Bunhill: Shrinking ignorance with firm advice

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ANNELIE BOHM doesn't mind being called a corporate shrink. She accepts the label with good grace as rather an accurate definition of much of what she does.

But then she is Swedish, and used to seeing the world rather differently from many of her clients. 'I don't believe particularly in rank. I don't believe that simply because you have a title you are automatically more important than anyone else.'

It is a very un-English attitude, as she acknowledges. 'It is quite a Swedish way to think,' she admits. 'But that's probably one of the things people are buying from me at the end of the day.'

In fact her clients get rather a lot of other things, too. Ms Bohm and her company, Guildford-based MSD, are a powerful mixture of psychiatrist, company doctor and management consultant.

To improve corporate performance, management needs to understand what employees at all levels are thinking, she argues. But often those employees do not feel in a position to tell the truth and believe - rightly - that management wouldn't believe anything they didn't want to hear in any case.

So one of her key functions is to put the people at the top in touch with reality - when she goes into a company, she starts by choosing a cross- selection of employees for interview to find out what is really going on.

'You would be amazed how many managing directors have completely different views of what the rest of their company is thinking and doing,' she observes. Like a priest, secrets told to her in the confessional remain confidential, but she then presents top management with her conclusions. And she doesn't mince her words.

'A lot of people working in this area are psychologists and terribly hesitant about giving advice. I'm not. You have to do it in stages, but you do have to speak your mind and be quite tough.'

She got into the business in the 1970s, when it was a services consultancy. But quickly she realised that the conventional approach, which dealt with what was happening at the bottom of a company - 'telling the telephonists how to answer the phone' - was pointless.

'They already knew how to answer the phone. What mattered was what was understanding and influencing what was happening at the very top.

A corporate shrink is still seen as a Californian-style extravagance by most companies - especially in manufacturing, where she has yet to find one willing to fork out the pounds 1,500 a day her advice costs. So most of her clients are in high-tech or service industries such as publishing.

But sceptics are making a mistake, she says. It is not only that people deserve to be interested in their work and in an environment they are happy with. 'At the end of the day if people come in and don't want to work for you, you are in trouble. After all, if there is a fire who is more important - the MD or the fireman?'

(Photograph omitted)