The Bridge: Connecting
Science and Practice
The Wendy’s Company
Robert E. Ployhart
University of South Carolina
Column Editors: Mark L. Poteet, Organizational Research & Solutions, Inc.; Lynda Zugec, The Workforce Consultants; and Craig Wallace, Oklahoma State University
The “Bridge” column strives to further connect science and practice by publishing articles on the subject of science and practice integration (see Poteet, Zugec, & Wallace, 2016, for more background information). In this column, we profile Huntington National Bank, a recent winner of the HRM Impact Award. Sponsored by SIOP, the SIOP Foundation, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and the SHRM Foundation, the HRM Impact Award was designed to recognize, reward, and publicize “best available evidence regarding the usefulness and impact of successfully implemented innovative HRM initiatives” (HRM Impact Award, n.d.b, para. 1). To prepare this article, the aforementioned column editors communicated with two SIOP members involved in this project, William Shepherd (“Will”) and Robert Ployhart (“Rob”), to obtain insights on the challenges, lessons learned, and best practices in designing and implementing an evidence-based approach across industry and academics. We begin by providing a description of the project and its results then focus more specifically on the research collaboration between Will (a senior vice president of talent and organizational effectiveness at Huntington Bank at the time) and Rob (a professor at University of South Carolina).
Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Huntington Bancshares Incorporated is a regional bank holding company with more than 700 branches across the Midwest and $69 in billion assets. The Huntington National Bank, founded in 1866, and its affiliates provide services in commercial, small business, and consumer banking; mortgage banking; treasury management; wealth management; brokerage; insurance; and trust (HRM Impact Award, n.d.a).
Project Summary – The VOICE Survey
In 2010, Huntington National Bank began a new consumer brand called “Welcome.” Critical to the brand’s success was having a highly engaged and stable workforce that would deliver and execute the brand message to customers. To support this effort, Huntington Bank wanted to assess the impact of culture, engagement, attitudes, and turnover on organizational performance metrics. The VOICE (Voice of Individual Colleague Engagement) employee opinion survey program was designed and launch in 2010 to meet this need.
The online survey is administered annually and includes items on the organization’s values and issues of engagement, career development, leadership, work–life balance, risk management, and brand strategy. Results are used by senior leaders and managers to set corporate objectives and department goals, progress against goals are tracked, and results are used to target actions designed to enhance employee engagement (“Huntington Bank”, n.d.c).
At the outset of the program, Huntington Bank engaged CEB Valtera, including SIOP members Holly Lam and Bill Macey, to help manage the confidential linking of employee survey data to individual and organizational outcomes that allowed for the conducting of longitudinal research. The survey program was cutting edge in the use of text analytics to identify key issues and themes within thousands of employees’ comments. CEB Valtera was also able to compile data on two benchmarks, allowing Huntington Bank to reference its performance against other peer and “most admired” firms.
What Resulted From These Efforts?
Through this longitudinal research Huntington Bank was able to identify seven specific factors that were related to the risk of employee turnover. A “Turnover Index” was used to create a heat map showing which branch locations were at risk for different levels of collective turnover. This led to organizational efforts to enhance employee management at high-risk locations.
Research also led to the quantifying of turnover impact. Turnover events were found to have immediate and negative impacts on performance. A two-phase longitudinal model of collective turnover was developed that explained how and why an individual-level turnover event impacted collective performance, including how long it would take branches to recover to prior performance levels.
Huntington Bank was also able to examine and establish the relationship between employee attitudes and business outcomes, such as job and branch performance. For example, employees with the highest engagement and satisfaction scores tended to be the most highly evaluated on reviews, and branches with higher levels of engagement tended to outperform others.
In What Ways Did The Initiative Reflect Sound Science and Practice?
Several best practices in I-O psychology were incorporated into the project, such as using theoretical and scientific foundations, leveraging research partnerships, and linking survey responses to individual and organizational outcomes.
