party?  Is the description an invitation to me and others?

#3  Is the person responsive when other people chip in?

Is the person looking for responses and did they allow time to reply to people?  Did they expect people to want to join them?

#4  Is the person curious about other people?

Does the person respond to inquiries and suggestions with requests for more information or elaboration?  Do they believe that other people can add value to their project?

#5  Through the entire conversation, does the person keep their eye on their goal?

While the person is responding to inquiries and following up, do they maintain their momentum and movement toward their goal?

Here’s my little acronym: AIRINGOAL






5 questions to tell whether a businesses is going somewhere

These are the 5 questions I ask to tell the difference between a business that may look thriving, and may go the same way as banks and newspapers, from business that will thrive despite the profession.

Once we have found a business that is vital and exciting, then we can ask more detailed questions about our role within it.  More on that tomorrow!

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To be a good manager, teacher or psychologist, I must believe in you fully

I know that learning is social

I teach.  I know that people learn dramatically more when they feel part of a common venture.

We understand a little about social learning

Social learning has barely been researched but we know a little.

  • We know we can stop people learning very effectively by excluding them – even inadvertently ~by loss of eye contact and they way we tell stories.
  • We know the Pymaglion effect is a powerful self-fulfilling prophecy.   My students will be as good as I think they are.

But the process of learnin begins when I show deep respect for who my students are and what they bring to my life.

E E Cummings on recognition

American poet E. E. Cummings puts it well:

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

To be an effective teacher, to be an effective manager, to be an effective psychologist ~ I must believe in you, 100%, without reservation.


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


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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