‘The vision needs to be compelling’

We meet Dr Hazel McLaughlin, who takes over as British Psychological Society President at the end of June.

How do you see the role of the President?
For me, it’s to be a catalyst for change. My role is to enable the BPS team to deliver excellent services for members. I will work closely with the trustees and the senior leaders to focus our attention and resources on the core priorities. Building alliances and encouraging external collaboration is also core as this will enhance our broader impact nationally and internationally. The world around us is changing and we need to be thriving and not simply surviving. It is important to have a positive can-do attitude but also to be realistic and enable practical and long-lasting results that matter to members. This is not change for the sake of it, but rather it is about good governance and risk evaluation coupled with an appreciation of potential opportunities and collaborations.

I have been privileged to work with the Society for many years and I am delighted to be your President for 2020-21. I am a strong advocate for psychology and continue to enable the professional development of psychologists within the Society.

Of course, working with organisations in times of change and transition has been central to your work as an occupational psychologist. What psychological factors are most important at such times?
Change is not simply a rational process. The work of Kotter and others highlights the importance of placing people and their experience of the change process at its heart. Communication is vital, especially when the change involves attitudes as well as behaviour. The vision needs to be compelling, but it cannot just be the story from the top. What matters to employees and to members is not always consistent with what is important for leaders. It is important to build engagement and communication and to listen to motivation, needs and aspirations. You cannot jump to implementation without first achieving buy-in from these key stakeholders. People need a sense of control and to see the added value of the change before they can commit to it.

In terms of that vision: What is the Society for?
That is a good question and it is important to go back to basics and to be clear on what we want to achieve. This will shape our sense of purpose and our strategy going forward. For me, the Society has two core roles, to be there for members and to be the voice of psychology externally. I always take heart at the fact that there are over 2,000 volunteers who contribute to the Society and they come from all networks, psychological specialisms and from academia and practice. Psychology is exciting because there is a psychological element to every situation and this is evident in the wide range of settings in which we apply our discipline; in the NHS, in education, our criminal justice system, health, sports and in business to name a few.

My experience and expertise in occupational psychology provides me with insights into organisations, strategy, and culture and this can add value to the President role, especially as we enable the change programme and as we revisit our strategy this year. It is important to have a clear sense of purpose and to have all parts of the BPS ship moving in the same direction. This means the BPS office team and members working together to achieve the overall goals and objectives. Part of this is recognising differences and being inclusive, but ultimately it is about clarity on the vision and the way ahead.

You have also mentioned talking ‘with one voice’. Psychology is so diverse, in terms of subject matter and the perspectives people bring to it. Do you think ‘one voice’ is really possible?
We have more in common than we think. It is easy to focus on differences and natural to do so but psychologists can learn from each other too. Different specialisms within psychology have a distinct focus but ultimately it is about people. They can be seen through a different lens, researched and applied in different ways.

At its core psychology informs us about people, their needs and reactions in different situations. If we go to the heart of psychology, we are asking questions about the mind and the impact of our thoughts, feelings and experiences on how we react, behave and make decisions. So, respect differences but build on commonality. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The essence of diversity is to understand differences and respect and respond to them but also to seek out areas where we can influence and engage with others. I recognise that different strands of psychology have a lot to contribute and can inform and influence public policies, governments and key decision makers.

You also bring expertise in working cross-culturally. How can the Society achieve positive change in that area?
I enjoy travel and learning from different cultures and have had the opportunity to work with global organisations and with people from many countries. This has enhanced my perspective on the world of work and highlights both the similarities and differences.

From a psychological viewpoint it is fascinating to understand what makes people tick. At the International Congress for Applied Psychology in Montreal, we debated how transferable psychology is across cultures. There are cultural differences and the research from Trompenaas and others is illuminating. However, the similarities and transferable applications are also striking. In my coaching and development practice I have worked with people across Europe and from Asia, Middle East and North America. People behave and act within the context of their cultural norms but there is often variation within cultures as well as across them. It is important to be sensitive to difference whilst applying good evidence-based practice.

What makes you tick?
I often work with business leaders on their underlying motivators. Ultimately for me it is about making a difference. I care about people, listen to them and enable them to achieve at their very best. Outcomes matter: for me it is about positive energising solutions based on sound evaluation and decision-making.

My background in occupational psychology provides expertise that is very useful in these times of change and transition. I can take the long-term strategic perspective and collaborate with key stakeholders. I bring a different lens that enhances innovative and effective results. I am passionate about life, and this translates into my approach with psychology. I am interested in the underlying factors that shape our lives. In a work context, I apply the science of psychology; psychological theory and research combined with best practice. My work centres on change with business leaders, teams and organisations in times of change and uncertainty.

This is particularly relevant now in our COVID-19 world and beyond. These are unprecedented times and there is a need for agility, resilience and a broader perspective. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, for me this is about voices being heard, people being able to speak up and opportunities being explored. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts’.

-    Read ‘part two’ of this interview in the next issue, where Dr McLaughlin talks about the potential impact of Covid-19, before looking 10-20 years down the line for Psychology and the Society.

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