In the Press


1. Sunday Telegraph - Companies on the Couch - by Kati St Clair

Businesses can benefit from a few therapy sessions, discovers Kati St Clair

Businesses behave like people – they have personalities and psyches. They behave like people for the obvious reason that they are run by people. So if people have personalities and psyches, it follows that businesses do too. And just like individuals they conform to psychological stereotypes. There are vital business lessons in this simple fact.

It is a commonplace that a particular personality at the top, such as an adventurous chief executive, not only colours but often determines the profile and success of a business. This can often be the source of failure when the boss, drunk on success, fails to develop any further and becomes a block to modernisation or expansion. But this commonplace is rarely seen for what it is: the starting point for a new way at looking at business. Understanding the psychology of your business and those of your competitors is a valuable and underused business tool.

Companies need to assess how they are perceived, they need to assess their clients, their markets, their history. They constantly need to adjust to change and new developments, new competition, new market forces. Without knowing who you are, it is probably impossible to perceive new possibilities or make emotionally appropriate choices.

Companies need decision making, vision, creativity and, crucially, they need clarity. Clarity can be described as appropriate awareness or insight. If it remains ignorant about itself, it may be accidentally successful. But in the long run it and its people will become stuck in inappropriate behaviours. And failure will not be far behind.

When I ask how a business perceives itself, varying and not very insightful answers fly back. In much the same way, when I ask an individual starting therapy if they have any idea how they are perceived by others, their answers simply are not consistent with the problems they describe.

Some of this is understood: it is now common as part of individual assessments in companies to have “360” feed back. And psychologists are often used to help solve issues this sort of assessment uncovers. But the idea of self awareness for the company as a whole is rarely pursued outside the marketing department.

By asking the right questions you can find out what makes your company move :

  • What are its goals?
  • How is success measured?
  • How did the top people get their jobs?
  • How do people communicate within the firm?
  • What are the intellectual and behavioural conformities?
  • How do people speak?
  • How do they dress?
  • What are its boundaries?
  • Does the company have clear or fuzzy or no boundaries?
  • How is the company seen by people in its industry, by suppliers and customers?
  • What sort of behaviour happens in a crisis?

Honest answers to these questions are the basis for drawing up a psychological description of the company. These will characterise the predominant emotional forces in the firm and identify strengths and weaknesses – and possibly even pathologies! It has a crucial role in predicting what types of dysfunction can paralyse the business. Many businesses and business people lack clarity: what kind of manic optimism prevented any sensing of the dotcom bubble? Why is it that a bull market overshoots? Why do bear markets become so risk averse irrespective of any optimistic market indicators?>

The following are some questions for prospective joiners of a company:

  • Do its aspirations match yours?
  • Do you have an appropriate communication style, skills and abilities?
  • Why did you choose to work there in the first place?
  • Can you attain your best potential and does your potential promote the business?

If the individual makes the wrong choice, the company suffers. If the company deceived the individual both suffer. But if they got it right, both benefit. So interaction between corporate psyche and human psyche is as crucial as knowing what these are. It is not enough to have the right academic qualifications; we need people skills and emotional intelligence.

The workplace is a cauldron of dynamics — microcosms of the many worlds we inhabit. It is crucial to acquire and practise a high degree of sophisticated psychological skills if a company is to develop, flourish or survive.

Corporate psychology can identify, diagnose, predict, correct, advise and treat all sorts of company ills. Most importantly, as a corporate medicine it is preventative. Nor is it there just as a medicine. It is a developmental tool that should be part of the standard business skill set.