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Pro-Social I-O--Quo Vadis? Organizational Patience

Stuart C. Carr
Massey University

Multinational corporations who “dare to care” and temporarily risk losing some of their competitiveness (Delios, 2010), international NGOs who take a punt by paying their aid workers at the same rate regardless of their economy of origin (ESRC, 2010), and peacekeepers working to restore stability, security, predictability, and basic access to fundamental needs for life (Saner & Yiu, 2012). Linking these scenarios together is what I-O practice today—and especially in the future perhaps—will require, and is increasingly requiring new arrangements, new links, and new ways of cooperating between organizations to realize goals in a resource-stressed yet globalized context. Today we are privileged to be joined by Ingrid Hickman. Ingrid is an experienced international consultant in I-O psychology working in new frontiers of our profession. In particular, Ingrid has been practicing in the domain of multinational organizations like NATO, working with other international organizations to forge enhanced partnerships with major multilateral and multinational organizations operating in the field of security and humanitarian operations. In this issue of QV, she introduces us to a nascent construct in I-O psychology and to the idea of deferred gratification at an interorganizational level.

Ingrid Hickman is a chartered European-based psychologist and managing director of Creating Psychological Capital, LTD. with managerial experience across a variety of functional areas including international security organizations, retail, e-commerce, and property services. In 2010 the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology (DOP) awarded Ingrid the coveted Practitioner of the Year Award, the UK’s top prize for I-O psychology, for her vital part in the design and evaluation of a culture change program designed to transition middle managers in the traffic officer service from a supervisory to management role. This project enabled a demonstrable culture of cooperation, reflection, learning, and performance management, supporting traffic officers to safely and efficiently provide vital 24–7 services to drivers on England’s motorway network. Continuing that theme of cooperation, Ingrid has since worked extensively with NATO’s strategic military headquarters in Belgium on a variety of work culture and change management initiatives shaping how military and civilian organizations work together to diffuse and manage crises. Ingrid also speaks to us in her role as chair of the British Psychological Society, Division of Occupational Psychology’s 2013 conference Working Group. Appropriately enough the theme of the conference this year is “Connecting and Collaborating to Make a Difference” (http://dop-conference.bps.org.uk/).

Ingrid, please tell us a bit more about your work

I began my work with NATO 1 year ago, focusing on how a new crisis management organization could be sustained by new ways of interacting between individuals, organizations within the military headquarters, and between international organizations. This is a challenging environment for strengthening genuine cooperation and collaboration, given that this particular NATO military headquarters is composed of representatives from 28 different nations and that managing crises in the sphere of international security is the most demanding and complex task within international relations. Other organizations—humanitarian nongovernment, private, and public organizations—have recognized the importance of this new crisis management center and want to work together more closely. In part, this desire is in recognition of the fact that the challenges faced by the international community are far too large for one organization or even one country. I have seen a clear understanding by so many of the limits of our ability, capacity, and resources to solve today’s complex security problems and the fact that these 21st century security issues must be solved together, combining the energy, effort, skills, and resources to achieve a common aim. However, this desire has not been institutionalized in all places within all organizations. If it were to be institutionalized it would certainly be a more cost-effective and efficient approach. In fact, NATO policymakers have given this a name—they call it the “comprehensive approach.” Such approaches would be consistent with the policy principle of “harmonization,” in aid and development.

Can you highlight where I-O can help?

