‘I’m a manager – not a psychologist!’

In my 20 year career working with businesses and organisations in both the private, public and charity sector, I have used a wide variety of training methods and tools as a trainer and as a line manager/leader: from NLP (Neuro Lingustic Programming), MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) to Transactional Analysis. All of these interventions were aimed at improving business and organisational performance through people.

ABA vs. psychology based interventions

Nearly 10 years ago, I became a student of Applied Behaviour Analysis and since then my view of our previous methodologies has changed dramatically. The more I think about it – the more concerned I become for the people selling psychology based interventions and the more concerned I’ve become about the people buying it!

A case in point: a Sales Coach of a contact centre told me that he’d spoken to 3 training suppliers – all of whom got very excited at the prospect of training his 300 advisors in a variety of telephone techniques and sales psychology. He laughed when I said ‘please don’t……’

There is little or no doubt that changes in business performance come from changes in behaviour, and that psychology has a fundamental role in behaviour – what we think drives what we do. I recently listened to a fascinating radio programme that discussed a new brain scanning technique; essentially the scan can observe a physiological response in the brain to various stimulae. Responses to ‘colour’ for example can be located and the thing I found fascinating is that these physiological responses are rarely focused to just one area of the brain. Lots of ‘blobs’ (seriously; the best scientific label they could give to the responses was ‘blob’) were activated at the same time. Also, people’s blobs occurred at different times, in different places and in different intensity to the same response – some people respond to colour while others don’t.

Okay, so understanding that the brain is a very complex organ is hardly news, but the study into its operation is quite fascinating. All of this boils down to…

4 problems that I have with taking a psychological approach to the way we manage staff to produce greater performance:

  1. Education. It is a little too easy for trainers and managers to become certified in the various tools I mentioned previously and bill themselves as ‘experts’ in the things that go on in the mind. These Potted Psychologists are doing 7 day courses and then heading into businesses to use what they have ‘learned’ to influence change in people. Surely if it was this easy university psychology degrees could be cut overnight to a week?
  2. Proof. How do you prove you have changed a person’s belief? I’m sure that a well-studied psychologist would have a bunch of scientific-based tools they could employ to do this. But most managers and leaders are too busy being experts in their own field, running their organisations and departments to spend time doing this well.
  3. Ethics. Most people come in to work to do a job. Some love their work and want to get better at it. Either way, what gives a manager or trainer the right to rattle around with someone’s belief system just to ‘sell more’? Your beliefs are what make you you!
  4. Human performance is a serious topic that sometimes gets a bad press. Positive methods of leadership – ‘employee of the month’, ‘feed forward’ rather than ‘feedback’ and coaching methods that sail so close to therapy that the lines become blurred, do nothing to lessen this reputation. The simple fact is that the methodologies that will improve business performance through behaviour are the same as those used in all behaviour influencing systems. Unfortunately they have only just started to be taken seriously by the business world.

I conclude by saying… please, please, please… what is the behavioural result you want from your people? (What do you actually want them to say or do on the telephone?)… before you fiddle about inside their minds, or train 300 of them in psychology based sales techniques!

When you have the pinpointed answer to that question… Have you told them what you want them to do? And are you reinforcing them when they do it?

No complicated psychology text books in sight! 🙂