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Tag: work & organizational psychology

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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ReadWriteWeb has come alive . . .

. . . with great and interesting posts every day.

Today Alex wrote on the recession, which is worrying lots of people. I’m a Zimbo so I am going, ahh! this ain’t so hard. Forgive me. This is what I have to say.

1. I have never worked with a lazy person, ever.

I have worked with people who were thoroughly disengaged and very unhappy. I have worked with people who I thought were misdirected (yes I thought, they didn’t).

People like working. The great trick is integrating people. And I will be the first to say that can be hard. I always take the view that we hired someone because they are good. If we are falling out, the responsibility is mutual and we should help the person (typically with the least power) move on to a better place – where they are highly valued, better paid, etc. And if we are so far down the road of conflict we can’t see the good anymore, we should back off and let someone else manage the relationship. I want to kiss goodbye (with relief as right now we are on a path to hating each other) and recover our friendship in due course. We both mismanaged our relationship. It is time for us to recover and make good.

2. I don’t want to work in a place where some pigs are more equal than others . . .

I’m a conventional HR-based psychologist. I do selection – you know those awful tests and reports telling you who you are. I can run up a comp-and-benefit scheme explaining who gets more money and why. I predict labor demand within organizations and match supply (to make sure we don’t suffer too much when you leave). I run the hello and goodbye programs. And I bollock anyone who gets into a disciplinary scenario because of the paper work they make for us all.

But I don’t want to work in a place where one person is more important than anyone else.

Everyone is important otherwise why did we hire them? Floors are not cleaned as a luxury. Clean floors are essential to the smooth running of our business, etc. etc.

I hate the idea that we look after the top 10% of people.  Why do I select people, then, I hear you say? Because we have the technology to identify the matches that will never work – the extreme cases. Let’s make ourselves useful, folks. I am also happy when my deli refuses to sell me something because what I intend to do with their food is just plain horrible. There is nothing wrong with someone who knows, leaning over to someone who doesn’t, and saying, if you want to achieve X, do it like Y.  What a wonderful expression of goodwill. I am saved disappointment and I feel great that someone cared enough to tell me.

3. Can organizations be egalitarian? Don’t we need leaders?

I discovered Barbara Sliter’s blog Creatorship – courtesy of Galba Bright. Thank you so much.

I have stopped believing in leadership. I believe we thrust up people to represent us. It is a dynamic process, as we are seeing the States right now. The answer is not given, and the person who most respects the dynamic will win, by definition.

On a daily basis, in my conventional role as a work psychologist, leadership is shared. I deliver data, collected professionally and organized to inform action in the circumstances we are in. Our understanding of the situation evolves during discussions, as mine does. And “leadership” shifts with the part of the situation we are considering. The “leader”, be it the senior line manager present, or any one else, leads by representing our collective and considered view to us and to others.

Sometimes the senior line person is so much more experienced than the rest of us, they add an overview we all recognize immediately as bringing us together. Mostly, they are sufficiently experienced, in our line of work and in leadership roles (they probably started practicing at pre-school!) and recognize when we are reaching agreement which they sum up effectively so that we can move forward with full confidence in each other.

Often, they find the group view is very much at odds with their own, but they represent our view effectively anyway. They value their people. We are on the team for a reason. Together we will make good decisions. We won’t always be right. And sometimes we will be right, but won’t win.

But we will put our best foot forward! They know that.

Barbara Sliter puts this so much better than I do. People who haven’t had the privilege of working in professional, collegial settings are ready. Ready to co-create meaning at work.

What I can do, is add the stories and the robust HR technologies for the pay systems, etc. I’ve seen places where the “least senior” person chairs the meeting. It works. And why not? They will be the least opinionated after all!

4. Recessions offer opportunity too.

Go back to Zimbabwe I hear you say. Maybe I will. I haven’t heard that for a while – at least 6 months. I must be keeping good company.

What counts in life is finding opportunity in what looks like a negative space. A 3% downturn is not trouble, believe me! But it is disconcerting. The firms that sit down, and openly talk about what is opening up for them, will thrive.

To refer to the American elections again, I deliberately engaged with Obama-skeptics to find out their objections. They don’t want universal health insurance, presumably because it may cost them a little. My scampering mind screams OPPORTUNITY! Where is Melissa Clark-Reynolds? I don’t know if you are Kiwi, Alex, but Richard will know whom I mean.

Whomever asks the best questions under frustration wins! I’ve also just found Galba Bright’s blog. He has posted today a great heuristic for managing meetings and particularly tricky meetings. I am going to look at that more closely today.

Thanks, Alex. I liked your post. It is closer to the egalitarian world I like (provided I am in charge of course!). I like working with knowledge workers. And BTW, Gen Y really get this. I had a conversation late last night with a colleague’s son who had been deputed by his father to help me with a website. At one point the young man said to me: tell me a little more about your skill set so I know what you will be contributing. Yep, indeed. They hold their own!

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