Addicted to the science of people?

Psychometrics is essentially about predicting the future, especially when it comes to people and their organisational fit. Some might say, it’s all pretty much a best, bet guess about how people will behave going forward.  Every psychometric test falls within the scientific paradigm which sounds pretty harmless, and even impressive, until I understood what that actually means.

The Scientific or Positivist paradigm assumes that reality is stable and exists even when we don’t. That is based on a fundamental assumption that we cannot trust people and must thus come up with consistent and reliable measurement tools. In short, our opinions and views must be ignored and bypassed.  The scientific model also agrees to pursue disproving all previous insights and proven assumptions, and thus demands a continual skepticism. And there is no space for any grey.

To be honest, my whole body doesn’t reverberate with excitement at this world view.

The Interpretative paradigm suggests that we can never really know what is real and that everything is interpreted through our history and is totally subjective. There are thus multiple realities, and lots of grey.

According to the Constructionist paradigm, reality is a construct based on the interactions between people and things, therefore no people and no interaction, then no reality. Even more grey. Let me remind you that science does not like grey.

Here is my challenge. I believe strongly in the latter two paradigms, but according to the ethics of science and psychology, I must wholeheartedly believe in the scientific model, and nothing else, if I am to administer psychometric assessments. Oops, to be honest I didn’t know that. What is apparently more of a transgression, is conducting a test and then picking apart the findings from the perspective of another paradigm. Apparently that is like making a chocolate waffle, and asking a wine taster to rank it among the best Merlot in the world.  I think I do this a lot.

Key learning: it is time to be more deliberate and intentional about how I lean on science in my pursuit of relevance and credibility. Whilst skepticism is a scientific value, I can not let my skepticism with psychometric assessments muddy the results. I would be better served trying to disprove the underlying assumptions and thus adding to the field of Psychology. That we don’t do well at all, more of that next time.

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What makes a true Organisational Development Consultant?

I work with a broad swathe of people specialists. Learning and strategy experts too. They call themselves many different names, from executive coaches (although many don’t coach executives), to facilitators (who mainly train), to consultants (who do little more than simply respond to the immediate brief of a client) and even consulting psychologists (who are actually not that at all). The truth is, many people working in the people development space scramble to find words to describe what they do, and when they do settle on a name, it’s usually long and triple barreled. In other words, clumsy. So here is how I might be able to help. If you are in the people business, both within and outside of organisations is this what you do?

1. Aim to improve employee well being
2. And organisational effectiveness
3. And support planned change interventions that influence and impact the above

If that’s pretty much what you do, then you might be (drum roll), an organisational development specialist. Still triple barreled but accurate, or maybe not.

Let’s try again, do you:

1. Identify a problem/challenge facing an organisation?
2. Then Design an intervention to solve it?
3. Then Evaluate impact and entrenchment of the new way of doing things?
4. Then Enable the intervention to be internalised and accepted?

Mmm, number 3 and 4 are tricky, and I know for a fact many don’t get it right, and more scarily, don’t even attempt them. So maybe you are not yet ready to be an OD consultant. Let’s look at these and see what they tell us, do you:

1. Focus only on micro-approaches at individual level for example, you are just a coach.
2. Have only one solution to offer for example a single tool or content
3. Take on ad hoc and random work within an organisation just to pay the bills
4. Do not exclusively aim to raise morale and attitudes of people within an organisation

A yes to any of these, and I am sorry to say, you are further and further away from being a true OD consultant. Here is the final list, and it’s all about ethics, and you may need to imagine a final hammer being nailed into your aspirations of a multi syllabled title. Have you ever:

1. Misrepresented or exaggerated the efficacy of your work
2. Colluded with a certain party or function to serve their interests within an organisation
3. Misused data (or misunderstood research) to serve your own ends and gain more work
4. Manipulated or coerced people into working with you
5. Overstated your qualification to work within organisational change and effectiveness
6. Over emphasised organisational results and profits as a result of your engagements

Ouch! Not many people will admit to these at the next Community of Practice gathering but these lists have certainly made me think. I have no doubt our intentions are good, but are we ALL equipped to bleed across the boundaries of our own focus area and truly claim to be OD consultants. My blunt response is no, and here is why; because if OD consulting is about supporting planned change to enhance organisational effectiveness and employee well-being, then we had all better be specialists in change, behavioural science and complex systems. Not many people can claim that pedigree. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Are you absolutely certain that you believe everything you think?

In the past, rocking up at university had pretty much been about slip slops, board shorts and lateness. So heading back to the towers of learning in smart-casual business wear rattled the 20-something student of decades ago (scary use of the word ‘decades’).

It didn’t take long though for the weight of WISDOM, and the fire of THOUGHT to consume me. Dr that, Professor this, research here, conference there. It was like a wave of mothers’ milk washed brain nutrition over me. Neural pathways began flickering back to life, and I rediscovered an unyielding energy for listening and an insatiable curiosity.

I was left wondering when last I’d felt like that. My answer bugged me.

But it was all put right. Within 48 hours of university life in 2017, I had a cartload of ideas, rigid opinions and stubborn assumptions upended. It felt like a poking nudge, sometimes with the force of a word, or a real, proven piece of valid research, that sent my perfectly staged collection of valuable, consultant solutions crashing and rolling around the proverbial market place. And I loved it!

So the questions we all may ponder – Who do you turn to, to have your views and perceptions kicked down the road? And are you absolutely certain that you believe everything you think?

Either way, I would invite you to put the sandals of freedom on your mind, and take a tour of all the new ideas, insights and knowledge that your stiff-suited self might be ignoring! I hope to help that ruffling process along.

What is Consulting Psychology anyway?

This is what Oxford Google Dictionary spat out: Consulting psychology is a specialty area of psychology that addresses such areas as assessment and interventions at the individual, group, and organizational levels.

Mmm. isn’t that what I’m already doing? umm, and many of you? The fact is, often this work we do is like building a plane in mid flight (and without a parachute). I wanted more, so in addition to my research focus on the ‘critical activities that enable behaviour change in executives to lead cultural transformation’, I am also going to deep dive and intellectually scrum with the following topics (the headings will have to do for now, meat will land on those bones as we go):

Consultation as Process
Research Mentodology and Application
Developing assessment technologies
Individual assessment
Individual wellness and work adjustment
Counselling
Career and executive coaching
Group dynamics and assessment
Diversity dynamics
Organisational effectiveness and interventions
Organisational development and facilitation of change
Consulting Psychology conference

If you think anyone you know would be interested in; or deserves or needs to be topped up; in these areas then invite them to join us!