A Guest Blog by Manjula Bray, Business Psychologist and Leadership Expert.
A better first question might be: ‘what is business psychology?’ – something I am often asked to explain at networking events. Siri defines psychology it as:
‘the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context. The mental characteristics or attitudes of a person or group. The mental factors governing a situation or activity.’
It’s an ‘ology’ because we psychologists use an experimental method to explore theories we have about humans – using statistics to support our findings which hopefully means that our conclusions can be more transparent and robust.
As a business psychologist, I operate in the workplace to identify, assess and develop the behaviours of individuals that contribute to an organisation’s performance e.g. recruitment processes, leadership development. It certainly helps that I have a grounding in human resource management (previously an HR practitioner, now a fellow of the CIPD) and an understanding of business (Masters in entrepreneurship).
So why would measuring behaviour, mental characteristics or attitudes in the workplace matter? Well firstly, the contributions that you and your team members make can add value – or conversely, diminish your potential to add value.
One popular way of measuring personality is through psychometric instruments, or questionnaires to assess specific facets of behaviours. Think of a bi-polar scale with, for example ‘adherence to rules’ at one extreme end (e.g. someone who stuck rigidly to every piece of NHS guidance for hand washing). At the opposite end of the scale would be someone who was more relaxed e.g. less vigilant about hand washing when in their own home.
Exactly where a person ‘sits’ on this scale has implications … as does someone placed around the mid-point. I would be curious to establish what their usual attitude towards rules was – because when recruiting operators into a high-risk environment like chemical manufacturing (my last job). Why? Because operators needed to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) precisely – without missing any steps so that hazards and accidents could be avoided or at the least, be minimised. My preference in those days was definitely to recruit rule sticklers rather than rule breakers!
However, if I wanted to recruit someone for a job where a degree of innovation could potentially benefit their business’ performance, then I would possibly be happy with or even seek a rule-relaxed candidate.
Improving systems and processes
The internal workings of the mind, whether conscious or unconscious, determine our behaviours in all contexts (i.e. at work and play) so understanding the drivers of motivation enables employers to harness and develop better systems and processes in an organisation.
Another example from my HR days comes from a post redundancy period, when my employers offered a 9-day fortnight working pattern to help motivate the remaining workforce. The idea of having a long weekend every other week was a huge success that needed little effort and no cost to introduce, but earned major brownie points toward the ‘psychological’ employment contract.
Hopefully these few examples give you a flavour of why and how business psychology helps business by enabling employers to predict behaviour of new recruits with a degree of accuracy…and how this could be a definite plus from both a risk management and an opportunity optimisation perspective. Can you recall an occasion where someone started a new job and it transpired that you were duped with the information they presented at their interview? How much did it cost you in the end (time and money) to clean things up?
Next time, I will talk a little about personality and decision-making preferences – what makes a good decision?
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