- By Ian Bradley
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This is a continuing series in an open letter to psychologists thinking about accepting that promotion to department or service director. In previous posts I talked about the fantasies around promotion as well as the inherent organizational conflict that comes with being a “middle manager.” In today’s post, I talk about change.
The skills that sometimes lead anyone, and certainly me, to get promoted have little to do with the requisite skills for management. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of organizational change.
I was used to helping people change, that’s my business. A client comes in; they describe a problem, and we work together on a solution. Sometimes the client finds the steps difficult and we encounter resistance, but generally everyone is on-board regarding the necessity and the direction of change.
Not so in an organization. When I arrived to become Chief Psychologist over 30 years ago, we had two secretaries in the department typing “psych test” reports. Having been trained with some of the pioneers of CBT, my formative experience with the projective and IQ tests had been delivered with some disdain. More importantly, I thought that, as a profession, we could do better that answer cavalierly posed questions by psychiatrists such as “ is the elderly patient depressed due to memory loss or is the memory loss caused by depression.” Even if an inkblot could supposedly discriminate between these two states, I couldn’t see the functional utility – what would we do anyway? The problem was that “psych testing” was something that psychologists simply did both historically and organizationally as members of multi-disciplinary teams.
In short, many psychologists wanted to continue doing testing. Psychiatric referral agents expected it, and the alternative to testing, at least when I arrived was not established. Clearly, this is not the same kind of “change” problem that I had been used to with clients.
I don’t wish to pretend that my solution is a panacea. In fact, I’m simply going to briefly cite a number of points that helped me, such as… start small, find stakeholders that support the change, inspire people to do more and most importantly, don’t ask permission. In my experience, once something exists in a hospital environment, for example, when we started our own psychological program in “CBT treatment of panic and agoraphobia” it tends to develop a life of its own.
What really helped was that at this time in my career, I decided to take some management courses. To my astonishment, I found that “organizational change” was an academic field with theories, concepts and techniques. What I initially thought was something that one simply “winged” had, in reality, a rich source of empirically supported principles and practices.
The bottom-line for any new psychologist manager- take courses, join management associations and take advantage of all that our sister discipline Industrial-Organizational Psychology has to offer; you’ll need it.