Businesses must hire good people, put them in the right positions, and work to develop their talents, allowing them to reach their full potential, both for their benefit and that of the enterprise. In fact, in a bad economy, one in which companies have laid off thousands, the development of a firm’s remaining talent is critical, according to Dr. Kelly Schuck, a corporate psychologist. “People are being stretched thin and more is being required of them with positions being cut,” she says.
Schuck is a Birmingham native who just returned to the Magic City from Atlanta to serve as managing director of a new office of TalentQuest, a national talent management firm. She says that firms should train and nurture not just their executives but everyone in the company. “The deeper a company’s bench strength, the more they have to pull from,” she says.
According to Schuck, it is no longer enough for a company to hire a reasonably talented person and stick them in a slot. “Now it’s not just filling roles, but finding or developing people who can rise to the challenges that are being presented,” she says. “For years, someone could just be a good lawyer, or writer or psychologist, but now with things getting tighter, you also have to have business development skills, be willing to pick up the phone and call people you wouldn’t have called before,” Schuck says. “You need additional competencies.”
Schuck has worked for TalentQuest since 2002 and brings an interesting mix of skills in her new role in the Birmingham office. She is grounded in both counseling and psychology, as well as the need for businesses to make a profit. “I’ve always gravitated toward business, but I also really wanted to help people,” Schuck says. “I had a little role conflict.”
She began to see the opportunities hidden inside this apparent conflict while taking a career psychology class at Auburn, where she earned a PhD in counseling psychology. She had already earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama and a master’s degree in counseling from UAB. The class showed Schuck that the development of a person’s career path does not follow a straight line, and that a skilled counselor might help people navigate this path and find greater fulfillment.
“We have all these experiences in life and put them together and that’s how we work,” she says. “I like helping people take all the authentic parts of themselves — not what their parents told them, or society — and form a work identity. I gravitated toward career management, looking deep inside the person and helping them —I know it’s a cliché — find a true passion.”
She learned about organizational psychology at Auburn when she helped deliver diversity training to the staff of the Auburn City Schools. “I realized I could take this psychology thing and do larger scale interventions, that you could still make a difference with more than just one person,” she says. Finally, at Vanderbilt University, where Schuck completed a doctoral residency, an advisor introduced her to corporate consulting. “He showed me you can bring psychology into the workplace, because businesses are like families with the same dynamics that go on, so you can apply the same tools you would one on one,” she says.
Because of the bottom-line mentality of many corporate executives, Schuck is cautious about the way she sells her services. “I don’t want to come off as too psycho-babbly,” she says, fearing that such talk makes many business people nervous. “You help them understand how behaviors can change to help people be more productive and how you can help people develop individual plans and get their performance metrics in place so they are getting good feedback; but the counseling part is my greatest tool,” she says.
Whenever Schuck is called into a company, she almost inevitably uncovers some sort of crisis. “It may not be a big crisis,” she says. “Somebody on the team is having problems with their presentation skills or confidence, but those are all psychological things, if you dig down.”
One barrier Schuck often has to break through in order to help a firm solve its problems is the tendency of CEOs to pretend that everything at the company is great when it’s not. “Execs and CEOs are great sales people or they wouldn’t be in that role,” she says. “My job is to go in and say, ‘Let’s get real. That’s not really why I’m here, is it?’”
This is an area where Schuck’s counseling skills are very important. “If you sit with that person and they trust you and you listen to what they are saying on a deep level, and the things they’re not saying, you ultimately can help that individual and that organization uncover what I call the truths, what really needs to be looked at to move that company to a higher level,” she says.
Schuck describes a visit she made to a regular client, a man in his 60s who was the CEO of a financial services firm that he had always led successfully.
“Everybody looked to him,” Schuck says. “He inspired them.” However, the bank financing on which he had always depended began to dry up. He started getting sick and wasn’t going to work. “We’re really worried about him,” the man’s partners confided in Schuck when she made a visit to the firm. They asked Schuck to visit the CEO at home, which she did. She and the man sat and chatted until he opened up. “Many men get very emotional when they talk to me,” she says. “They don’t anticipate that.”
“You know what a man’s greatest fear is?” the CEO asked Schuck.
“No,” she said.
“Failure,” he said.
“He was admitting that he was basically shutting down because of his fear that he wouldn’t be able to pull through,” Schuck says. “He ultimately did, but it took him a long time to admit that. And when people do admit it, the chances of them succeeding are so much greater.”
This need to face tough realities and make the necessary changes to survive is present throughout our society, Schuck suggests. “You can look at government and Wall Street all the way down to the organization, we’re all having to look at some hard issues, so the companies and the leaders that are willing to do that are the ones I know are going to be successful,” she says.
This hard truth also applies to individuals, Schuck says. “In this economy, I hear so many people say it’s Wall Street or the real estate market, and those problems are real, but people and organizations have to be willing to look at themselves and say ‘What role am I playing in this and how can I really own this problem and be better?’” she says. “If you don’t have somebody willing to say that, then its a lot harder to help them reach their potential.”
To learn more about the Birmingham division of TalentQuest, visit www.talentquest.com