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Psychological insight: A vital tool for executive reconfigurations

It’s challenging to build teams with the right mix of skill sets and mindsets: deep psychological work is vital for successful executive reconfigurations.

Business meeting

As change intensifies, I find myself increasingly involved in enabling organisations to effectively reconfigure their executive teams.

Right now, there’s significant attention around how a modern executive team should look and act and heightened expectations of senior leaders. With several prominent failures in the public eye, it is evident that getting the right leaders and mindset at the top requires a much deeper approach.

When boards and CEOs are working on the composition of their teams, they can only glean so much about candidates from their track record and the executive search interview process; there are key facets of a human’s psychology and mindset that are almost impossible to get hold of without working closely with a specialist who deeply understands behaviour.

Psychologists are highly skilled at getting behind the mask and understanding an individual’s deeply entrenched values, attitude and capabilities. They have holistic mental models and deep skills to unpack, understand and explain the make-up of a person’s capabilities and mindset, and can translate these intangible elements into how they will likely play out in the context of the organisation and the executive team.

Further, talented organisational psychologists will be able to embed this insight and connect it with the business strategy, economic context and value drivers of the business. Having a psychologist work on understanding the executive team at this intimate, detailed level brings a new dimension of insight to the questions that CEOs and boards need answered today.

While this deep psychological work is vital for successful executive reconfigurations, identifying those who are a bad fit is really just the start, a quick win. This work is much more about shifting and leveraging the potential of the team: how do we get the best out of each individual executive and the team collectively? This starts with giving them more self-awareness and pinpointing the things that will make a fundamental difference to their performance.

In this process, a psychologist works with them on getting their frame of mind aligned to the job at hand and, importantly, makes the changes achievable, which is enormously motivating and a key part of mobilising a team.

Broadly, we approach it on three levels:

  1. The individual: Getting the best insight into them and therefore for them.
  2. The company: Finding the right composition for the executive team, ensuring a complementary balance of attributes and styles.
  3. The team: Sharing the relevant individual learnings so they can better understand one another and collaborate more effectively.

Executives are time-poor and don’t spend a lot of time getting under the skin of people. The benefit of doing this psychological work with the executive team is that you accelerate this process. The exercises help them understand themselves, enabling each member to tap into what drives them. The flow-on benefit is how the executive team members understand one another, which enhances how they perform collectively.

What deep psychological work looks like for executives

For us, this exercise involves one or more days of rigorous one-on-one assessment. Our psychologists work with the executives to help them find their best selves: They’re well supported, properly prepared and encouraged to get a good night’s sleep before the interviews and discovery work of assessment begin. This is the polar opposite of a gotcha situation.

We build a strong profile of the current abilities and the potential of the executive. We’ll look at cognitive abilities: numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, whether they favour abstract or linear thinking and so on. We assess whether their thinking is highly strategic or more tactical (which is vital, because you need to match this ability to the remit of the role).

We couple the one-on-one interviews with validated online psychometric assessments and a historical view of the person. All of this is put into the context of the position they have or are looking to move into.

On top of those cognitive abilities, we look at personality make-up – how they approach relationships, their emotional intelligence, the clarity and style of their thinking, their approach to risk and innovation, and their leadership style.

Using the assessment insights, our psychologists dig deep to glean insight into an individual’s behaviours and the ‘why’ behind their values, even probing back to childhood and formative career years.

Understanding how a person grew up and developed their belief system gives a great understanding of the choices they make and the attitudes they hold today.

With issues around integrity in the public spotlight, leadership teams simply can’t risk behaviours that bring an organisation’s values into question (not that they ever should have, but that’s another column!). Having quality insights into the value sets of your executive team will avoid headaches, heartache and brand damage down the track.

Not surprisingly, people who’ve gone through the process with us say that it’s improved their lives away from work, too. Such deep psychological work not only benefits the board and CEO, the greatest gains are often for the executives individually.

They gain greater self-awareness, and the team enjoy working with one another that much more, all because they better understand the individuals within.

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