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Practice Perspectives: Promoting Industrial-
Organizational Psychology


Anna Erickson, Rob Silzer, Greg Robinson, and Rich Cober

Executive Summary

A key function of the Society, according to its mission, is to promote public awareness of the field of industrial-organizational psychology.  We are all aware of the importance of this function as we work to make a difference in organizations through our research and practice.  As part of a larger study exploring the needs of I-O practitioners, we asked SIOP members how they valued various promotional activities performed by SIOP and what recommendations they had for better promoting the field.  This article summarizes the findings in this area of the survey study. 

Key Survey Conclusions

  • SIOP membership places a great deal of value on efforts to support and promote I-O psychology.  Of primary importance is the role the Society plays in promoting the profession among business leaders. Practitioners and non-practitioners agree on the importance of this role.
  • The activity rated as most valuable is probably the most difficult to achieve: 
    • Position SIOP as the leading source of organizational psychology work and thinking to the business community
  • Other highly valued activities include:
    • Place I-O psychology articles in HR and business publications
    • Be more visible at related conferences or hold joint conferences with organizations such as HRPS, EAWOP, IAAP, SHRM, and so on
    • Better market I-O psychology, SIOP books, reports, and research to the HR and business community
  • SIOP membership would value an increase in the external focus of the Society.  Members are interested in SIOP’s branding of the profession, promoting our expertise within the business community, and increasing publicity for the work that we do.
  • One hundred twenty three respondents provided write-in suggestions, which were grouped into several clusters:
    • Psychology domain and focus (34%)
       -  Define the domain of I-O psychology (5%)
       -  Put greater emphasis on practice and practical research applications
          (12%)
       -  Bridge the science/practice gap (12%)
       -  Encourage SIOP to maintain academic focus (5%)
    • Professional issues (21%)
       -  Clarify standards for I-O practice and aggressively defend I-O      areas (14%)
       -  Address licensure issues (7%)]
    • External education/marketing (29%)
       -  Educate the public on I-O areas (12%)
       -  Raise profile of I-O psychology through marketing activities (10%)
       -  Emphasize business-related issues and language (7%)

Recommendations for SIOP 
SIOP membership is expressing a clear desire to see increased support from SIOP in helping the general public, as well as business and HR leaders, understand what I-O professionals do and the benefits we bring to the workplace and to improving business decisions. We recommend that SIOP significantly expand efforts in the defining, branding, publicizing, and marketing of I-O practice and research.  Based on the results of this study, we recommend the following action steps to actively promote I-O expertise in the business community.

1.  Formulate and promote an influential I-O psychology brand, extending beyond SIOP and broadly into the practice and science of I-O psychology.

  • Present a proposal to whole SIOP membership (not just the EC) on the I-O psychology brand for their approval. Provide opportunities for comments and revisions.
  • Do a competitive analysis of how I-O psychology fits into the larger framework of psychology professions, organizational careers, academic careers, and competitor professions.
  • Specify clearly how both practice and science will be reflected in the brand and benefit from the brand.
  • Prepare a white paper on the I-O psychology brand that discusses the future of both practice and science, the future of the field’s contributions to organizations, and steps that need to be taken over the next 3–4 years to advance the brand.

2.  Actively communicate, market, and promote I-O psychologists to the business community as the thought leaders in organizational psychology.

  • Develop a detailed marketing and communication action plan. 
  • Provide an annual report to SIOP members on all activities, progress, and outcome metrics.    
  • Assign or hire a staff director to implement and manage these activities. 
  • Outline specific steps that SIOP members can take to promote visibility of the I-O profession. Describe how members can contribute this effort.

3.  Allocate a significant budget for I-O psychology branding and promotional activities.

4.  Organize a task force with full representation of both practitioners and researchers, with clear goals for placing I-O psychology content and practice articles in HR and business publications.

5.  Organize, conduct and market an annual study of leading edge I-O (HR) practices in organizations.  Use this as a branding and marketing tool.   Design it to keep SIOP members and their clients aware of current practices. Feature results in press releases and on the SIOP home page.

6.  Make specific plans for SIOP to be highly visible:

  • At related professional conferences.
  • Hold joint conferences with other professional organizations such as HRPS, EAWOP, IAAP, Div 13 (Consulting), SHRM, ASTD, IPMA, and regional I-O organizations.

