Practice Network: I-O Psychology.ComThe Internet and I-O
Michael M. Harris
University of Missouri_St. Louis
Imagine it is A.D. 5759. As you wake up, you reach for your freshly
brewed cup of espresso and move over to your work station. "Greetings," calls
out your assistant I.O.Syke. "Greetings to you," you reply. Your assistant
continues: "You have a busy day scheduled today. Among today's items are interviews
with finalists for the Global Webmaster position, an initial meeting of the Global
Competencies Leadership Training Forum, and a meeting of the Global Business Strategy
Force. In terms of the interviews, all three finalists have completed the tests and I have
scored and analyzed the responses. Oh, by the way, as you probably know, the candidates
completed three personality tests, two work samples, two cognitive ability tests, and two
automated interviews. I have also compiled a list of contradictory statements (there were
very few) and scored the interviews on various speech patterns. If there is any other
measure you want, let me know."
Before I.O.Syke can continue, you say "Stop. The Training Forum,
what role am I playing on that?" I.O.Syke smiles on the screen J and says "I was
just about to get to that. Remember, I am not a human, so I have developed an objective
system for predicting your preference order for information. Your role in the Training
Forum is that of a `live presenter,' and so you will need to be on your Webcaster at 15:15
Global Standard Time. By the way, if you are traveling at this time, your new `Webframe'
glasses are available for use now and they will enable you to drive your carplane while
you interact with others."
Does the scenario above sound far-fetched? Thinking that it is as
likely as the Cubs winning the World Series? Not really. Believe it or not, there are
already products like the "Webframe" that are used by mechanics, for example,
which enables them to examine blueprints over the Web while repairing equipment. And,
various algorithms already in existence could probably do many of the things referred to
above. In fact, I will go out on a limb and predict that 3,000 years from now, there will
be new Internet technological innovations beyond our wildest dreams. So feel free to check
back with me then!
This column is about the role and effect of the Internet (I include
Intranet applications here, although for simplicity, I will only use the work
"Internet") on I-O psychology. As everyone knows, the "experts"
indicate that the Internet has the opportunity to change many aspects of the workplace,
including how businesses operate, how information is shared, and other things. It seemed
appropriate, then, to explore how the Internet might affect I-O psychology. Towards that
end, I talked with five I-O psychologists. Their comments and my reactions follow next.
The three primary questions I asked the I-O psychologists I talked with were:
1. How are you using the Internet currently?
2. How do you think you will be using the Internet in the future?
3. What effect do you think the Internet will have on I-O psychology?
How Are You Using the Internet Now?
I-O psychologists are using the Internet for a variety of purposes,
ranging from basic communication with colleagues (e.g., via e-mail) to psychological
assessments. Two other popular uses are finding information about vendors (via their web
sites) and obtaining copies of papers and reports. As an example, I have found that EEOC's
web site (www.eeoc.gov) is a very useful source of
information on recent guidelines, number of cases filed with the EEOC, and other items of
use. The University of Missouri-St. Louis, my employer, has done an excellent job of
making library resources available on-line. For example, students and faculty have access
to Lexus-Nexus, which has valuable information about legal decisions, legal news, and
Another popular application that respondents discussed was the on-line
administration of employee surveys. Among the advantages cited for Internet-based
administration of employee surveys is the speed with which the information can be gathered
and analyzed. A second major advantage cited for Internet-based employee surveys is
greater acceptance and higher response rate by respondents, apparently because of the
novelty and ease of responding. As was acknowledged, however, as this technique becomes
more widely used, the response rate may drop and approach levels typical of the
paper-and-pencil approach. The Internet-based employee survey was not without
disadvantages, however. One respondent indicated that there were no cost savings yet and
pointed to high infrastructure and maintenance costs. Other parties either have found or
merely take it for granted that the costs will be lower. One result may be that customers
will try to negotiate lower rates based on this assumption. Other possible disadvantages
of Internet-based employee surveys include concern over the security of the information
and limited employee access to computers. And, an interesting question that appears to be
as yet unanswered is whether responses will differ for an Internet-based compared with a
paper-and-pencil-based administration. Yes, there appears to be some potential for
interesting research here as well! Finally, one respondent noted that it was easy to get too
much data from an Internet-based survey and an important decision was what not to
include on such a survey.
Somewhat surprisingly, it appeared that Internet-based psychological
assessment was somewhat less frequently used. One respondent attributed that to concerns
regarding controlling the environment in which the test was taken. Perhaps, given concerns
about who the test-taker is, the Internet provides little advantage over a PC-administered
test. In any case, my respondents spent far less time talking about psychological
assessments than they did about employee surveys.
Most of the applications described above concern gathering
information. There was also some discussion as to the use of the Internet as a means of disseminating
information. One respondent described some developments in Internet-based training and
development in his organization. At present, his organization was only providing a web
site with some "tips" for managerial functions and tasks. The Internet component
was viewed only as supplemental and live classes were considered essential for
experiential learning. Incidentally, I will note that the University of Missouri-St. Louis
has developed an on-line MBA program, but a critical component is the "live
classroom" experience. There is at least some anecdotal evidence that the
brick-and-mortar university/training classroom will persist for some time into the future!
