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The Internationalization of I-O Psychology:  We’re Not in Kansas Anymore…

Richard L. Griffith
Florida Tech

Mo Wang
The University of Maryland


It is hard to believe that we just completed the 25th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. In the grand scheme of things 25 years isn’t that long,1 but we are doing well for a 25 year- old. The proof is in the product.


1 For comparison, the first meeting of the American Medical Association was held in 1847.


The SIOP conference has become a well-oiled machine that highlights the most recent research and sets the bar for professional best practices. It serves as the hub of our professional networks and is where we annually renew our close relationships with colleagues and friends. It is hard not to be excited about what we have accomplished as a profession. I wonder if Stan Silverman2 saw this coming when he kicked the game off 25 years ago.

2 Stan Silverman chaired the 1st annual conference of SIOP in 1986.

The purpose of this article is to speculate on where SIOP will be 25 years from now. The world is a smaller place than it used to be; corporations have become multinational, research in I-O psychology has become cross cultural, and SIOP is developing strong international partners. All of these changes beg the question, where are we going? Where will SIOP be in 25 years?

Singapore?

Shanghai?

Sydney?

Only time will tell, but one thing is crystal clear. Our days on the farm in Kansas3 are over. SIOP is going global. Although another unseen paradigm shift may be lurking around the corner, the 800-pound gorilla currently in the room is international I-O. Simply put, internationalization is the future of I-O psychology.

3 We are cool with Kansas and have no beef with residents of the Sunflower State. No offense to Dorothy, Toto, or Auntie Em is intended.

The discussion regarding internationalization has been simmering for the last decade (e.g. Griffin & Kabanoff, 2002; McFarland, 2004). Slowly we are seeing increases in international research collaboration and international membership (Cascio & Aguinis, 2008; Kraut & Mondo, 2009). Like any substantive organizational change, the internationalization movement has taken a while to gain momentum. However, we think the internationalization of SIOP is about to go full speed ahead.

Outside of getting our passport stamped a few more times a year, some have questioned the ROI of an international emphasis. Anyone who has consulted with a client overseas or has conducted a joint research project with international partners can tell you it is no walk in the park. International involvement in projects can substantially increase the time and resource investment, as well as the complexity of the endeavor. So why are we heading down this path? Perhaps the real question isn’t “Where is SIOP going to go in the next 25 years?” A more interesting and revealing question is “Where will this move take us?” How will internationalization change the way we develop as a practice and as a science? What will the internationalization of SIOP buy us? To address this question, we will briefly touch on some of the key benefits of internationalization.

Better Business, Better Practice

An international focus will bring I-O psychology into better alignment with the business community, which embraced a global philosophy long ago. Cross-cultural research and the ensuing applications will allow us to support U.S. organizations doing business abroad and help them avoid costly mistakes brought on by cultural misunderstanding. In addition, we will forge new relationships with businesses originating in other countries as they become more aware of our services and global brand. Many consulting firms are already developing new markets in countries with rapidly expanding economies such as China, Brazil, and Eastern European nations. In our discussion with consulting executives, the prevailing sense is that they will soon be doing more business abroad than they will in the U.S. It is likely that this expansion will continue as we educate future partners on the benefits of talent management and human capital engineering. This is particularly true in regions of the world, such as the Middle East, that are relatively unfamiliar with I-O psychology.

A misperception surrounding internationalization is that it will only benefit expatriates or multinational corporations and consulting firms. However, the cultural competencies acquired through international experience are quite valuable even when we don’t leave the farm. Some of the basic tenets of cross-cultural communication are to check your assumptions at the door, listen, withhold judgment on the topic until you process all the information, and ask questions when you don’t fully grasp the conversation. That sounds like the kind of consultant I want to hire.

Mastering the technical skills necessary to be a successful consultant is not that difficult. Running a regression or designing a validation study is not rocket science, and most graduate students and entry-level consultants quickly learn those skills. Where we see problems with entry-level consultants is with client management. Consultants may be in such a rush to solve their client’s problems that they don’t carefully listen to the client’s needs and read between the lines of what the client is trying to tell us. In addition, we fall into the trap of operating on our own assumptions and fail to take the perspective of the client.

Operating in an international environment requires the use of these relationship-building skills every day. Listening, asking questions, and not rushing to judgment are critical interpersonal skills that are necessary for effective interactions with individuals from other cultures. Learning and practicing these skills will not only make us more culturally competent, it will make us better consultants within our own culture.