7.  Pursue activities within the profession and SIOP.

  • Define current domain, scope, and standards of I-O psychology, both in practice and science, and how it fits into the larger organizational context.
  • Identify how I-O psychology has been and is relevant to business organizations and HR.
  • Update the I-O psychology science–practice model to reflect practitioner and researcher views and organizational issues.
  • Initiate a I-O psychology practitioner journal.
  • Modify annual SIOP conference to better reflect current practitioner issues.

8.  Educate the public and raise the profile of I-O psychology.

  • Initiate a  newsletter or journal (in business language) for users and consumers of I-O psychology on content and practice areas.
  • Broaden the educational and outreach efforts to psychology students, HR organizations, business organizations. 
  • Build an electronic library for I-O practitioners, HR professionals, and business organizations covering all content topics in I-O psychology.
  • Place ads in HR publications promoting I-O psychology and promoting our relevance to strategic business issues.

Many of the recommendations listed above are currently being considered by SIOP’s Visibility Committee, whose mission is to increase the visibility of SIOP, SIOP members, and I-O psychology to business leaders, public policy officials, and the general public.  Look for updates at the SIOP conference and in future issues of TIP to learn about the Visibility Committee’s progress in these areas.

About the Practitioner Needs Survey

In 2008 SIOP’s Professional Practice Committee conducted a survey of all SIOP members focusing on practitioner needs.  The survey asked members about topics related to the practice of I-O psychology, including satisfaction with SIOP, practice activities, professional development, licensure, science–practice gaps, and promoting I-O psychology.  Of the 2,694 SIOP Members, Fellows, Associate Members, and International Affiliates who were invited to participate, 1,055 responded to the survey, resulting in an overall response rate of 37%.  This article, the fourth in a series published in TIP summarizing the results of the survey, focuses exclusively on attitudes toward the role of SIOP in promoting industrial and organizational psychology.  A report documenting results for the entire survey is available on the SIOP Web site under the “News” tab (or by following this link: http://www.siop.org/Practitioner%20Needs%20Survey.pdf). 

Respondents were categorized based on the amount of work time spent on practice activities.  Each was asked to identify the “Proportion (%) of work time devoted to being a practitioner versus educator (academic setting) versus scientist/researcher.”  Based on their responses, respondents were categorized into the following four practitioner categories:

  • Full-time practitioners (n = 594)
  • 70% or more of work time as a practitioner 
  • Part-time practitioners (n = 96)
  • 21%–69% of work time as a practitioner
  • Occasional practitioners (n = 180)
  • 1%–20% of work time as a practitioner (a day or less a week)
  • Nonpractitioners (n = 89)
  • 0% of work time as a practitioner

Survey Results

Respondents were asked two questions about SIOP’s activities to promote I-O psychology.  The first question asked respondents to rate the value of each of 11 activities to “better promote I-O psychology practice and science by SIOP”.  The second was an open-ended question asking respondents “What else can SIOP do to support and promote I-O psychology practice and science?” 

The 11 activities that respondents rated are listed in Figure 1.  Almost all respondents found value in various publicity and public relations functions that were included.  “Positioning SIOP as a leading source of organizational work and thinking to the business community” was the activity most likely to be rated as highly valuable, with 72% of respondents seeing this activity as “highly valuable” and only 5% seeing this activity as “not valuable.”  This was followed closely by “placing I-O articles in human resource and business publications,” with 62% of respondents reporting that this activity is “highly valuable.”

Figure 1.  Percent of respondents indicating value for practitioner activities.


The activity seen as least valuable was “promoting licensure and practice standards,” with almost 40% stating that this was not valuable and only 20% stating that this is highly valuable to promoting the practice and science of I-O psychology.  Moderate value was seen in advertising, establishing networks, and initiating marketing, research, and practice efforts to better focus on client needs.