One respondent discussed the role of the Internet as a way of
disseminating results of a survey or other relevant HR indices (e.g., turnover data) and
inducing people to act on this information. An interesting question, according to this
respondent, was how can we use the Internet to get people to attend to key information?
Does this take I-O psychologists back to consumer behavior theory? I think the answer is
possibly yes, which takes us to other interesting questions, such as how the Internet
might be used for organizational development and change. As an example, does the
proliferation of information over the Internet and the availability of e-mail change
organizational structures and processes? Again, I think the answer is probably
"yes." Another respondent described an interesting application of the Internet
to obtain a variety of documents, including governmental, financial, and industry reports
on an organization and using this information to examine how the organization changes in
terms of strategy, structure, and processes. As he observed, use of the Internet for this
purpose may provide a longitudinal perspective on the organization.
In sum, the Internet is being used in a number of different,
interesting ways by I-O psychologists. At the same time, the application of the Internet
appears to be moving more slowly than I would have anticipated.
How Do You Think You Will be Using the Internet in the Future?
I received fewer and briefer answers to this question than I expected.
I don't know if this was because I had already bored respondents too much by this point in
the phone conversation, or more likely, because it seems pretty tough to predict just what
Internet applications will be like in the future. In any case, I received two basic,
interesting comments in reaction to this question:
The Internet will be used to enhance interpretability of information.
For example, say an employee takes a battery of tests for career development purposes. An
algorithm might be developed to lead the employee to relevant documents that explain what
those scores mean, provide developmental advice, and then offer a menu of appropriate
The Internet will be used to integrate between different levels and
different processes. One respondent described the use of the Internet for linking
between the micro and macro levels of analysis. For example, psychological assessments,
including 360-degree feedback, test information, and so forth, might be used to make
individual decisions (e.g., promotions) and then combined across employees to make
organizational level decisions (e.g., HRM planning). This seems to be a novel application
of potentially great interest. In terms of different processes, information used in
assessments made for hiring might then be used to develop developmental plans, training
programs, and other I-O processes. Other examples abound, such as linking employee
strengths and experiences to customer preferences and styles.
In sum, I think there are a number of interesting possible uses of the
Internet to I-O psychology that as yet have been relatively unexplored.
What Effect Do You Think the Internet Will Have on I-O Psychology?
The answers ranged considerably regarding this question. One respondent
indicated that he felt the Internet would have little impact because I-O psychologists are
not intermediaries, rather we are direct providers of products and services. Unlike, for
example, car dealers, our customers cannot simply bypass us and go directly to the car
manufacturers. Others felt that the Internet would serve as a useful tool in the I-O
psychologist's toolkit, but that the Internet was not going to fundamentally change I-O
psychology. One concern raised was that some technology-oriented businesses might invade
our turf by offering "user-friendly," high-tech products, such as tests, that
would fail to meet our professional standards (e.g., validity). In other words, our
reputation might become tarnished by I-O-like products created by other organizations.
One of my respondents felt quite differently about the potential impact
of the Internet on I-O psychology. First, he felt that I-O psychologists need to have a
much greater understanding of these new media forms and to incorporate them into the
practice of I-O psychology. In support of this notion, a different respondent indicated
that 2 years ago, his clients didn't seem to care whether an employee survey was
administered in a paper-and-pencil form or Internet-based; today, this same client might
require that it be administered over the Internet. It may be the case, then, that our
customers will make increasing demands for the greater integration of the Internet with
our services and products. This has implications for the training of I-O psychologists, a
question that there is simply no space to cover in this column.
Second, this respondent made another, and I think very valuable,
insight about the fundamental paradigm of I-O psychology. I-O Psychology has typically
focused on people (e.g., SIOP's goal "is to promote human welfare through the various
applications of psychology to all types of organizations providing goods and
services"). But what if we view the paradigm of I-O psychology as "creating
value" for organizations (which, I would guess, is the actual mission for most I-O
practitioners)? If we say that "creating value" is the appropriate paradigm,
then the Internet may become a far more important development (e.g., there may be
circumstances where the Internet could replace people and I-O psychologists should be
capable of understanding and using the Internet). Perhaps rather than a tool, then, the
Internet serves as an important technology in its own right. Based on this perspective, we
may need to learn a lot more about the Internet to enable us to recommend it where and
Based on my review of some I-O psychology sites as well as these
discussions, I-O psychologists may want to give more thought to the implications of the
Internet for the field. Those individuals interested in learning more about the Internet
and I-O psychology should examine previous issues of TIP for articles on this
topic. Jack Jones has written two books on the Internet, including one entitled Virtual
HR: Human Resources Management in the Information Age. My guess is that there is a lot
more to say about this topic. In light of the fact that I only talked with five I-O
psychologists for this column, I would really like to hear more from my readers about how
you are using the Internet and your thoughts for the future.
As always, please, continue to contact me with reactions to this column
and topics you would like to see covered in the future. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org call (314) 516-6280, fax (314)
516-6420, or snail mail me, Michael Harris, School of Business Administration, University
of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63121. I look forward to hearing from you!
I would like to thank the following individuals for their help in
preparing this column: Thomas Jeswald, PNC Bank; Jack Jones, NCS; Bill Macey, Personnel
Research Associates; Jeff McHenry, Microsoft Corporation; Michael Olson, State Farm
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