Incorporating theoretical foundations. Several theoretical frameworks served as the basis for research in this project. These include the value-profit chain (Heskett, Sasser, & Schlesinger, 1997), emotional contagion (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994), emotional labor (Hochschild, 1983), and collective turnover (Hausknecht & Trevor, 2011). These frameworks guided the way relationships between variables were examined; for example, how manager attitudes impacted employees’ emotions, behaviors, and attitudes, which in turn impacted customer service attitudes, which then impacted unit and organizational performance.
Using evidence-based research. Research on the topic of collective turnover was used to help guide some of the research conducted in this initiative. Recent meta-analytic research on collective turnover, one of the key outcomes of interest to Huntington Bank, has examined its antecedents and outcomes (Hancock, Allen, Bosco, McDaniel, & Pierce, 2013; Heavey, Holwerda, & Hausknecht, 2013; Park & Shaw, 2013), demonstrating its impact on unit performance (e.g., Huselid, 1995).
Leveraging research partnerships. Huntington Bank established research partnerships with the University of South Carolina (USC) and Michigan State University (MSU). With MSU, employees’ intentions to use, and the actual use of, a wellness program were analyzed using Fishbein and Ajzen’s “theory of planned behavior,” including measuring employees’ attitudes at multiple time periods. With USC, longitudinal research was conducted examining linkages among attitudes, turnover, and organizational performance. This research was presented to leadership and ultimately led to the two-phase model of turnover (Hale, Ployhart, & Shepherd, 2015). All together, this work produced five papers and symposia presentations at SIOP conferences, three Academy of Management (AOM) conference papers, one AOM journal publication, one I-O Perspectives journal publication, and an external grant from SHRM (Titles of these can be found in the Appendix).
Let’s now turn our attention to the specific research partnership between Huntington Bank and USC, using the excellent insights provided by Will and Rob.
What Was the Focus of This Research-Practice Initiative?
The focus of this work was in trying to connect Huntington’s attitude survey results with various HR, financial, and strategic/branch-level outcomes not often looked at in prior linkage research and to look at those relationships over time. Will’s interest in wanting to publish research based on Huntington Bank’s program led him to reach out to academics such as Rob and Ann Marie Ryan, professor at Michigan State University, with whom he had worked together in the past. Rob’s research experience in connecting HR and I-O activities to strategically oriented business and market outcomes, for example, was a good fit for Huntington Bank’s needs. This fit was key, as what started out as looking at simple relationships became a more complex and longer-term process when the relationships were found to be influenced by mediating mechanisms. This required a more “complex…modeling approach” and the involvement of other groups within the organization.
What Were Some of the Key Issues to Work Through When Incorporating a Scientific, Evidence-Based Approach in This Initiative?
One has to believe in it because it takes lots of time and effort. “Managers are concerned with business outcomes they are accountable for,” Rob noted, so there are priorities to manage and there is not a great deal of time to work with issues not directly related to the business. The world did not stand still in this work—the survey was refined, metrics were tweaked, all in real time—so being timely with analysis and results was important.
Also, there were multiple types of data, from multiple groups internal and external to the organization (e.g., vendors; human resources; marketing; operations), that had not been linked before. There were different assumptions in the data that hadn’t been questioned before and various data security and NDA issues to work through in order to obtain and work with the data.
To work through these issues, one has to remain committed to the potential impact of the research and applied project. Knowing that it will be an effortful process is the first step to success. As the project evolves, all parties need to show the curiosity and flexibility to explore new issues and questions that emerge when analyzing data—it is from this that new insights are reached. As Rob mentioned, having organizational commitment allowed Will and him to explore some questions that the company may not have considered or had the time to probe and that having all groups work together and devote the extra time and effort to obtain and understand the data led to more definitive conclusions and better decisions.
What Factors Contributed to an Effective Science–Practice Partnership?
Knowledgeable colleagues with common interests. It is important to involve colleagues that are knowledgeable within their scientific or practice fields and who have an interest in the I-O area. Will’s support for the research mission, his goal to publish, and his desire to stay involved in research paired well with the research knowledge and publication records of colleagues such as Rob. As Will stated, “pick somebody really good at what they do.”
