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Employee Development the Humanistic Way

When it comes to developing our employees, some of us are not sure where to start. Some see development as a bad word that is linked to bolstering underachievers (or getting rid of them). Others focus exclusively on procedural aspects of employee performance including the onboarding process, performance indicators, appraisals, and rewards. But what if we could thoroughly humanize the process of employee development? What if we could develop our employees in ways that value and affirm them as unique individuals? What if we could help them to own their strengths, weaknesses and growth process? Consulting Psychology seeks to do all of these things by applying a Humanistic Ethic.

Humanistic Ethic? What's That?

One illustration comes from Rastafarianism - the religion of legendary musician Bob Marley. Rastafarian language identifies the Other as I: first person subject. The phrase I an' I is used instead of we or you and I to communicate that they unconditionally attribute to others – and assume for themselves – the same standard of personhood. Such relationships are characterized by respect and empathy (Evans, 2009).

Consulting Psychology draws from a range of psychological theories and practices, but it is firmly rooted in this kind of Humanistic Ethic. According to Cooper (2009), "It is through this desire to respect and validate the Other in the totality of their being that we start with their unique subjective experiencing; relate to them as beings who have the capacity to grow; and understand them in terms of the social, economic and cultural limitations that they might face" (Cooper, 2009, p. 121).

So what does this look like in practice?

Developmental work in Consulting Psychology typically starts with a needs assessment, followed by definition of goals, intervention and evaluation. Here is how we approach things at DRIC.

Needs assessment is highly collaborative and multi-faceted. Consultants take the time to understand the individuals, teams, and organizations with whom they are working. This could involve a range of activities, including research, observation, document review, and standardized assessment. Most important, though, is listening to the client with openness and empathy. We start with the assumption that the client is the expert on what is needed. Through our high-tech/high-touch process, we provide transparent access to findings and discuss key takeaways and actions. We affirm their ability to articulate their hopes and challenges, and work alongside them in defining goals for our work together.

Intervention is engaging and responsive. Rather than being prescriptive and top-down, developmental interventions are designed with the client and tailored to their specific needs. We might be supporting a manager who is transitioning into an executive role, training a team that is struggling with conflict or intolerance, or helping to facilitate positive culture change in an organization. Whatever the intervention, there is ongoing dialogue and reflection about what is working and how goals are being met. There is sufficient flexibility to make changes along the way depending on the client’s needs. As with assessment, the client’s voice is heard and valued throughout the process.

Context is considered. Some psychologists have been accused of taking a surgical approach to client issues: homing in on one behavioral pattern and ignoring environmental factors that are contributing to the problem. DRI consultants analyse the context. The individuals, teams, and organizations that become our clients are socially and relationally embedded. They operate in changing economic, political, and technological milieus. They may have complex histories or health challenges. Consulting psychologists design their assessments and interventions with these realities in mind. For example, we once had a client whose performance was affected by several work-related issues as well as the death of her mother. Our work with her had to address the totality of her situation, including her grief.

Do you think applying a Humanistic Ethic could make a difference in your organization? How?


Cooper, M. (2009). “Welcoming the Other: Actualising the humanistic ethic at the core of counselling psychology practice” Invited Paper: Keynote Speaker, Conference 2009. Counselling Psychology Review, Vol. 24, Nos. 3 & 4, 119-129.

Evans, M. (2009). Counselling for Community Transformation. Kingston: IUC Publications.

Dr. Makesha Spence is Principal Consultant at DRI Consulting.

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