Mind over Management

Article excerpt

Having problems with employee retention or motivation? Orla Leonard explains why a business psychologist can throw light on some of the key managerial issues facing FDs

A discipline as ordered and professional as financial management may seem a world away from psychology, but the two are more compatible than most people think. The first management psychologists were pioneering techniques in business more than 70 years ago and they succeeded in turning the practice into a serious and important resource for business. The fresh approaches it brought to tasks were seen as important and useful tools, and the principle of psychologists helping to boost commercial profits soon gained credibility.

As a psychologist working in commerce, I am not trying to smuggle psychotherapy into the workplace under a different name. My job is not to "fix" people, rather to help organisations become more successful through better management of the human side of their strategy.

The higher people climb in an organisation, the more important the psychological context becomes. This is because the further they travel up the corporate hierarchy, the more their jobs tend to focus on leading other people who are carrying out the fundamental tasks of the organisation, rather than carrying out those tasks themselves.

In the case of management accountants and financial managers, the burden of psychological factors can become particularly heavy as they gain promotion, because, right from the start, this profession allows little time to develop interpersonal and people management skills.

Many financial managers are puzzled to find that, although their careers are going well, there are aspects of company activity that cannot be explained away simply by applying the principles of accountancy.

For example, the figures for one of my clients showed excellent growth, and management accounts from its various profit centres presented the image of a highly successful organisation. But the company was having problems because its high-flyers tended to leave or were successfully headhunted after only a few years. Replacements from outside didn't seem to last long enough to make a difference.

This is where management psychologists come in. Problems such as this are often best handled by practitioners whose professional skills combine practical business disciplines and a heavyweight psychological background. …