Results were fairly consistent across practitioner categories, with only 4 of the 11 activities receiving value ratings which were statistically different across categories (see Table 1).  It should be noted that the extent to which respondents self-identified as practitioners was related to the extent to which they found value in the placement of articles in HR and business publications, increasing visibility at conferences, and marketing activities related to I-O practice. Specifically, full-time practitioners and part-time practitioners saw more value than occasional practitioners and nonpractitioners in the following areas:

  • Conduct and market an annual study of leading edge I-O practices in organizations
  • Initiate marketing, research, and practice efforts that focus on client needs 
  • Place I-O psychology articles in HR and business publications 
  • Be more visible at related conferences or hold joint conferences: SHRM, HRPS, ASTD, AOM, EAWOP, IAAP, and so on

Table 1
Value of Activities by Practitioner Category

 

Suggestions From Members

When asked “What else can SIOP do to support and promote I-O psychology practice and science?” 123 out of 1,005 respondents (12.3%) provided suggestions.  Individual responses were coded for content by a single reviewer into categories developed by that reviewer. A second reviewer coded the comments into these same categories. Initial agreement was 79%. Discrepancies were then discussed and a consensus was reached on the appropriate category for each comment. The resulting comment categories and the percentage of comments in each category can be found in Table 2.
 

Table 2
Content Categories and Frequency of Response
_____________________________________________________________________

                                                                                   #                        % 
Content Category                                                   Comments          Comments

_____________________________________________________________________      

Clarify standards for I-O practice and/or
more aggressively defend I-O content area
17
 
13.8%
Educate the public on I-O areas
15
 
12.2%
Greater emphasis on practical application of
research
15
 
12.2%
Bridge the science/practice gap
15
 
12.2%
Raising the profile of I-O psychology through
marketing activities
12
 
9.8%
Greater emphasis on business-related issues
and language
9
 
7.3%
Licensure issues
8
 
6.5%
Define the domain of I-O psychology
6
  4.9%
Encourage SIOP to maintain academic focus
6
 
4.9%
Miscellaneous
20
 
16.3%
Total
123
 
100%

______________________________________________________________________

The nine content categories seem to rationally cluster into three general domains. They are listed below in a logical order of progression.

  • I-O psychology domain and focus–42 responses (34%)
    • Define the domain of I-O psychology (5%)
    • Place greater emphasis on practice and Practical Application of Research (12%)
    • Bridge the science/practice gap (12%)
    • Encourage SIOP to maintain academic focus (5%)
  • Professional issues–25 responses (21%)
    • Clarify standards for I-O practice and/or more aggressively defend
      I-O content area (14%)
    • Address licensure issues (7%)
  • External education/marketing–36 responses (29%)
    • Educate the public on I-O areas (12%)
    • Raise the profile of I-O psychology through marketing activities (10%)
    • Place greater emphasis on business-related issues and language (7%)

I-O Psychology Domain and Focus Issues
The suggestions in this cluster focus on what I-O psychology could do within the field to better support and promote I-O psychology. One area mentioned by several respondents (5%) is to better define the domain of I-O psychology.   Suggestions here include:

  • Decide what we want to be
  • Perhaps a “what is I-O psychology” series to start would be helpful

Some respondents want a greater emphasis on practice and practical application of research (12%).  There are a number of very strongly held opinions that SIOP needs to do more for I-O practice.  In addition, there is an interest in making sure that research is practical and relevant to the workplace.  Examples include:

  • SIOP is so technical in its focus that the research really has little impact on organizations.  The purpose of research should be to address issues in the workplace, but most research is so esoteric or impractical that it has little impact on organizations.
  • Promote practical research on issues that are really relevant in organizations today.
  • SIOP seems to be less and less relevant.  So something must be off. My sense is SIOP is WAY too academic for practitioners.
  • Cannot let academics, who have never worked in government or industry, take over SIOP activities to advance practice.
  • I-O research is generally 15–20 years out of date, and I-O programs focus almost exclusively on obsolete ideas, paradigms, and faculty.
  • Frankly, the bias for academia is so strong within the SIOP hierarchy that I don’t even think about SIOP for support, other than participating in SIOP conference.

There is a clear interest by respondents in bridging the science/practice gap (12%). Typical suggestions are:

  • There needs to be a more integrated approach to science and practice.
  • Support collaboration amongst practice and science.  Find ways to encourage integration amongst the two.  
  • SIOP as a society continues to pay only lip-service to bridging the gap. between science and practice, and making I-O more integral to business and organizational effectiveness.

A smaller set of the write-in responses (5%) wanted to encourage SIOP to maintain an academic focus.  One respondent suggested that:
 

  • SIOP is coming too late to the game.  SHRM, HRPS, and other organizations better fulfill the needs of the practitioner.  Since SIOP is so academic, consider spinning off all of the practice-related activities and set up mergers with SHRM and HRPS instead of trying to compete as yet another source that will always be far too academic in thought, practice, and relationships to benefit practitioners.   

