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Making I-O Psychology More Visible: Mommy, I Want to Be an I-O Psychologist When I Grow Up

Christopher T. Rotolo
Shippensburg University

In the last three issues of TIP, we read about the results of the Practioner Needs Survey conducted by the Professional Practice Committee.  The April article highlighted several recommendations, many of which focused around the visibility of our Society and profession.  We also heard both Gary Latham and Kurt Kraiger emphasize the importance of visibility in the opening and closing plenary sessions in New Orleans.  Needless to say, the visibility of our profession is vital to the continued health and growth of our Society and our careers.  I thought it was timely to list some of the things the Visibility Committee has been working on and what we have planned for the year ahead.

Sadly, many SIOP members aren’t even aware that SIOP has a committee focused on visibility.  In fact, the Visibility Committee was first formed as an ad hoc committee in 2001. Until recently, the committee was made up of a handful of individuals focused primarily on small yet influential efforts to get our name out there.  Some of the initiatives we have led or been involved with include the SIOP brochure redesign, the SIOP Web site refresh, and the Tips and Trends Web site where members can submit key topics and trends to which SIOP should pay attention. In addition, we have been integrally involved in PR and marketing efforts for the fall consortia and spring conferences.

The committee’s goal is to gain visibility with our target audiences through a variety of channels and tactics in order to help I-O psychologists (and SIOP) be recognized as the premier professionals committed to advancing the science and practice of the psychology of work.  Luckily, we’ve been a little more successful with increasing the visibility of our field than we have been with increasing the visibility of our committee.  The following is a summary of our activities and future plans.

Student/Academia

One of the most important things we must do as a profession is ensure the pipeline of talent into our field.  The first step in that process is to make students and our fellow academicians aware of the promise of our field as a career path.  To this end, our committee has made several strides.  Several years ago, we conducted an audit of the introductory psychology textbooks and worked with publishers to get a more thorough and accurate description of I-O psychology represented in the texts.  We plan to conduct this audit again in the next year or two to assess progress and identify whether additional work in this area is needed.  Last year, we conducted a webinar to increase our visibility to college students.  We had over 500 students register for the event, which was hosted by a panel of I-Os from different areas (consulting, industry, and academia) and provided an overview of the field, career outlook, and tips for applying to graduate programs.  This year we will hold another career webinar, expanding the target audience to include “career changers.”  We also plan to conduct an audit of career interest inventories to ensure publishers include I-O psychology in their instruments.

HR/Business

HR professionals and business executives are perhaps our most important audience, as they represent the core client set for most of us.  A major goal of our committee is to increase HR professionals’ and business executives’ awareness and understanding of I-O psychology and to try to better differentiate ourselves from a multitude of others that occupy this space.  Our strategy has been to create collaborative relationships with relevant professional societies, in much the same way SIOP and SHRM have grown this year (see TIP, January 2009).  As an example, SIOP cosponsored an event in April with the California Psychological Association and the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley. A panel of present and past CEOs as well as Daniel Denison addressed a group of about 200 Silicon Valley executives about leadership, culture, and the bottom line.  The committee was involved in creating the collateral to give to event participants, including a SIOP brochure for executives, a “landing” page on our Web site for executives, and a blog post on the SIOP Exchange.  We are also approaching other professional organizations such as ASTD and the Conference Board to offer our services and expertise.  For example, SIOP has been invited to send a speaker for the Conference Board’s upcoming conference on change management.  We have also been involved in updating the I-O psychology entry in Wikipedia.  Just a few months ago, the entry was in “intensive care” and was in danger of being pulled from the site.  The committee refreshed the entire main page, making it much more accurate, concise, and appealing.  We are happy to report that the site is now out of intensive care.  More work on this continues, as well as efforts to refresh the associated Wikipedia pages (e.g., employment testing) to increase and enhance I-O psychology’s presence on the site.

Metrics

Currently, we have only sporadic evidence that the visibility of SIOP and our profession are advancing.  SIOP’s Clif Boutelle is our PR point of contact who keeps track of our members in the media, largely through our own policing and reporting of citations.  We are working towards creating a system that quantifies our progress for both our PR efforts and our branding efforts.  From a PR perspective, we are looking at metrics such as number of references to I-O psychology in relevant publications, number of mainstream media articles by SIOP members, and number of articles in news media outlets.  From a branding perspective, we are planning on a “brand tracking” approach.  This entails periodically surveying our key constituents—students, HR professionals, business executives, and so forth—to assess their levels of awareness, understanding, and preference for I-O psychology expertise.

