Bernardo Tirado (Author)
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Introduction to Business Psychology
The discipline of business psychology, also known as industrial psychology, originated with the U.S. military, which wanted to know whether they had the right soldiers in the right jobs, and it evolved from psychologists administering psychometric tests to recruits to the development of human relations models where employees were the focal point. If you’ve been in the workplace for long enough, you may have noticed that how you work today is quite different from how you worked ten years ago. There has been a shift in how people perform work. For example, beginning in the 1990s during the dot-com boom, many companies changed their work environments to allow employees to dress down (“business casual”) or to relax and play games, all based on the theory that relaxed employees will spend more time at work and increase both their creativity and their productivity.
Today, many companies want people to work in teams, where previously they wanted their employees to work independently and to compete against each other. So what’s driving this change? It’s the need to be innovative, to be relevant in the marketplace, and to have sustainable products and services in which shareholders will want to continue to invest.
Whether you work for a financial services firm or a construction company, the need to lead people is critical to the success of projects. What I learned early on was that business psychology was not emphasized among the various project management methodologies launched through the years. As I progressed in my career, I started to build a model and fine-tune it to not only help my clients but also help me be the best in the marketplace: the Project Management Human Performance model (PmHP; see Figure 1-1).
FIGURE 1-1: The Project Management Human Performance Model
The Individual part of my model started to form when I first entered the corporate world. I was fortunate to work with a rising star within my company. She managed to jump several pay grades in one promotion, something that was practically unheard-of. While I was working for her, I really didn’t appreciate her tough style. There were times when she would ask me to write her communications and, after I submitted them to her, would return them with red marks all over them. At first, I was offended because I thought she was trying to tell me that I didn’t know how to write. But I eventually realized she was teaching me to have an eye for executive-level communication.
The invaluable experiences I gained in working with her enabled me to realize that what you say and do need to match who you are—or want to be. This level of personal congruency becomes critical when you’re leading people. People want to be led by individuals they trust and whom they feel they know; they will be motivated only if their leaders can inspire them.
A few roles later, I became a part of a specialized team that focused solely on generating savings for my division. Our goal was to hunt for ways to save money and pitch the ideas to senior management to allow us to move forward. It was quite an interesting role, because traditionally this team was responsible for deciding how to cut jobs. Fortunately, the company realized that cutting jobs meant losing a large amount of knowledge; therefore, this team was repurposed to find other ways to save money with minimal impact on positions.
Team emerged from these experiences, because often people who were assigned to work on a project did not want to be there. I found that the most successful project managers fostered an environment that was rewarding and that motivated the team to give their best. Project managers need to understand the conscious and unconscious behaviors going on in their teams. Understanding the science behind group dynamics provides them with the data needed to help them determine how to best motivate the team.
Having worked with senior executives for most of my career, I’ve been privy to private discussions that made me realize that some projects get axed because of political reasons. When I started to manage large-scale projects, I knew that it was not only important to deliver the project; it was equally important to showcase the value to my sponsors that the project would generate. Showcasing this value to others made a more compelling case to keep the project in the event that the sponsor left the company or moved to a new role.
Organization prepares project managers to think holistically and understand where their efforts fall within the totem pole. The reason why it’s important to know this is that if your projects are all at the bottom of the totem pole AND you don’t really have advocates within the organization, chances are your job may be at risk. This part of the model and the chapters within it provide insight into what you need to do to be fully informed and prepared for what to do next.
The psychology behind how an organization functions, such as culture, will be critical to the implementation success of your project. For example, if your worker population is made up of people who are from the “Baby Boomer” and “Veterans” generations and your project is to introduce Twitter as a productivity tool, most likely it will fail. So knowing your organizational culture will help you understand what kind of change management activities you will need to ensure are in place, so that there is a higher acceptance of the product you plan to launch.
Lastly, Project. Having been a project, program, and portfolio manager, I’ve learned that everything you use should be considered as tools in a toolkit; as such, what I share with you should be just that. I reserved this part of the model to tie in how business psychology applies to projects. As you know, you are only as good as your last project. How well you present yourself to your stakeholders, team members, and peers will help you secure meatier projects and enable you to become an invaluable resource.
I close with an example of how all these concepts come together. I was asked to build a global PMO for the international operations group of a Fortune 500 company. One of my first tasks was to inventory all the projects. When I finally received the list of hundreds of projects, I asked the project managers to add a red, amber, green (RAG) status to their projects. For weeks, all these projects were always green.
Now you and I both know that it’s impossible to have hundreds of projects with a RAG status of green 100 percent of the time. I found out that any time a project went to amber or red, senior management would reprimand the project manager; as a result, project managers changed their behavior to always report green. This meant that I had to help reset the mindset from amber and red being “bad” to amber and red meaning “help.” It took some time, but by leveraging business psychology and helping reshape the organizational culture, I not only improved how projects were reported but ensured that the project managers were given the tools to do an effective job.
The four parts of the PmHP model are based on the psychological disposition of the project manager, project team member, organization, and end users. To be successful, you will need to learn the concepts and use the tools in the following chapters to help you see what is not always clearly obvious.
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