What I Learned Along the Way
Frank J. Landy
The theme of the contributions to this issue seems to be the wonder of the unexpected. It would be tempting to stop there and say that serendipity can often be fun and a strong influence on ones career. But the three authors of these contributions are saying something more substantial. They are saying that their willingness to step into areas that were new to them had the effect of greatly expanding their skill set (as well as their job satisfaction).
As I have said before in the introduction to this column, I think there are hundreds of recollections of episodes in the development of a career that would make fascinating reading. Here are three of them, send me yours.
Are We There Yet?
Robert D. Pritchard
University of Central Florida
When I think of some of the significant events that led me to where I am now, several come to mind. I went to high school and the first year and a half of college in a seminary, studying to be a Catholic priest. Towards the end I realized this was not for me. In fact, my father once said if I became a priest, Id set the church back 50 years. He was (mostly) kidding. So I moved on to UCLA. My original goal was to get an engineering degree and an MBA. However, I soon realized that engineering was not for me. Early on at UCLA, I happened to take an elective in psych, a course called Industrial Psychology. I thought this was pretty cool stuff and decided to major in psychology and then get an MBA. However, what I really majored in was party. It was the deprivation from the seminary.
After my Industrial Psych class, I started doing an independent study with Richard Barthol, the only I-O person in psychology at UCLA. This was a major event for me. It was great working with him, and I realized I liked research and changed my career goal to get a PhD in I-O psych and be a researcher. To do this, I
realized I needed to get serious about studying and grades, so I substantially changed my lifestyle.
Fortunately, the University of Minnesota overlooked my earlier period of mediocre grades and admitted me. This was an incredible time.
Marv Dunnette was going great guns and John Campbell had recently returned from Berkeley. I was lucky to work with both of them. This experience had a profound effect on me; I will forever be grateful for it. Minnesota then was considered the Dust Bowl of Empiricism and not that focused on theory. I particularly remember one conversation with Marv where I was pushing for the value of theory. The next day I came into my office and he had written the word Theory about 100 times on a long sheet of mainframe printout and taped it so it draped down from the ceiling. I still strongly believe in the value of good theory. A lesson learned? Although I was lucky with these two advisors, be more proactive in selecting an advisor. Spend some time with them, read what they have written, and see how well your interests and work style fits with theirs.
My first faculty job was at Purdue (1969). My starting salary was $11,700. I remember sitting in my living room after moving in that first semester very confused about what I would do now that my dissertation was finished. I had not identified a clear research program and was suddenly at a loss for how to proceed. I think all of us face this issue, usually more than once in our careers. It was a hard one for me then, and Im not sure I gave it all the thought I should have, but what did I know back then? One thing I learned from this experience is to be very, very careful in selecting a direction for your research. You are committing yourself to a major undertaking, sometimes involving years of work. Make this choice thoughtfully.
Another major event occurred while at Purdue and that was deciding to work with Jim Naylor and
Dan Ilgen on a book. It started out as a textbook but morphed into a huge project that took us 6 years. It resulted in the 1980 theory book that is sometimes called NPI theory. That was one of the most stimulating periods of my career, and I look back on it with fond memories. Put another way, I learned, or relearned, how much fun it is to collaborate. It takes some time to develop a good collaborative relationship, but once you do, collaboration with smart people can be great.
I think a good part of the critical moments appear to happen serendipitously. I had been doing research for some years with the Air Force, and they approached me in 1982 asking if I was interested in doing some research on group feedback, goal setting, and incentives. I was but believed the hard part of that research was developing a good criterion of performance for complex jobs. So I proposed a way to get a measure of complex performance based on NPI and use that as feedback and for goal setting and incentives. They funded the project and the measurement and feedback system worked quite well. This approach later became the Productivity Measurement and Enhancement System, or ProMES and I have been working with it for over 20 years.
There have been a number of other apparently serendipitous events that have shaped my career. Enough so, I wonder seriously how truly serendipitous they really are! I still believe in the value of theory. I also believe just as strongly that programmatic research done over extended periods of time is how we really learn about the complex things we deal with. But I also believe it is important to pay attention to those apparently serendipitous events.they can take you to great places. So dont be in too much of a hurry to Be There Yet.