Complementary skillsets. It is also beneficial for each involved party to have competencies or experience that complement the other. For example, in the Huntington Bank project, Will was able to provide direction and leverage his knowledge of the bank’s resources, while Rob was able to leverage his knowledge of the customer service literature and his extensive publishing background, to provide further explanation to results and help produce publishable work. This was done in a collaborative manner—not one informing the other, but both parties working together.
Collaboration. It is important for scientists and practitioners to identify and work with colleagues that they like, know, and trust. This allows for the sharing and leveraging of insights, skills, and experiences that leads to effective collaborations and integration of science and practice. Some research–practice initiatives can last multiple years, during which time they can experience setbacks, ups and down, and either party can become more or less busy thus impacting the pace at which projects are implemented. Having trust that all stakeholders will deliver regardless of setbacks is critical.
Shared values. Having a common understanding and commitment to the value of research and the core principles and best practices of I-O psychology is critical to ensure rigorous, sound applied work and research. This allows scientists and practitioners to appreciate each other’s perspectives, “to have sympathy with what is going on in both worlds,” and to work in collaboration with organizational members who are outside of I-O and may place different priorities on data analysis and research. As Rob noted, “the research process may move slowly at times so practice can help inform and help keep us going forward.”
What Guidance Would You Give for Practitioners and Scientists Who Want to Partner on Applied Projects and Research?
Maintain a balanced identity. Get out there and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. An I-O psychologist should never be too far removed from maintaining a balanced identity between the scientist and practitioner aspects of the field, rather than viewing oneself as one or the other. As Rob succinctly put it, “We are unique because we are scientist–practitioners. When we maintain that, good things happen.”
Engage with others. “Always try to engage with the other side.” If you are primarily an academic, engage with practitioners. For example, get involved in practitioner discussions, industry-focused sessions, and joint practitioner–scientist presentations at conferences to remain aware of practical issues and questions that might lead to impactful areas of study. Actively work to get involved in applied projects that can lead to large-scale data collection efforts across multiple organizations. Similarly, if you are a practitioner, engage with those in academia, keep in touch with the areas of research for different scientists to identify who may be able to provide assistance with conducting organizational research.
Find colleagues who value science and practice. Practitioners who may not have time to conduct research but who value science and want to stay involved in research can work effectively with scientists who understand the issues and challenges that come with practicing I-O. Having a strong network can help to provide such resources, and being willing to engage with the other person’s perspective can assist with effective science–practice collaboration.
Plan for the long term. Given the effort, time, and resources needed to take on large-scale applied research, it is advantageous to plot out the long-term research program up front. For researchers, get details/NDAs/commitments up front with respect to publishing to ensure the efficient use of time. Think ahead about the constructs and items you want to measure, the outcomes you want to include, and so on, not only in the near term but also to set up future research. As Will indicates, “I knew when we did our first survey that we wanted to include items about wellness programs because we were going to want to predict wellness participation a year later.”
Build support. Rob credits the success of this work to Will’s efforts to build internal and external support. Aligning the proposed research with the needs and interests of internal groups helped to build support. Working with Huntington’s chief risk officer, for example, helped to develop relevant survey items. When looking to explain some results, the Marketing group was involved to provide insights into customer-related issues and mediating variables. This also included securing the assistance of external vendors such as CEB Valtera and colleagues such as Rob and Ann Marie, whose interests and values regarding evidence-based work were aligned.
In summary, the Huntington National Bank VOICE Survey project represents an award winning approach to using evidence-based I-O practices to achieve applied results and research. The project brought about a win–win for all individuals involved—a great deal was learned scientifically and the bank was able to take action based on the results. As was summarized by Rob, “the research and practice parts need to be fully appreciated—either one by itself is not better than the other—it is the interaction between the two” that matters. The grounding of the work in theoretical background, use of I-O best practices, integration of established research evidence, and research and applied partnerships serve as a great example of science and practice integration.
Hale, D. Jr., Ployhart, R. E., & Shepherd, W. (2016). A two-phase longitudinal model of a turnover event: Disruption, recovery rates, and moderators of collective performance. Academy of Management Journal, 59, 906-929.
