The SIOPSA Conference 2015 Gala-Dinner Speech
by Ceri Mongie
Aligned to the theme for this year’s conference, Breaking Through Tradition: IO Psychology for the 21st Century, I want to spend a few minutes discussing the role that IO Psychologists play in adding value to organisations.
Organisations are increasingly having to innovate and adapt to ensure they remain successful in the volatile environment in which they operate. For IO Psychologists to add value to businesses, our role is to influence and assist organisations in making these changes.
Organisations often succeed or fail according to the strength of their people. They are their most costly investment, their biggest risk – but also provide their greatest opportunity to achieve and maintain a competitive advantage. This strong link between talent and performance means that organisations that have a thorough understanding of their employee’s strengths and weaknesses see real business benefits. These business results are the kind of benefits that boards care most about such as increased sales, improved customer satisfaction and lower costs; yet how many have as sound an understanding of their people as they do of their finances, or of their asset portfolios?
Failing to recognise and leverage top talent can be as damaging as overlooking a missing zero in the company accounts. The key to maximizing the business value of talent is a closer pairing of organisations’ talent and business strategies. CEB research shows that closer merging can improve outcomes by up to 10%. It’s one reason why talent management is at the top of the executive agenda, with PwC revealing that developing a strong leadership and talent pipeline is their CEOs’ number one priority, alongside spending more time with customers (CEB, 2014).
Aligned to the necessity of developing strong leaders, one of the key innovative areas that Executives are currently focusing on is becoming Enterprise Leaders. Enterprise Leaders achieve their individual performance objectives, contribute towards and draw from the performance of others, and manage their teams to do the same. Enterprise leaders are viewed as “enterprise contributors” – employees who attend to their own tasks and responsibilities while seeking to build relationship with others to improve performance throughout the organization – who in turn work to enable those on their team to be enterprise contributors as well (CEB, 2014).
The enterprise leader is charged with Individual and Network Leadership (CEB, 2014). Task performance (Individual Leadership) is the set of responsibilities that fall to being the leader of a unit, department, or function (such as analysis, coaching, communication, budgeting, and so on), and may also include advising their teams in achieving their own tasks and assignments. Network performance (Network Leadership) is the set of responsibilities that address the context in which the work is done, often involving collaboration, innovation, and sharing of feedback and ideas. Together, these represent the domain of the Enterprise Leader, the outcomes that define performance, and a vision for identifying leaders who are up to this unique challenge. It is interesting to note that the research on Enterprise Leadership shows that Enterprise Leadership teams are 23% more innovative and 15% more adaptable than leadership teams not displaying Enterprise Leader behaviours (CEB, 2014).
As mentioned, boards are interested in solutions that deliver improvements to bottom line. Enterprise Leadership can provide these types of demonstrable business returns, including higher engagement, higher customer satisfaction and, research suggests, a 12% improvement in business-unit revenue growth (CEB, 2014).
With such an impact, it is critical that IO Psychologists are aware of informing and implementing strategic innovative initiatives such as Enterprise Leadership. If talent management is not a top priority for an executive’s agenda, we, in our roles as IO Psychologists, must ensure it becomes a critical topic in their strategy. This puts IO Psychologists in the decision-making position of strategy development of organisations at the highest level, enabling them to demonstrate their value to business.
This is easier said than done. One of the conundrums that IO Psychologists are regularly faced with is balancing the science and ethics in everything we do with the business objectives. I asked some of my IO Psychologist colleagues, albeit a small and therefore not representative sample, what they feel their role is with regards to the value they add, as psychologists, to organisations. Although a small sample of only 18 Psychologists, there were some definite themes emerging in the responses I received.
For me, the most prevalent themes can be summed up in the following:
As Psychologists we are able to advise, from a basis of credibility, against a background of scientific rigour, on the best application of talent practices. We ground these talent practices in our ethical standards and principles. We have a strong theoretical basis from which to understand human behaviour in order to facilitate change in growth in individuals and ultimately organisations against the sustainability of business. We need to critically evaluate the application of psychological principles within business, rather than make assumptions about their usefulness simply by appealing to psychological principles.
So, if we know that people are an organisation's greatest asset, and we know the value that we as IO psychologists can add to organisations in helping them better understand their employees, then we need to make a concerted effort to align our ethical principles and understanding of human behaviour to the strategy of an organisation. This aids them in their pursuit of becoming more innovative and ensuring our practices and principles enable this.
In theory, this appears simple and obvious but, as most of us can attest to, in practice, the C Suite of organisations have targets to meet and shareholders to answer to. We therefore need to find ways and opportunities to influence and support executives, enabling them to achieve their goals and strategies.
Recently, I was told the story of Team Sky. Most of you will have heard of them, especially with the very recent Tour de France, but for those who don’t, Team Sky is the British professional cycling team. In 2010, Dave Brailsford, the then new General Manager and Performance Director for the team, was faced with what seemed to be an impossible challenge. No British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France and it was requested that Brailsford change that (Clear, 2012). His approach was simple. He believed in a theory that he termed the “aggregation of marginal gains” (Clear, 2012, http://jamesclear.com/marginal-gains). He explained it as “the 1-percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His opinion was that if each cyclist in the team improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to significant improvement.
He began working on the obvious such as the nutrition of each rider, their training program and the ergonomics of the bike. However, he also searched for a 1-percent improvement in areas that were not as obvious. For example, he obtained pillows that ensured the best sleep, the most effective massage gel and educating the cyclists on the best way to wash their hands to try and avoid infection. In other words, he searched for 1-percent improvements in everything (Clear, 2012).
Brailsford was confident that if his strategy was successfully executed, Team Sky would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years’ time. Did he and the team achieve this? They won the Tour de France in three years. In 2012, Team Sky rider Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. In 2013, Team Sky repeated their achievement by winning the Tour de France again, this time with rider Chris Froome. Many have referred to the British cycling accomplishments in the Olympics and the Tour de France over the past 10 years as the most successful run in modern cycling history (Clear, 2012).
But what can we, as IO Psychologists, learn from Brailsford’s approach? We can also apply the principle of aggregation of marginal gains in our roles. We typically convince ourselves that change is meaningful if we see a visible and significant outcome. However, by improving only 1 percent in all areas and by thinking outside of the box, although not initially noticeable, the value we bring to organisations can be significant in the long term. The reverse can also be true. If you stick to the same methods of doing things and using the same tools, you will most likely experience poor results (Clear, 2012). These poor results are typically not because something happened overnight but as a result of a 1-percent decline here and there.
So, if each one of us starts to make a 1-percent improvement in what we do, and encourage our colleagues to do the same, we will begin to see the positive impact on the businesses we work with and for. We can start to make improvements in showing the value we add to businesses by encouraging, supporting and influencing changes, such as becoming more innovative whilst utilising our knowledge of human behaviour. If we choose to stick to what we know and have done in the past, we will not do justice to the organisations we work for and with, the employees whose lives we influence and change on a daily basis, and to ourselves as IO Psychologists.
There is no end to making these 1-percent improvements. Team Sky continues to perform and achieve their goals through making 1-percent incremental changes, which has enabled them to not only meet their commitments, but exceed them by winning two of the last six Tour de France tours and Chris Froome winning again this year.
Director, Talent Solutions
SHL Talent Measurement Solutions
CEB – What the Best Companies Do
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