Professional issues 
The most frequently cited activity was for SIOP to clarify standards for I-O practice/more aggressively defend I-O content area (14%). This domain involves defining and defending the I-O psychology field against competitors in the marketplace. Examples of these comments include:

  • There needs to be clarity around what we do and how that is differentiated in the marketplace from what others are offering.
  • Need to clearly define our practice and skills domain.
  • Be more assertive in protecting I-O’s “turf,” for example, clinical psychologists practicing in I-O areas without having adequately retrained.
  • Help to set standards so that anyone who wants to practice I-O does not need to simply put up a shingle and do so.
  • We need to prevent “professionals” in other areas marketing themselves as I-O psychologists and engaging in I-O psychology-related work.

Although licensure issues were cited in 7% of comments, respondents’ views were mixed; some comments were in favor of it, but others were opposed.   Examples include:

  • Encourage practitioners to comply with licensing requirements.
  • Promote practice standards without licensure as an issue.
  • The licensure issue needs to be addressed. I don’t like breaking laws nor do I like treading carefully around use of terms like “psychologist.”

External Education/Marketing 
Quite a few of the write-in suggestions emphasized steps that SIOP could take to better educate the public and promote I-O psychology in the marketplace.  Some comments (12%) focused on advocating for SIOP to educate the public on I-O areas. Suggestions included speaking in organizations, with undergraduates, and even with high-school students to get them to understand the field and the services we can provide.  These views suggest:

  • An emphasis should be placed on engaging organizations and educating them on I-O practices. 
  • Communicate the benefits of hiring I-O practitioners.
  • SIOP could do something about improving and expanding the number of practitioner-oriented journals.

 
Numerous suggestions (19%) deal specifically with raising the profile of I-O psychology through marketing activities.  These respondents advocated a much more proactive effort to market the I-O field.  Suggestions include:

  • TV ads during business programming.
  • Radio ads on National Public Radio.
  • Actively involve in national humanitarian efforts...to generate greater positive publicity and awareness for SIOP and the profession [of] I-O.
  • Hire a PR firm that would place articles/practitioner spotlights in the written and TV media.
  • We would be best off marketing our services directly to HR professionals. Make key I-O research findings easily accessible to HR practitioners by providing executive summaries with key findings and implications.
  • Position SIOP as the leading source of organizational and HR work and thinking to the business community.

Related to this is an interest in putting greater emphasis on business-related issues and language (8%). These respondents emphasized becoming more business oriented in our practice and research.  Typical suggestions include:

  • I-O insists on publishing things that are written only for the I-O insiders.  Most of the materials—branded I-O—the average HR professional or business leader would throw out as not to the point and awkward to read.
  • I-O does not connect well to the business community. Never has. Need executive committee members with business experience, not only academics.
  • Adapt to be more business focused...(meet) the need for fast, flexible information on topics of...use to persons working in the real world.
  • Apply a business mindset—talk more about what our practice does for our clients, not HOW we do it.
  • Change the language. Academic speak goes nowhere in business.

Miscellaneous comments
Finally, approximately 16% of comments were not classifiable into common categories.  Some examples include:

  • Pay attention to the results of this survey!!!
  • Take the information and do something NOW!  Don’t discuss it to death.
  • Practitioners have to deliver results, and SIOP is becoming increasingly irrelevant to us.
  • Might consider having a practitioner segment of the SIOP Executive Committee. This has always appeared to be primarily the domain of academics.
  • These questions...are great. You are reading my mind.
  • Change the name! Just go with organizational psychology already.
  • Create online journal similar to that done by McKinsey that showcases SIOP member applied work and applied research.
  • Conduct and market an annual study of leading edge I-O practices in organizations.
  • Reserve some space at SIOP for “hot topics” to be proposed within 60 days of the conference. The problem with SIOP is that most work is at least 1–2 years old by the time it is presented at SIOP.

Conclusions

The work that SIOP does to promote I-O psychology as a field is clearly valued by its membership.  As I-O psychologists work to gain recognition for their contributions and influence in the workplace, the role that SIOP can and does play is critical.  The Visibility Committee and SIOP Administrative Staff are already working on a number of initiatives to meet the needs identified by this study.  Look for more information at the SIOP conference and in upcoming issues of TIP.