Friday, January 26, 2007

Dr Rob, business psychologist

I used to work for a big firm called The Boston Consulting Group. And occasionally they write features about alumni who used to work there and have since moved on to other things.

So a few months ago they did an interview with me, which has just come out. Of course it's been written by the journalist to make me (and therefore, by association, the consulting firm I used to work for) sound pretty glowing. There are a few minor errors in the piece, but nothing substantively incorrect. Anyway, if you can be bothered with that kind of thing, here's the full text of what they wrote about me!

Bringing Psychology to Businesses

Rob Yeung Finds Success in the Corporate World, Books, and TV

Rob Yeung, a trained psychologist, usually has a pretty interesting day at work. One day he might be assessing executive candidates for a corporate client. The next day, he might be writing an article on the role psychological analysis can play in selecting job candidates. Or he might be working on his latest book, which will be his fourteenth.

Oh, and he’s also a budding television personality in his native England. Rob gained national exposure hosting the BBC program How to Get Your Dream Job/Who Would Hire You?, on which he helped seemingly hapless job seekers hone their interview skills. He recently began work on a new show, which he described as being similar to Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. On the new program, he will help a well-known business figure avoid pitfalls as she attempts to make an important hire.

“I’m basically trying to cut through the nonsense and show that there are certain skills you need to be looking for in a candidate,” Rob said. “It’s good fun. There’s definitely a lot of variety in my work.”

Before entering the business and entertainment worlds, Rob worked for six years as a sports and exercise psychologist. He wanted to set up his own business but had no formal business training and wanted to understand how to operate a successful organization. That’s when he joined BCG, working out of the London office.

“I figured there was no better way to learn about business than by working for a strategic management-consulting firm,” Rob said.

Rob said his time at BCG gave him real insight into how executives make decisions. He also realized that the human aspect of running a business is often not given the attention it deserves. Although an organization may say that its people are its most important asset, there is still an undeniable pattern of jobs being outsourced and staff being reduced.

He also saw that there is more to change than just devising new structures and processes.

“Sometimes people won’t do something, even if it’s the right thing to do, because they just don’t want to,” Rob said. “I really thought I could tackle some of the more human sides of change as well.”

That’s the approach Rob takes at his agency Talentspace, which helps companies take job interviews to the next level and also works with businesses to maximize the performance of current executives. Whereas a traditional job interview focuses on professional qualifications and past experiences, Talentspace tries to look beyond the resumé and find out how someone will really perform in the position being filled.

“These companies typically pay an executive search firm to bring in four candidates. Generally they’re all qualified, and they’ve all been running similar businesses,” Rob said. “But all a track record proves is that they were successful in their past role, in that particular organization with its own structure, rules, and culture. Once you take them out of that environment, they might fail because they can’t grasp how things are done in the new organization.

“I try to get businesses to separate track record and qualifications from personality, behavior, and temperament. I want to discover what psychologists call the dark side’ of people’s behavior.”

Rob said research has shown that one of the best predictors of how someone will behave is personality type—that is, whether someone has characteristics such as introversion, extroversion, curiosity, or risk-aversion. By looking at these traits, Talentspace is able to delve beneath the person’s “bright side,” which is the façade he or she generally puts up during a job interview.

“You can actually look for some of these qualities and measure them through psychometric testing,” Rob said. “Businesses usually interview and offer a job to the bright side,’ but the person who actually shows up for the job is the dark side’ of the personality. That’s what happens when you become more familiar with people and can’t fake it anymore.

“When you meet someone for the first time and ask what kind of a leader he or she is, that person is usually telling you what you want to hear. When I spend a day assessing someone, I get a clearer picture of how that person will really act on the job.”

Talentspace will even go so far as to set up customized assessment centers for clients. For example, if a retail bank is looking for a country manager, Talentspace will build a module that simulates the specific, complex demands of that position and put candidates through it over the course of one to three days.

The firm will typically present candidates with balance sheets and other data and look for business recommendations. And often, when a candidate is in the middle of creating a business plan, Talentspace will change the priorities by interrupting the process with a meeting or a customer issue that takes precedence. The goal is to put the candidate in situations he or she might face in a normal day as a country manager.

“We use actors and assessors to simulate very specific challenges,” Rob said. “We make it very complex, and we might give them a computer and bombard them with information. Rather than just asking someone about these scenarios in an interview, we’re trying to see how the person would actually behave in these situations.”

Creating these types of simulations—complete with financial forecasts and balance sheets—is another area in which Rob’s BCG experience has helped him.

“These simulations require business skills that I never would have picked up if I hadn’t worked at BCG,” he said.

Rob’s experience in both psychology and business gained him some opportunities to conduct educational seminars, which in turn led to his writing books on subjects such as teamwork, interviewing, coaching, and networking.

That exposure made him a prime candidate to appear on television as an expert when the BBC decided to create a program about helping people find jobs. Rob said it was particularly fun to help people understand what an employer is looking for, especially since it’s not always about technical skills, but rather softer skills such as relationship building.

And just about everyone can relate to the pressure that comes with a job interview, so the show caught people’s interest.

“Everyone realizes that things can go terribly wrong in a job interview,” Rob said. “After some interviews, you know they’ve been fantastic. But with others, you come out of there regretting something you said or wishing you had said something else. Interviewing for jobs brings out people’s biggest fears, too, and the biggest challenge is to help people when they’re resistant to your methods. If they don’t buy into your methods, you won’t get very far with them at all.”

But as his successful business, prolific publishing record, and television fame prove, Rob has gotten plenty of people to trust his methods.

“A lot of psychologists come from a clinical background, and they don’t have that business acumen and don’t understand the pressures that a business might be facing,” Rob said. “In business, it’s not about making people feel happy. It’s about total shareholder return—the bottom line. I recognize that, and I think that’s what distinguishes me from other psychologists.”