The rise of the CPO: the Chief Psychology Officer

How psychological theory, research & insights can help businesses perform better

Mischa Coster 
Jan 9, 2016 · 3 min read

As a media psychologist, I believe in the power of applied psychology. Psychologists and behavior experts are like oil for organizations. Nearly all business processes can be optimized and improved by involving a professional who knows about behavior, attitudes, culture, development and brain processes.
In other words: every organization will benefit greatly from a Chief Psychology Officer. Let me elaborate.

Role

The CPO is an organizational role that is executed by a person holding at least a master’s degree in psychology or related field of expertise. Someone experienced, who can assess and human impact of seemingly small or insignificant decisions and procedures. A professional with a firm social network of (psychological) experts, whose expertise can be called for when needed, be it more structural of ad-hoc. The CPO is a ‘Chief’ role because this person will have mandate to go against proposals of other C-level executives whenever he/she knows (and can argue) that a suggested decision or change will nog result in the desired outcome in terms of behavior. A crucial quality of the CPO is that he/she possesses well-developed empathic skills, especially when it comes to predicting behavior of target groups. This skill is developed by means of experience, personality and firm knowledge of scientific theory and research.

Not a solo role

It’s starting to sound like this CPO is some kind of ‘super psychologist’. A psychologist who should be an expert in all various fields of expertise. But this is not the case (luckily, although there are some of these super psychologists out there). Of course the CPO role requires a certain level of (scientific) knowledge of the disciplines in which psychology plays a significant part. But this can be a signaling role. Above all, the CPO is a quality role, with signaling and pro-active improvement and development as the primary responsibilities. The CPO does not have to implement these changes and improvements personally; he/she can employ other (behavior) experts (either colleagues or external consultants) to achieve this. Frequently in larger companies there are already employees on the payroll with a background in social science who don’t put their knowledge to full use in their current function. The CPO has mandate to activate and use this latent expertise.

Areas of focus

The CPO is a multidisciplinary role. Area of focus, responsibilities and activities include:

  • Marketing quality control for correct application of scientific insights;
  • Neuromarketing for measuring effect (KPI);
  • Intervention Mapping for campaigns;
  • Mediation for difficult discussions and conflicts;
  • Participation in board and management team meetings, both as member and as facilitator;
  • Acquisition, hiring, executive search, assessments;
  • HRD support in developing and implementing educational activities;
  • HR support in reduction of sick leave;
  • Health & Safety support (vitality etc.);
  • Personal and executive coaching;
  • Leadership development;
  • Team development (e.g. management team, tribes, squads etc.)
  • Scientific research and customer insights;
  • Knowledge sharing;
  • Corporate culture improvement/change;
  • Time management and efficiency;
  • Quality control of external communication;
  • Training sales professionals in persuasion skills;
  • Training communication professionals & call center agents/webcare agents in communication skills;
  • Applying behavioral economics insights in finance and product development;
  • Create, communicate and watch over ethical guidelines.

There are probably a lot more areas of focus for the CPO. I’d like to hear from you if you have any suggestions and additions.

Start lightweight

A role as described above is quit a responsibility. I hope organizations (profit, non-profit, government, NGO etc.) will start to see the value of psychology for their chances of survival. I already know of a few companies that have embraced this thought. Who’s next?

But let’s be pragmatic. You don’t have to be a multinational to start working with the CPO model. Make sure you have acquired the right knowledge and expertise. Maybe you already have a qualified professional working within your company but never gave it a thought because the demand was not there…until now! Otherwise, you could either create a new vacancy or start off with an external part-time CPO. Whichever you choose, be sure to let your CPO see, experience and access all facets and departments of your company. Introduce him/her as a quality professional whose sole focus is on behavioral impact of decisions and ideas.

You won’t go bankrupt without a CPO, but you will achieve your full company potential with a CPO!

Mischa Coster 

Written by

Media psychologist, Chief Psychology Officer @ Grey Matters. I change how people see things by applying evidence-based and theory-inspired psychological tactics

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade