Should you get an in-house shrink? More and more companies are tapping psychologists’ expertise in human behaviour to fine tune their sales tactics, analyze customer feedback and evaluate staff, among a growing list of business functions.
Large corporations have used so-called industrial and organizational (IO) psychologists for decades to design employee surveys or coach managers. More recently, some video game developers have put psychologists on staff to ensure their products are as effective (read: addictive) as possible. “All marketing is psychology—just used for evil instead of good,” quips David Uttal, a coordinator in Northwestern University’s department of psychology.
But psychologists are working with a growing range of industries. According to the American Psychology Association, eBay and several credit card companies, among others, are incorporating game elements designed by psychologists (such as competitive challenges or bars depicting progress toward a goal) to better engage customers. Uttal suggests that psychologists’ analytical skills will also become valuable in helping companies interpret big data—these professionals can bring a deeper understanding of what motivates people to act, and to buy.
Margaret Diddams, the director of the Center for Scholarship and Faculty Development at Seattle Pacific University, thinks small companies can benefit from bringing in IO psych consultants to help with leader development or performance management. She has personally worked with SMEs on tasks such as examining the results of surveys taken by sales staff and that staff’s effectiveness over time. She linked the two data sets and found that the extent to which the staff felt supported and satisfied in their roles correlated to their sales outcomes. Her diagnosis—”When a [manager] isn’t trained well, attempts at motivation can feel manipulative”—is the kind of message more SMEs need to hear.
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