Hancock, J. I., Allen, D. G., Bosco, F. A., McDaniel, K. R., & Pierce, C. A. (2013). Meta-analytic review of employee turnover as a predictor of firm performance. Journal of Management, 39, 573–603.
Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J., & Rapson, R.L. (1994). Emotional contagion. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hausknecht, J. P., & Trevor, C. O. (2011). Collective turnover at the group, unit, and organizational levels: Evidence, issues, and implications. Journal of Management, 37(1), 352-288.
Heavey, A. L., Holwerda, J. A., & Hausknecht, J. P. (2013). Causes and consequences of collective turnover: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98, 412–453.
Heskett, J. L., Sasser, W. E., Jr., & Schlesinger, L. A. (1997). The service profit chain: How leading companies link profit and growth to loyalty, satisfaction, and value. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Hochschild, A.R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
HRM Impact Award. (n.d.a). 2015 award winners. Retrieved from: http://www.hrmimpactawards.org/Winners
HRM Impact Award. (n.d.b). Human Resource Management Impact Awards. Retrieved from: http://www.hrmimpactawards.org.
Huntington Bank. (n.d.c). Huntington Bank. Retrieved from: http://www.hrmimpactawards.org/Winners/2015/Huntington
Huselid, M.A. (1995). The impact of human resource management practices on turnover, productivity, and corporate financial performance. Academy of Management Journal, 38, 635– 672.
Park, T., & Shaw, J. D. (2013). Turnover rates and organizational performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98, 268–309.
Poteet, M. L., Zugec, L., & Wallace, J. C. (2016). The bridge: Connecting science and practice. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 53(4), 17-23.
Hale, D. Jr., Ployhart, R.E., & Shepherd, W.J. (2016). A two-phase longitudinal model of a turnover event: Disruption, recovery rates, and moderators of collective performance. Academy of Management Journal, 59, 906-929.
Shepherd, W.J. (2014). The heterogeneity of well being: Implications for HR management practices. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 7(4), 579-583.
Ott-Holland, C., Shepherd, W. J., Ryan, A. M. (2014, May). Wellness attitudes and intentions: Wellness involvement as planned behavior. Paper presented at the 29th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Honolulu, HI.
Hale, D., Shepherd, W. J., & Ployhart, R. E. (2014, Aug.). The customer-employee-profit chain: Customer-employee contagion and the impact of customer perception. Symposium presented at the annual conference of the Academy of Management, Philadelphia, PA.
Hale, D. Jr., Ployhart, R. E., & Shepherd, WJ. (2013, Aug.). A two-staged longitudinal model of collective turnover on unit-level performance. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, Orlando, FL.
Shepherd, W. J. (2013,). Applications of employee value propositions: Delivering what matters most. Paper presented at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference, Houston.
Shepherd, W.J. (2013, April). Developing an Employment Value Proposition: Discovering what matters most. Paper presented at the 28th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Houston, TX.
Ployhart, R. E., Shepherd, W.J., & Hale, D. (2012, Aug.). The antecedent effects of star employees on developing customer resources. Symposium presented at the annual conference of the Academy of Management, Boston, MA.
Hale, D., Ployhart, R.E., and Shepherd, W.J. (2012, April). Customer advocacy in service contexts: Implications for unit effectiveness. Paper presented at the 27th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, San Diego, CA.
Okyere, K.A., Ployhart, R.E., Hale, D., Shepherd, W.J. (2012, April). Consequences of managerial attitudes on collective turnover and unit performance. Paper presented at the 27th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, San Diego, CA.
(Peer Reviewed) Ployhart, R. E., & Shepherd, W. J. Co-Principle Investigators. Human capital, consumer, and financial risk: The buffering effects of employee attitudes. Agency: Society for Human Resource Management. $98,791.21. (October, 2012–December, 2013).
Calling Potential Contributors to “The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice”
As outlined in Poteet, Zugec, and Wallace (2016), the TIP Editorial Board and Professional Practice Committee continue to have oversight and review responsibility for this new column. We invite interested potential contributors to contact us directly with ideas for columns. If you are interested in contributing, please contact either Lynda (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Craig at (email@example.com).