Anyone who works for a large organisation and who has ever wanted to do something constructive for that organisation, will have experienced the same questions and the same dark forces waiting to challenge their brilliantly conceived scheme: the finance department.

Arguably, it’s reasonable enough that a corporation, preoccupied as it is with making, sustaining and growing profit, should have a beady eye on every single cost that is incurred in the course of such pursuits.

That this can lead to conflicts and disputes is unquestionable.  Frequently the return on investment from activity, particularly marketing activity, is hard to evaluate: it can be tricky to gauge how long a long term brand-building exercise will be making a return and valuing brands themselves is a topic that is hotly debated.  Assumptions are made (explicitly or implicitly) and models constructed: although often the casual observer might question the extent to which these are attempts to justify the intended decision, rather than entirely objective evaluations: the latter being fraught with difficulty precisely because of the number of assumptions that must be made.

All of which, in a roundabout sort of a way, gets me to my point about what companies might be missing: psychology.

Consider for a moment all of the corporate functions that deal in areas that are directly or indirectly concerned with psychology:

  • Marketing and market research deal directly with the business of influencing and understanding consumers.  Human resources are frequently involved in matters of appraisal, evaluation and motivation.
  • The facilities management people create the environment in which workers work or customers shop (arguably there is no bigger influence on either workers or shoppers than the environment in which their activity takes place).
  • There is a lot of good work being applied to the sales arena from psychology (the psychology of influence), and it’s relevant in procurement negotiations too.
  • Add in the issue of Groupthink and all the problems it has been shown to cause in organisational decision-making: management teams and boards of directors routinely tread in areas where psychologists can help them avoid succumbing to confirmation bias and group influence.
  • Consider also inter-personal and inter-departmental dynamics: getting these relationships functioning appropriately is critical to organisational success.
  • Finally, employing someone who would understand the merits, design requirements and interpretation of experimental tests could save organisations from leaping too far without adequate evidence.

So almost every function dabbles in psychology, just as every function is involved in finance, but there is never (in my experience) a corporate resource to oversee the way in which psychology is applied, or even that it is considered at all.

Companies could gain enormously from having a psychologically well-informed eye watching over their actions.  Should any enlightened organisation reading this care to make a positive step and offer me a non-executive director role with their company I would be happy to consider it!

Philip Graves


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