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Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

I read the thoughtful comments suggesting a name change with great interest (TIP, 46, 2, October 2008), and I’d like to offer a different perspective.

There is market power in calling ourselves Psychologists and differentiating ourselves through our professional training, discipline, and ethics; the rigor of our methods; ability to be licensed; and by the nature of our calling—helping others. In addition, our training in a range of methodology; our knowledge of validity, reliability, statistics, and test theory; along with grounding in a historic and academic tradition, gives us a platform from which we can provide impartial and unbiased insight.

Psychology is the study of human behavior. Business people are interested in the behavior of employees, managers, and executives; they want to understand how to influence, motivate, shape attitudes and drives, and most importantly—how to lead them. As psychologists we are professionally qualified to make judgments in that arena, a unique focus central to the interests of C-suite executives.

The “industrial” part of our name places us squarely in the heart of American industry, suggests where we work, where we have influence, and where we’ve made our greatest contributions—the for-profit market sector. Whether it’s the Hawthorne experiments, job analyses, performance management, or compensation theory, industry has traditionally benefited from our ideas, and it is where we continue to make our greatest contributions.

Looking closely at the tools/methods and interventions that business people value reveals our core practice and research areas: performance appraisals, psychological testing, 360 surveys, human factors, interviewing methods, leadership, executive assessment, assessment centers, executive coaching, job appraisals, etc., all influence the performance of the individual in the workplace.

While “organization” aptly describes where we conduct our work, the term has been co-opted by organizational behaviorists and organizational consultants with PhDs in “organizational behavior” (whatever that is). Now we all know that organizations don’t “behave,” people behave. And I may be splitting a definitional hair, but an organization is a construct, a concept, a legal entity, that in fact does not exist and is not a real being. When the government prosecutes to recover the trillions of dollars of corporate value lost over the last decade, they will prosecute individuals—not corporations or organizations. Organizations do not have thoughts, do not plan for the future, do not develop strategies, and do not build product. People do those things. Our ability to comment on individual behavior and motivations, based on disciplined and rigorous analysis drawing on objectively collected data, will continue to be of marked value and interest to others.

In graduate school over 30 years ago I wrote a paper on this topic and commented that organizational consulting and organizational intervention represent far too broad and inclusive concepts. Organizational consulting and organization change result from team building, socializing work groups, and restructuring the hierarchy, but they also result from new marketing methods, different supply chains, and using different communication channels. In fact, changes can come from restriping the parking lot and changing the logo color. All of these changes ultimately effect the organization and can properly be called interventions as defined by organizational consulting. So, while it is useful to include “organization” in our title, the “O,” it is not our core, which is psychologist.

I disagree with the term “work psychologist.” While consistent with our European colleagues, it offers little descriptively to the U.S. business market, since everyone we deal with “works.” Do we study work, do we theorize about work, or do we work? All legitimate questions raised by this name. Work is an activity, and one of many activities that occur in an organization—but our expertise is in understanding the individual and what may lead him/her to do what they do.

I agree with Milt Hakel about the need to put this issue to a vote of the membership. I prefer our traditional nomenclature, industrial-organizational psychologist.  Psychologist connotes the methods, thoroughness, and depth of our training, professional ethics, our rigor and discipline—and suggests we are focused on the individual—not the department, not the group, not the overall structure, not the organization, but the individual within the context of the organization. I do not think we want to lose or dilute that important role.

Randall Cheloha, PhD
Principal and Managing Director
Cheloha Consulting Group

To the Editor:

My deepest thanks to Antonio Mladinic and Viviana Rodriguez for their recent TIP article about I-O psychology in Chile. I lived in the capital, Santiago, for a brief 22 months in the late 1990s and quickly became captivated by their culture, people, traditions, history, and general way of life. Reading about the beginnings, journey, and current trends of I-O psychology was a treat, especially the descriptions of how I-O psychology is being utilized in both research and practice. It truly brought a smile to my face and, coincidentally, to that of my wife, a native Chilean.

Before the TIP column, she questioned if Chile was an active consumer of I-O psychology. Upon completing my graduate training in the field, we now have the perfect excuse to make the leap and, once again, call Chile “home”!

¡Viva Chile!

Mark North
Operations Officer
Salt City Countertops, Inc.