I’m particularly keen at present, given my involvement with NATO, to investigate the ways in which I-O psychology can encourage organizations to invest in the future with long-term plans and visions that will not necessarily show dividends on their watch but will make fundamental and sustainable changes for future generations. Many of the issues that communities and regions are facing around the world require organizational patience and investment over decades. It is undeniably challenging to take on responsibilities and missions that exceed the capabilities and resources of the organization, which would suggest a need for incentives. It is also interesting that the only way organizations can overcome this shortage of energy, resources, and capability is through broader networks and collaboration with other organizations; by finding synergies that are essential to mitigate the shortcomings of each organization. I have witnessed this during my time at NATO, where the problems causing instability and insecurity are bigger than the normal solutions and weapons that the military uses to address them. The scale and size of these challenges overwhelms humanitarian and military organizations alike, especially as we evolve into a more connected, global, and increasingly populated world. I think connecting and collaborating on how organizations are coping with this challenge, how they take care of their people, maintain motivation, create hope, incentivize and reward delayed gratification, and sustain the effort—while seeking new ways of solving their own problems through broader collaboration—would be a very interesting discussion. I support the very interesting work being done in the UN that is looking at crisis “transformation” (into win–win outcomes and processes) rather than crisis “suppression.” Transformation involves working from the starting point of each country and organization and developing within their aspirations and context (in development parlance, “Alignment”). Working at the pace of the country or organization,1 including a wider aperture across decades rather than months, are key ingredients for success—organizational patience. Going back to our opening examples, socially responsible corporations might replace “damage control” (suppression mode) with more proactive community partnerships; NGOs experimenting with new forms of remuneration may partner strategically and on the ground with (a) each other and (b) with researchers who help us all to evaluate, and know, “what works.” I think this is the right kind of orientation and trajectory for thinking about I-O psychology and its future work with organizations that operate in more complex spheres.

How prominent is I-O in fields like decent work, at present?

Unfortunately, I do not see a strong I-O psychology presence in most of these organizations. There are many organizations that could profit significantly from I-O professionals’ analysis and advice on a wide range of interpersonal, intraorganizational, and interorganizational behaviors and approaches. In particular, I have noticed there is too little knowledge and awareness of the I-O methodologies and interventions already relied on by businesses and by some other public service organizations in international organizations executing complex security missions. I really believe that our profession can help these international security organizations widen the aperture through which they look at security challenges and their solutions. In this sense, widening the aperture means expanding our understanding of the challenges, stretching the collaborative networks necessary to solve them, and elongating the timeframe that we (meaning both I-Os and these organizations themselves) typically use to measure progress. This is clearly an area that deserves our intervention and support. The potential for making a difference in the world’s multilateral organizations is significant.

Where and how could we make more of a difference/input more? 

I have begun looking into this area more broadly—beyond NATO—and would encourage our colleagues to look to the same and offer their thoughts and recommendations to organizations involved in the sphere of human or international security (e-mail ingrid.hickman@creatingpsychologicalcapital.com). These are important security issues, ones that determine how secure we all feel and may determine the effectiveness of the organizations set up to address them, whether they are local, national, international, private, or public entities. I would encourage the leaders of such organizations to search for I-O specialists to help them frame the problems within their organization and between organizations, and to find and use evidence-based solutions that draw upon the enormous depth and breadth of research and practice in our field(s). This will undoubtedly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of those organizations dealing with almost unimaginable problems of scale and complexity. We are living in a world that is characterized by less and less resources to address bigger and bigger problems. Old business practices simply won’t cut it in the 21st century. The way I see it, change is needed to be secure and I-O can help leaders to navigate and implement those changes. I have found that creating a meaningful discourse within these security organizations, and between them, can be extremely effective in bringing about new cultures and climates in the work place. In particular, the pressures of both time constraints in the workforce—that is, there is not enough time in the work day to get the job done—combined with the immediacy of finding solutions to problems that emerge without warning places enormous pressure on organizations that revert to a reliance on outdated practices. What might be lost here is the future, our future. We certainly want a kind of future in which organizations evolve in line with the demands of the times, not organizations struggling to avoid burnout with problem after problem overwhelming human capacities and capabilities.

Ingrid, Thank you so much for your motivating and challenging insights and observations. For me they resonate with a wider theme in QV, an expanded and expansive inter-I-O psychology.


Delios, A. (2010). How can organizations be competitive and dare to care? Academy of Management Perspectives, August, 25–36.
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). (2010). Discrepancies in aid and development workers’ salaries. Impact case study , London, UK: The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Retrieved from http://www.dfid.gov.uk/r4d/PDF/Outputs/ESRC_DFID/ 60426-Impact_case_study_discrepancies_in_aid_and_development_workers_salaries_tcm6-370661.pdf
MacLachlan, M., Carr, S. C., & McAuliffe, E. (2010). The aid triangle: Recognizing the human dynamics of dominance, justice and identity. London, UK: Zed Books.
Saner, R., & Yiu, L. (2012). The new diplomacies and humanitarian work psychology. In S. C. Carr, M. MacLachlan, & A. Furnham (Eds.), Humanitarian work psychology (pp. 129–165). London, UK: Palgrave-Macmillan.