Media Outreach

For the past 3 years we have hosted an annual luncheon with media representatives from major media outlets such as Bloomberg, NY Times, Fast Company, Fortune, and BusinessWeek.  These events have deepened SIOP’s relationships with the media and resulted in regular instances where the media has reached out to SIOP members for quotes and interviews.  For example, Ben Dattner (a Visibility Committee member) has recently appeared on CNN, Today Show, NPR, and in BusinessWeek

Branding

Our brand landscape is a complex one.  First, we consider the SIOP brand as separate but linked to the I-O psychology brand.  Further, we are part of a larger community of psychologists, which carries its own brand image.  We also have non-I-Os doing similar work from whom we must differentiate ourselves.  To better manage our brand, our ongoing strategy is to (a) assess our current brand image or how we are currently seen; (b) identify our brand intent or how we’d like to be perceived; (c) identify gaps between our intent and our current image; (d) develop and execute a brand positioning strategy; and (e) evaluate and track our progress.

We have already learned some very interesting things about our brand over the past year from our Practitioner Needs Survey and branding survey.  Interestingly, there is consistency between the findings of these surveys and the findings of qualitative focus groups that we conducted when we first started to study this in 2003 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.  SIOP Brand Attribute Study (2003).

A major missing piece on the view to our brand, however, is the voice of our key constituents.  All of our efforts to date have only sought input from our membership.  A brand tracking study conducted on key constituents such as HR professional and business executives will not only provide a benchmark of where we are with our brand but will also provide key insights into the gaps we need to address.  We are currently working to identify methods of assessing our brand image within these groups.

What Can You Do?

Everything that we do affects our visibility and brand.  In that sense, every SIOP member has a role in the visibility of our profession.  Here are three simple things that you can do to affect our visibility:

1.  Call yourself an I-O psychologist.  One of our biggest threats to visibility is the tendency for us to use a variety of terms and titles in how we talk about ourselves.

2.  Use a consistent “elevator pitch” of who we are and what we do.  The more consistent the message, the more power we have in creating public understanding of our profession.  The following is an excerpt from what we used to introduce SIOP at the Churchill Club event in April:

I-O psychologists promote the use of good science and evidence-based practices to drive performance in organizations. We design solutions that help employers hire the best people and develop them to their full potential, that improve employee satisfaction and engagement, and that make organizations more effective for their customers and stakeholders.

3.  Understand your audience.  Whether we are talking to business leaders, HR professionals, students, or other academicians, it is vital that we understand their views and needs and provide information that is of interest to them.  This is good advice generally, but from a branding and visibility perspective it impacts others’ perceptions of us greatly.  This is particularly true when talking to the media, who typically aren’t interested in correlation coefficients or meta-analyses.

Our committee has the benefit of working on issues that affect every SIOP member.  We tend to be very passionate about the work we do, and we have accomplished a lot in the relatively short life of the committee.  But there is still a lot of work ahead of us.  We welcome comments, ideas, and suggestions (see our blog post on the SIOP Exchange) as well as new committee members.  As Gary Latham speculated in his opening address at the conference, we’ll know we are successful if business leaders ask for SIOP’s position on a topic.  We like to go one step further—we’ll know we are successful when school children are saying they want to be an I-O psychologist when they grow up!

Visibility Committee Members

Becca Baker, JCPenney (Outgoing)
Joan Brannick, Brannick HR Connections (Outgoing)
Anuradha Chawla, Rogers Comm
Ben Dattner, Datnner Consulting
Anna Erickson, Questar
Eric Gerber, RHR International
Sylvia Hysong, Baylor College of Medicine
Uma Iyer, APSU
Ken Lahti, PreVisor
Lorin Mueller, AIR
Joel Philo, JCPenney (Outgoing)
Doug Reynolds, DDI (Outgoing)
Lauren Simon, University of Florida
Emily Solberg, Valtera