Oh, The Places Youll Go! Pack Wisely1
1 Dr. Seuss (1990). Oh, The Places Youll Go! New York: Random House.
I recently went from working on the street for the past few years (including September 11, 2001) to now finding myself consulting for various federal and private agencies regarding hostile missions in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq. My path to conflict-laden territories was not direct. This path reflects taking risks in order to remain business relevant. Risk taking, I found, leads to interesting people working in interesting places doing interesting things. I enjoy business risk and the potential it affords (or promises). Risk and reward as you know are inextricably linked. The following are a few comments about my career experiences. I hope you find them useful.
The career started out working for a New York-based boutique consulting firm. At the time, being supervised by licensed professionals was important to me so I could qualify for the New York State licensing exam. Two years later I shifted to a
Fortune 10 corporate human resources position. There, I performed most HR functions or managed them. It was a stable, secure market environment for many years and then opportunity knocked.
The market shifted, operational objectives changed, and a need for transformational consulting developed. I assisted internally but the really juicy work was outsourced. I wanted to bite the apple too. I resigned amicably hoping to get back on board in a consulting capacity so I too could drive the change effort from outside the company.
I was not certain that my voluntary departure from my corporate job would lead to years of consulting, but it did. The risk paid off. The consulting work flourished (e.g., executive seminars on change management, wellness programs, coaching, customer experience alignment and executive assessment). A consulting practice was born. I touched teaching hospitals, high-technology incubators, global consumer products, and the public sector. The client and project diversity was invigorating. I needed to learn different business models, convey I-O terms or tactics using the clients jargon (not mine), and absorb new cultures. Most of all, I needed to listen.
Transformational services delivered were multifaceted and are culture-changing tactics. I built transformational competency models that bring the culture to the next level (rather than stretching the culture too far and paralyzing the workforce), assessed senior management for succession planning, assisted employment attorneys in downsizing efforts assuring compatibility with overall business direction, constructed compelling customer experiences, and coached executives that are resisting or not buying-in to the business shift.
Ultimately, the transformational business story is one of customer impact and product differentiation. Business executives understand that competition is robustthey are only a nickel away from losing a customer. The only way to retain customers is to offer an
experience or product that sets them apart from competitors. I-O services that can enhance brand loyalty and sustain products are invaluable and are nondiscretionary spends.
Ive dissected emergency medicine departments based upon service impact on patients (improving efficiencies and patient satisfaction), stretched a consumer product company that sells womens hosiery (offering customers a special experience at retail), brought human resources to attention in a military environment by incorporating customer metrics into their performance evaluation, and infiltrated all operating companies of a multinational, multibillion dollar consumer products company through a diversity initiative where the nature of the product was incongruent with the nature of the desired culture (e.g., male-dominant, tough product characteristics bring untold resistance to diversity).
I dabbled with emerging technologies (e.g., innovative relational databases, Internet telephony, avionics, Web-driven customizable products) during the dot-com explosion and marketed services to high-growth opportunities (i.e., private equities). Being personally involved in private equities investing and with an established independent practice, I focused on growth companies hitting a critical point of inflection such as a merger or acquisition or transformation from start-up to an enabled, more mature organization.
I witnessed path-breaking technologies and applied what I learned from my corporate HR job to assist the CEOs and founders in securing a culture that could sustain the product offering. This would include coaching, implementing performance management, and aligning customer experiences across the trade cycle (i.e., pretrade, trade, and
Basically, my work centered on the aspects of the business that touched customers, but that customers could not touch. It is important to note that my practice, although basically core I-O services, is delivered based upon
customer impact. The proprietary organizational diagnostic work begins by analyzing business outcomes (i.e., customer metrics across the trade cyclehow customers think, feel, and behave). The beauty of this approach is that the soft management aspects of business (i.e., I-O) are immediately (and undeniably) connected to hard, tangible business outcomes. That is a winning combination when you deliver services at C-levels. Not surprisingly, I typically uncover poor management, poor management practices, insufficient or inadequate resources, or a lack of (or poor use of) credible metrics to keep the organization focused and on track.
