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Mind managers

There is no "massive scientific experiment on managers" at Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

There is no "massive scientific experiment on managers" at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, says Craig Baker, head of manager research at the British consulting firm. The company has, however, decided to equip its 100 investment consultants and researchers with an arsenal of psychological techniques developed to combat increasingly sophisticated marketing-speak, to help them separate the gold from the dross. "The best marketing departments aren't necessarily at the best investment firms," says Baker, 32. "We want to get behind the spin and conduct interviews that make managers genuinely express their views."

Two psychologists are working with Watson Wyatt's staff, demonstrating, among other things, the benefits of open-ended questions and explaining how to interpret responses. The new, qualitative approach may prove indispensible in an industry where statistics can only take you so far.

"This training is more about getting us to think on our feet," says Baker. "A good question in one context might be a bad one in another." More important, he adds, is maintaining an open mind. "The last thing we want to do is walk into a meeting armed with 50 questions that we think are just brilliant."

Watson Wyatt's consultants and researchers are getting a sense of the process both on and off the couch, so to speak. One of the firm's first applications of the psychological approach was to conduct interviews with its own staff. "We wanted to make sure that we didn't send people with the same biases to the same meetings," Baker explains. "The result would be that they would form the same views -- and that is a waste of our money."