It it my pleasure to introduce you to Dr. Lacey Schmidt. She obtained her PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology in 2006 from the University of Houston. She is currently an I/O Psychology consultant where she focuses on team building as well as leadership assessment and development. Her past experiences include working for NASA where she assisted with the psychological selection and training of astronauts, and served as an Organizational Effectiveness Consultant for ARAMARK at MD Anderson Cancer Center. This Talent Talk discusses her current role, provides information on coaching and consulting, and offers tips and resources for graduate students who are interested in working in an applied setting.
TSL (Talent Science Lab): Please describe your current role and what that role entails.
LS (Dr. Lacey Schmidt): Some colleagues of mine and I have started a public benefit company; we are an industrial organizational psychology consulting firm. Unlike most consulting firms, we donate 30% of our time to helping charities and non-profit organizations implement organizational development interventions, employee engagement surveys, and executive coaching. My day-to-day activities are split into two roles: One being a small business owner (most I/O Psychologists won’t have those sort of responsibilities or tasks), second, being a consultant and scientist; being within a consulting firm is very project-based. Typically, I will spend a lot of time developing business proposals that are catered towards specific companies. We must manage all phases of the project, hire a team to help with the consulting, and have face-time with the clients. It is important to find out what the clients need, because it’s often not what they are asking for. I also do research on their specific industry and try to determine what their operational context is before we design an intervention. We then implement the intervention and follow-up to make sure it was effective and we continue to adapt our services to fit the client’s long-term needs.
TSL: May I ask why you and your business partners chose that model?
LS: We like a challenge, and I think that is the most honest answer I can give you. We want to see organizations become more socially responsible; we’re trying to live the change we want to see in other organizations. We were all working full-time jobs at NASA and we wanted to do external consulting so that we didn’t lose our familiarity with other kinds of adult-working populations—we felt pretty limited to astronauts, flight controllers, and engineers. We originally started the company as an umbrella through which we could buy professional liability insurance and donate our time to local charities on the side—but it turned out that we liked doing that so much that we decided to make our living doing it.
TSL: Did you know this kind of career was right for you while you were in graduate school?
LS: I knew that I wanted to do applied work in psychology—I wasn’t sure whether that would be as an internal or external consultant. I’ve had experience on both sides, and what I’ve found for myself is that it doesn’t matter. Both have advantages. The biggest disadvantage to being an external consultant is the amount of traveling that takes place, as well as the uncertainty in work hours. However, the advantage is having more variety in projects and the people you work with.
TSL: What advice would you give to a graduate student who is interested in a vast amount of career options? Whether that be external or internal consulting, organizational development, executive coaching, etc.?
LS: That is sort of a good thing, as long as you are willing to let fate guide you on which one to focus your efforts on. Having that flexibility and that interest in multiple careers is advantageous. I’ve seen people focus on the wrong thing a little too much. For example, if someone is determined to work for NASA, they are limiting themselves from so many other careers out there. And if they do apply for that one dream job, then chances are they are competing against a lot of qualified people. Even if they were skilled enough, it might not be the right job for them. So it is important to ask yourself what about a specific job do you like the most. If you like the opportunity to look at teamwork in extreme environments there are several other jobs besides working for NASA where someone could accomplish that. I once had an internship as an external consultant, then switched to being an internal consultant, and then switched back to being an external consultant. So another piece of advice I have is to start out as an internal consultant—I think it would have been much easier. It would have given me time to build connections with clients, and build relationships that were deeper. Being able to see how a project pans out would have been helpful, because when you’re an external consultant you never get to see the follow-through. It makes it challenging to effectively evaluate your own work.
TSL: Could you tell me a little bit more about your experiences with coaching?
LS: Coaching for me has been largely behavior-based and operational. Before graduate school I did spend time as an operations manager, and as an employee services manager, so contrary to most I/O Psychologists, I have a little bit of a MBA flavor. I’m usually focused on improving leadership or team skills in a behavioral way. For example, some people I help have been mid-level managers and are being promoted to a general manager or a director and they just don’t know how they are going to manage their time, because they barely feel as if they are keeping projects in line in their current role.
TSL: When you work as a coach, are you often hired by the company or by the executive?
LS: Our business model is wanting to be hired by the person themselves and not by their organization. Which is contrary to 95% of the coaches out there. Most have a coaching contract in which their consulting is one with the organization.
TSL: What innovative practices have you seen implemented in the field of talent management?
LS: One practice is working with recruiters to create questions that are more behavior-based. The goal is to get the potential applicant to tell a story and give the recruiter a behavioral anchored rating scale (BARS) so they can judge that story more objectively. This can help the recruiter see if the potential applicant exhibits specific behaviors of interest that are required for that particular job. I think this is a great low-tech innovative approach to getting at person-organization fit earlier in the applicant’s relationship with an organization.
TSL: What set of skills or behaviors do you think a person should possess to be a good consultant?
LS: Some key behaviors to be a good consultant include communication, particularly the ability to have crucial conversations, being able to sell ideas, and learning how to use all of your sources of influence and power. I have three books that I think would be helpful to get you started. Good consultants know how to do all of the things that are discussed in the book Crucial Conversations. Fierce Leadership discusses several items that coaching clients will throw at you, so it’s good exposure read it and get to see the perspective of a client and understand how they will see culture and climate. Made to Stick gives you a way to think about selling ideas in a narrative form, which is crucial because having the formal education has taught you to speak like a scientist, but you have to be able to explain your knowledge to someone who doesn’t have that extensive “sciencey” education.
TSL: Are there any last pieces of advice you would offer to a graduate student?
LS: Taking time to speak with people who have careers in the field you are interested is a great way to discover if that career is right for you. Volunteering for projects might be useful—I did a lot of free work when I was in graduate school, for example conducting statistical analysis for others. Even if it was out of my realm, it helped me see things from a new perspective.