I found myself immersed in new organizations. Sometimes despite being a legal entity these businesses operated very virtually, lacked structure other than equity distribution, and generally behaved in a chaotic, free manner. This chaos however was also accountable for free thinking, enormous creativity, and the infusion of constructive deviance, enabling everyone to ask why or why not. The downside of course is that this also bred slow product commercialization, stalled initiatives or total derailmentit is very painful to watch an organization implode. These were entrepreneurs (sometimes well funded and sometimes not) and they were intense, focused, and inspiring. They worked constantly, slept on couches when exhausted, and 20 minutes later were back working. The clock had no practical significance to their day or their life; certainly not their work life. However, they were not managers and often that spelled I-O opportunity.
My work in the technology space led to collaborations with a Big Four consulting firm and eventually I joined the Big Four in a senior managers role. My first account placed me in Quantico working for the Department of Defense. I convinced the partnership to bid on this project despite the fact that it was outside of our core competency. It would stretch us, demand growth (and it would be exciting to be in Quantico). The competition was stiff, but with some seed money, partner support, and by bolstering the team, we won.
In Quantico the consulting team designed change tactics to improve efficiencies, restructure, and streamline operations. Coupled with technological upgrades the work was fast-paced, very threatening to a heavily bureaucratic client environment, and resistance was severe. No news there, Im sure.
I acclimated rapidly to the military environmentmaybe too rapidly, because I was always reminding my colleagues to not go outside without their cover. I fondly recall the Harrier jets outside my office window bobbing up and down like a bunch of playful kids. They were noisy too.
Upon completion of the Quantico engagement, I was placed on a sales development team within the firm and we won a large account with a Wall Street firm. At first, I was engaged as a corporate strategy advisor to the executive vice-president and senior research management. After a successful year consulting for this firm, I was invited to join on a full-time basis in the department of Global Research Operations, a
business side position. I was responsible for accelerating a cultural transition that would drive the implementation of technology-enabled product enhancements. Fundamentally, this means altering how financial products are authored, designed, and delivered around the world.
This implicated extant shared global databases, authoring software, product packaging, customer demand, and technological options (e.g., wireless, PDA, streaming media). Eventually this also disrupts publishing operations because new delivery systems implicate old delivery systems resulting in budget reconfigurations, business process overhaul, and job design change. It was a big job.
I reported directly to the chief operating officer and worked regularly (virtually and face-to-face) with project teams in New York, London, and Singapore. (I was located in the World Financial Center adjacent to the World Trade Center). I learned the relevance of technological capabilities (e.g., component-based publishing systems) to enhance product personalization (e.g., making it possible for clients to get the information they want, when they want it, and on any device they prefer). I rode the wave of mass customization (i.e., the global necessity to build adaptable, Web-delivered products so that individual customers can personalize them). It was cutting-edge integration of technology and customer demand. Business differentiation (i.e., survival) is all about personalization. The future belongs to the business that becomes personal and offers a compelling customer experience.
I recall that upon introduction to my client, the executive vice-president of a global business unit, he bluntly asked, Why the hell should I listen to you? I answered, what in my view, is a very legitimate question, even if deployed stiffly. I believe I responded factually and generated interest by talking about the types of clients Ive had and the places Ive been. I was informed at a later date that I was placed in the senior advisory role because my background is distinctive. I assumed that was flattery and accepted the job.
Over the years Ive worked with many kinds of professionals. Ive worked with a brigadier general, State Department officials, law enforcement, military special ops, C-level business executives, investment bankers, and start-up founders. I enjoyed each for different reasons. Currently, I am working with a state senator assisting in the drafting of legislation on occupational health and wellness offering tax benefits to businesses that incorporate healthy work practices.
