Developing a Commercial Mindset

By Simon Toms, Nikita Mikhailov & Hardeep Virdi

Occupational Psychology is a fascinating and fast-growing discipline. It adopts a scientific evidence-based approach to help individuals and organisations alike. It exists as a longstanding academic discipline with a demonstrable positive impact that has helped identify and address an extensive list of workplaces challenges and opportunities.

Over the years, this has translated into a strong demand for OP practitioners and the services they can provide. The most common route to this role is completion of a master’s degree in OP or a related field. Yet transitioning between these positions can prove difficult.

One reason is that practitioners may potentially lack a commercial mindset. Developing a commercial mindset is an essential requirement for anyone looking to apply OP to the world of work, when working in any sector, industry, private company or public organisations. Commercial mindset can simply be defined as “the knowledge of the business and industry your role operates in. When applied to work it shows if you have a deep understanding of the commercial models and strategies that underpin the business, product or service you provide” (CIPD, 2018).

As practitioners, we’ve decided to put our heads together and create a short blog detailing how this mindset can be developed and cultivated to become one pillar of your success as a practitioner.

We’ll begin by focussing on early-career OP’s, before discussing the importance of a commercial mindset more broadly.

Starting your journey

Whilst some MSc graduates will begin PhD’s soon after, the vast majority will not. Instead, graduates will find themselves job hunting in an extremely competitive job market. OP has a breadth of applications, so the ‘next step’ could look like a great many things.

Working as a practitioner – potentially in an OP-related consultancy – is one such step and is highly sought after by graduates. Yet moving from academia to a practitioner role represents a significant shift. One way to perceive this change is a move from research and theory to application and client service. A strong commercial mindset sits at the core of this shift.

This becomes clear when considering your prospective employer. As with any business, consultancies must adopt a commercial mindset to survive. It may seem crass to some, but revenue generation and business development will likely become part of your professional responsibility moving forward.

This isn’t to say that making money must always be at the forefront of your mind! But it should be a key part of your thinking. This may seem obvious to some, but this can prove difficult for others with limited employment experience outside of their education.

This lack of understanding in more inexperienced graduates can become apparent when they engage with prospective employers for the first time. Demonstrating your understanding of the discipline is important, but this is already well evidenced by your possession of a relevant degree.

Your qualifications have likely played a pivotal role in getting you to the latter stages of a recruitment process, but you’ll likely be up against individuals with similar achievements on paper. Prospective employers will be looking for more, and your chances of giving it to them will be improved by adopting a commercial mindset.

Interviewing for roles

A job interview is a great situation to demonstrate commercial mindset, even when you have limited or no experience. It’s important to discuss what you’ve achieved – interviews are not the time to display false modesty – but you also need to demonstrate why a prospective employer should hire you for the role. When putting forward your case, it’s helpful to consider some important questions that can help you demonstrate commercial awareness:

  • What products and services does the employer provide?
  • What is the science and literature underpinning these products and services?
  • What is the marketplace like for these services and products?
  • What are the typical clients of these products and services, and how do they decide which providers to engage with?
  • Who are the competitors of the prospective employer?
  • What is the client journey, and at which point will you be involved?
  • What skills, abilities and knowledge will you require to fill the role, and if you don’t have them, how will you attain them?

Questions like these will stem from a commercial mindset, so if they don’t spring to mind, you need to broaden your perspective as to how you perceive OP and your role in it. Doing so will raise your awareness of OP as a commercial enterprise that provides products and services to clients, and not just as an academic discipline.

If you are able to effectively communicate this to prospective employers, you will also be able to effectively communicate this to potential clients. That will make you valuable and desirable as a prospective candidate in an increasingly competitive job market.

This value will become increasingly apparent as you progress in your roles, none more so than in the context of consultancy projects.

Applying a commercial mindset to consultancy projects

The first step in any consultancy project is to listen to client’s needs. Truly listening is not always easy to do and for many is one of the most difficult things to do. It involves understanding the current situation the client finds themselves in and what challenges they feel they currently need to address, asking questions to better understand the options that are available to them and where most your skill and expertise can be utilised to work with the client for them to achieve their goals of the project. Some tips on listening:

  • Don’t interrupt (especially hard for the more extraverted of us)
  • Use open-ended questions to gain further insights than what is required
  • Before proposing a course of actions, just check you heard what the client said and giving them an option to add anything else
  • When asking is there anything else they want to add, or the “Is there any questions?” count to at least 10 inside your head before saying anything

As one of my colleagues says:

“If the client comes out of the meeting, feeling as they were heard, that’s half the task done!”

About the Authors

Simon Toms is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. In 2019, he was elected to Full Membership of the Division of Occupational Psychology. He is also a Chartered Scientist with the Science Council, Principal Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology, published author, and PhD graduate. He is a graduate of the Division of Occupational Psychology’s Leadership Development Programme.

Nikita Mikhailov is a Psychometrician, his mission is to share the goodness of psychology. He is Business Psychologist, and a member of the British Psychological Society. His clients include Fortune 500 companies, start ups, individuals and couples. He specialises in supporting companies in recruitment and development of talent through a combination of psychometrics and coaching. His particular interest lies in how personality assessments can be used to increase self awareness and to help people make practical steps towards being more effective leaders and living more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Hardeep Virdi is an established Senior Learning & Development professional who has built her career working internally within organisations as a Chartered Occupational Psychologist. Specialist in Leadership Development, Talent & Succession Development, Executive 1:1 and team based coaching, and development based Psychometrics. Mainly working with Executive Boards/Senior levels in global matrix, complex and diverse organisations.