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What Do They Think of Us?
Panelists Offer Their Feedback on I-O Science and Practice

SIOP Visibility Committee

If I-O practitioners want to increase their roles as players in the business world, they need to be better communicators with managers and other key decision makers and offer more results-oriented solutions along with their analyses.

That was the primary message delivered by five executives during a panel discussion at the Chicago SIOP conference on how business leaders view I-O psychologys image, visibility, and identity.

Because relatively little data exists concerning how potential clients regard I-O psychology, SIOPs Visibility Committee and Invited Sessions Subcommittee of the SIOP Conference Planning Committee collaborated to develop a session that might shed some light on what business leaders think about the contributions I-O can make to their enterprises.

The panelists, all of whom were familiar with the field of I-O psychology, either as clients of I-O consultants or from having worked closely with I-O psychologists within their own organizations, were Eric Paul, director of organizational effectiveness at Motorola; David Gurbach, former group president of Banta Health Care Group who also had a long career in management; Don Packham, senior vice president of human resources at BP America; William Kosik, managing principal of EYP Mission Critical Facilities in Chicago, and Charles Corace, director of the Credo Survey at Johnson & Johnson.

Lise Saari, chair of the Visibility Committee, facilitated the session.

The invited panelists pulled no punches, but those who attended, while not agreeing with all that was said, did acknowledge that the session resulted in some food for thought, particularly the prevailing opinion that I-O practitioners need to make some changes in how they interact with business.

Paul of Motorola said that it has been his experience that people with organizational development backgrounds have been more successful in their relationships with business leaders than both I-O psychologists and MBAs.

So, why do OD people succeed where I-O people do not? According to the panel, OD people seem to have a better business acumen and speak in terminology that managers understand and can discuss such things as profit and loss statements. They also build relationships with management more quickly.

OD people better understand the process of change and how to make it work within an organization, said Paul.

While agreeing that I-O people have strong expertise in analyzing problems, panel members pointed to a gap between insight and execution. I-O people need to be more results-oriented, they said.

They urged I-O people need to think more out of the box and deal more with possibilities and solutions rather than being so precision oriented. Precision, though, is a great strength of I-O; however, practitioners need to go beyond that to provide insights that will help an organization. Packham agreed and said a challenge for I-Os was to link processes and procedures within organizations with outcomes.

Several on the panel thought I-O psychologists were too enamored with tests and measures rather than concentrating on the business process and interacting. They asked who are the end-users for the science that I-Os produce? Managers already know there is a problem and they want outcome-oriented answers rather than language steeped in science describing the problem.

Yet, at the same time, in an informal survey conducted prior to the panel session, managers said they would be very likely to call on I-O psychologists for employee selection and testing issues. They also considered very important several skills that I-O bring to organizational effectiveness, including consulting and business skills, leadership and management insights, organization development, individual assessment and attitude theory, measurement and change.

So while the panel agreed that I-O psychologists, by virtue of their training and expertise, can contribute greatly to the success of their organization, there is something that seems to prevent that from happening on a larger scale than now exists.

According to the panel, there are several reasons, including the reliance on HR staff or in-house specialists to perform many of the functions common to I-O practitioners. These would include tasks like recruiting and placement, interviewing, performance appraisal and management, succession planning, workplace wellness, and team building.

They suggested that I-O people live in the field for a while to learn what is happening in business. I-Os need to be more effective business partners and expand their expertise beyond surveys, tests, and measures; not just to diagnose a problem but also to come up with solutions. This will help in building relationships over time, they maintained.

They also said I-O practitioners need to better market their expertise to business leaders as to what they can do and how they can contribute to an organizations success. And that includes speaking their language, the panel said. Several mentioned that sometimes the technicalities and scientific terminology used by I-O people are not clearly understood by business managers.

Nevertheless, the panelists agreed that there are abundant opportunities for I-O psychologists, especially in understanding and addressing people issues within organizations. These are essential to organizational success, they said, and I-O psychologists could and should be valuable contributors in meeting those issues.

Dialogue with I-O clients is particularly useful and the Visibility Committee would like to expand on this theme with a similar session at the 2005 SIOP conference in Los Angeles, said Wendy Becker, the new chair of the Visibility Committee. Suggestions can be sent to Jeffrey Jolton at Genesee Survey Services Inc. at jeff.jolton@gensurvey.com. He helped organize the Chicago panel and will coordinate ideas and suggestions for the L.A. conference. 

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