When Psychology Talks, Money Listens

Today global HR and risk management consulting firm, Towers Watson, announced the purchase of Saville Consulting (a psychology-based assessment firm) for £42 million. This is clearly a justification that psychology makes money — and not just at wholesale.

In the wake of similar acquisitions, firms delivering good psychometric assessment at work have now been just about totally gobbled up by the much larger HR conglomerates.

Read about it here.

It didn’t used to be this way.

A little respect, please?

I remember very well a conversation I had about 10 years ago with a consultant at one of the (then) “Big 6” consulting firms. At the time I was working as an internal consultant for a global transportation and logistics firm. Our ‘polite’ conversation eventually boiled down to the following statements:

We work on fixing the business so it can take care of the people. (Big 6 consultant)

Hmm, I thought.

We work on taking care of the people so that they can fix the business. (me)

Where do relationships come in?

People are social animals. Yep: you’re an animal. I’ve always wondered how to respond to a frequent, but simplistic ‘personality-type’ question: “If you were an animal, what would you be?” {Ok, I get it. I play along.}

In fact: As social animals we have two basic needs:

  1. To get along
  2. To get ahead

You can see this dynamic at work everywhere you look.

The key to getting along and getting ahead is RELATIONSHIPS. Anytime two or more are gathered, you’ve got the premise of a relationship. The nature of these relationships will define the extent to which any individual “get’s along” or “get’s ahead.”

Relationships are the key to social survival, acceptance, influence and dominance. There are exceedingly rare exceptions to this. Some people don’t relate to others — at all. But that’s a different subject and not the focus of this blog.

More fun with “Big Consultants”

In another example of consultative respect (yes, you do sense some sarcasm), I recall a business trip during which a colleague of mine and I came upon another consultant of the “Big 6”. Oooooh.

My colleague and friend asked the statuesque other what he did for work. His bold response:

“I manage MONEY.”

Wow, pretty cool. But I sensed that my (nicer than me) colleague might let this go. Fortunately, and somewhat predictably, the other consultant followed up by asking what my friend and I did. I touched my friend’s shoulder to signal my desire to respond:

“We manage PEOPLE who manage money.”

{BTW: I’m much more polite now. #learnsfromexperience}

Virtually since it’s inception, I/O psychology — the application of psychological science to the world of work — has been mocked and ridiculed by numerous critics, and even those totally unaware of the discipline, as that “soft stuff.” “You’re a psychologist to machines?”, I remember being a common question of me.


Well, depending on how you define “soft stuff”, I suppose the label isn’t entirely incorrect. But I wonder if these claims meant that someday psychology at work would be so “soft” as to be one of the best selling topics of management magazines, books and periodicals? Leadership, Engagement, Millennials, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and so on. Psychology at work is everywhere.

Following today’s transaction, it seems that the validity of I/O Psychology (Industrial/Organizational Psychology), once dismissed by the “Big Firms” as that “soft stuff”, is now worth “BIG money.” I’m not, nor ever have been a “Big 6” consultant, but I think money falls under the definition of the “hard stuff.” Even if not, who cares?

Why the change of attitude?

People are at the headwaters of any organizational outcome; money (revenue) as one example. Everything that happens in the world of work depends on people and the decisions they make or effect.

Not only are people at the headwaters, we’re also at the pond. Consumers, clients, stakeholders, however you define them, are the end users of organization products and services. We, too, have and make decisions. You can be assured that sales and marketing teams are VERY interested in the psychological factors that influence a potential buyer’s decisions — they know that psychology makes money.

It’s not simply that people are involved in every link of the market chain, they pull the chain, too.

We know more everyday about how and why people act, feel and think the way they do.

And big consulting is now VERY interested in this.

A gentleman’s bet

For the financial managers who would like to take me up on a little challenge. I invite the following:

You pick a publicly traded company of your choice, analyze it for a day and predict where its stock will be one year from now. I’ll select an individual from within that company, analyze them for a day and predict where they’ll be (career wise) a year later. Whoever is closest wins.

Would you take my challenge?

Perhaps I’m getting a little close to what others may say is parading my ‘touchdown dance’. Admittedly, even a veteran of I/O psychology; a coach and consultant to others on matters such as emotional intelligence and self-control, can have his days.

This is mine.

Psychways is owned and produced by Talentlift, LLC.

Psyched up?
Sign up for free updates:


%d bloggers like this: