“Being a psychologist” in a business setting too often translates as “You are analyzing (read: assuming you know and judging) me,” “You think I need therapy,” “You’re wasting time we could use accomplishing something,” or “You really think psychobabble talk and bearing my soul isn’t a waste of time?” Psychologist, therapist, counselor, and now, goodness knows, executive coach: professional know-it-all’s who give business advice without understanding how, when, why businesses really work.
So what could a psychologist potentially bring to the privately-held business table?
Psychologist as social scientist: frames hypotheses and conducts research in the areas of human behavior, personality development and change.
Psychologist as clinician: observes and analyzes how people think, feel, and behave.
Psychologist as health service provider: applies behavioral science research to alleviating emotional and mental distress for individuals, couples, families.
Psychologist as organizational consultant: utilizes knowledge of human behavior and interpersonal dynamics to optimize group, team and leadership functioning.
Most psychologists specialize in one of the above. A psychologist who’s useful in a family business context is ideally expert in all four. S/he should understand how individual personalities, styles and psychological needs impact this particular organization, and how the organization and its processes impact individual behavior. S/he should understand how business works, how this particular business works: the nature of the business, the market, the competitive landscape, the financial structure, external factors that impact success.
And – most uniquely – s/he should creatively utilize psychological thought processes to achieve tangible financial results. Because in this context, the goal is not to understand, not to feel better, not to share touchy-feely ‘kumbaya’ moments, but to optimize the organizational processes that will sustain growth and make more money.
Questions to ask to get at all that?
“In the following business scenario, what are the issues that need to be addressed – and why? What is unique about your ability to help us solve the problem?” – You want someone who offers a different, insightful, useful!, perspective on the problems the business needs solved.
“What do you need to know to be of use to us?” – You want someone who knows what s/he needs to know and learn about how the business runs, who can read a spreadsheet and speak the language.
And then there are the old standbys:
“Your experience with privately-held businesses? Successful outcomes? Failures?”
“How can you help us increase profitability?”
“Got any references?”
Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.