On September 11th, 2001, I, like many others, faced an unknown. With no hard information to go on, I insisted that my floor be evacuated (there was no known reason to do so at the time). When reality was faced (knowing only the threat, not the cause) I found myself in a problem-solving mode, over-riding the emotional, horrific nature of the events. Today, I consult on international peacekeeping projects. I interface with brave, admirable people heading into dangerous situations in Afghanistan and Iraq (assessment work). It is of course surreal to be connected to September 11th from both the front end and the back.
In sum, knowing subject matter is always a good thing but knowing what you dont know and being open to that is even better. Knowledge can inhibit growth. This is where risk comes inand the professional goal of remaining business relevant. Stay fresh by interacting across industries, across professions, or within a firm, across functions.
Being in one workplace for a career is becoming an increasingly unlikely event. This is just as true for I-O psychologists as it is for software engineers, chemists, or accountants. Taking risks early in an I-O career makes sense because (a) there are vast opportunities available to you, (b) you need to immerse yourself in different cultures to see what fits, and (c) I-O as a discipline builds skills that apply to various workplaces, you should consider taking advantage of that.
There are as many career routes as there are careers. I found that my I-O degree was a portal to an infinite number of learning experiences. Great experiences come unexpectedly but derive from working with great people. Assume a level of risk, especially early in a career, and it can lead to exciting people and places.
Dr. Seuss informed us Oh, the Places Youll Gosome travels are planned, some are
SIOP and Chaos Theory
Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Editors Note: Lee Hakel retired in April 2005 as SIOPs director.
There have been some interesting and challenging times in the last 10 years that I have worked for SIOP and some have been downright funny. Some of those challenging times were the result of our own actions, others were not, although members may not have known (or cared) whose fault it was. It is more pleasant to recount some of the times when it
wasnt our fault. So Ill describe those first.
Once we mailed out a book to a SIOP member and she received a pair of shoes! It seems the two boxes split open so the post office repackaged the spilled goods and sent them on to two very surprised people. Apparently the person who got the SIOP book liked it as we never got it back.
Then there was the time we sent out the e-mail to thousands of SIOP members telling them that conference registration was open and almost immediately the credit card companys main server went downfor hours! Our phones lit up like a Christmas tree.
And of course there was the time when we discovered that all of the conference registration booklets were sent to the wrong mailing list by the printer. There were some very surprised auto parts storeowners all over the country! The printer reprinted and remailed at his expense and said, Thats why I have insurance.
These it wasnt our fault episodes are offset by some incidents when we had to take the rap. Here are a few of the most memorable:
It is tough to forget the conference program that said Bring this program with you to San Diego. But the conference that year was in St. Louis!
Then of course there was the SIOP tour bus getting lost for over an hour.
And the time the FAX machine melted just before the deadline for registration.
And sometimes situations or decisions that could have ended up as a disaster turned out pretty well:
Before we had electronic conference proposal submissions, the deadline date often brought as many as 500 submissions. Our UPS man must have had a lot of practical intelligence because he learned to schedule his days off around our deadline, effectively making his replacements life miserable. But Big Brown came through for us nevertheless.
And the time I hired a street band for the conference after listening to them play on the streetthen had a lot of sleepless nights wondering if they would actually show up, and if they did, would they be good. They did and they were.
And finally, to borrow from the credit card ad, sometimes events are priceless.
I had always thought of the conference as a place where professional recruiting went on. Much to my surprise, other types of recruiting also seem to occur. My daughter met her husband at the Atlanta conference. She was working for SIOP, and he was attempting to register over the phone for the conference. After a brief but entertaining conversation, he said he would like to meet her at the conference. He had to introduce himself to her twice at the conference because she was working so hard she completely forgot meeting him the first time. He asked her out and the rest is history. She had designed the t-shirts for that conference and she was sure they would be a big hit so we made a lot of them. They werent. So we bought the remainders from SIOP and used them as favors at the wedding!
What I have learned along the way is that there is great satisfaction in taking what could be chaos and rendering it orderly, in supporting others as they try to meet their goals, and making that your own goal. It has been a hoot.
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