Better Education

There are currently 623,805 international students enrolled in various academic graduate programs throughout the United States. Of these students, more than 120,000 are in the field of business and management with the most students hailing from India, China, and the Republic of Korea.4 The number of international students in graduate business programs is a reflection of the increasingly global nature of commerce. As the world of business is becoming increasingly global, there is a need for professionals with the expertise to improve organizational performance in an international environment. There is no better way to understand individual differences and complex systems than to interact with a diverse collection of people and train in complex settings. An international emphasis in our graduate training isn’t simply a nice addition to our technical competencies, it has become an essential component if we are to remain relevant in the global business environment.

4 Institute of International Education (2008), http://www.iie.org/.

What will international I-O training look like? Given the complexities associated with the issue, we would expect an international curriculum to have traditional coursework in international business processes, cross-cultural theories and research design, as well as current topics in international I-O psychology. In addition, an international I-O curriculum should provide students with opportunities to interact with the global management communities and gain experience with communication technology.

Graduate training centers should embrace distance-learning technologies to host instructors from other countries to team-teach courses. Course assignments and projects should require that students collaborate with an international cohort group across time zones and cultural differences to achieve the course objectives. Finally, these training centers should incorporate traditional exchange programs with both students and faculty through Fulbright mechanisms. All of this training should be grounded in strong theory, daily practical experiences, as well as the immersive cultural experiences that expatriate professionals face.

Students will not be the only members of SIOP needing education in cross-cultural issues. Faculty members will need a considerable amount of training and/or retraining to guide the transition to an international training emphasis. Cross-cultural research has some unique methodological challenges that researchers must be aware of to conduct high-quality research. It is likely that we will see more SIOP workshops on this topic. In addition to formal education, faculty members should seek more experiential learning opportunities such as overseas sabbatical appointments and Fulbright opportunities.

Strong Partnerships

SIOP has recently entered into an alliance with the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology (EAWOP) and International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP). The missions of these organizations compliment the goals of SIOP, and together this alliance will become a stronger player in the global HR environment. Increased membership means increased influence, and a global voice is more likely to be heard than a voice from a single nation or region.

Although many will focus on the society-level partnerships, the most powerful and lasting partnerships will be built on the personal level (just as they are now). A robust network of international partners allows us to cast a wider net to solve problems and crack research puzzles. Some of the most rewarding conference experiences are not necessarily at the large society level but rather smaller conferences focused on specific research concentrations. Researchers interested in personality and cognitive ability can find academic debate and fresh ideas at the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences (ISSID), whereas those interested in studying conflict management may convene at the meeting of International Association for Conflict Management (IACM). These smaller conferences, generally with a few hundred attendees, are ideal places to develop new relationships and get to know our international counterparts. It is energizing to know that halfway around the world someone is interested in the same phenomenon that you find fascinating. Participation in international conferences and overseas collaborations often opens new doors for data collection from diverse populations, helps to incorporate culture-related viewpoints into theoretical development, and provides learning and exchange of effective research and practice models.

Robust Talent Streams

One method to improve the quality of our students and employees is to change the selection ratio to be more favorable for us. The most effective way to accomplish that goal is to increase the size of our applicant pool. Until recently, this applicant pool has largely been limited to students from the U.S. and graduates from U.S. programs who enter into practice. If our recruiting practices continue to be largely focused on the U.S. market, we are missing out on a huge amount of talent.

Similarly, in order for consulting firms to successfully move into new international markets, they will need consultants with regional knowledge, and in some parts of the world, there simply aren’t enough. By expanding our outreach, we can more effectively recruit students from these countries and expand the talent available to multinational consulting firms. This increased staffing will in turn allow those firms to improve their capacity to do more international business.

Conclusion

We live in a global context. The increasing interconnectedness of the world not only affects economies and corporate interests, it affects individuals as well. Internationalizing our research and practice is the logical next step for solidifying our place in the global business environment and maximizing SIOP’s impact on the lives of men and women in the workforce. Internationalizing SIOP will not only provide the tangible benefits we have discussed but will also provide professionals and students with a better sense of where they fit in the international community and help them form a global identity.

So let’s rack up some frequent flyer miles and get some stickers on our steamer trunk. SIOP is going global.

So where will it be 25 years from now? We may meet in Cairo or Kansas City, but regardless, we will be light years from where we are now.

References

     Cascio, W. F., & Aguinis, H. (2008). Research in industrial and organizational psychology from 1963 to 2007: Changes, choices, and trends. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 1062–1081.
     Griffin, M. & Kabanoff, B. (2002). Global vision: International collaboration. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39(4), 54–57.
     Kraut, A. I. & Mondo, L. (2009). SIOP goes global. Or is it the other way around? The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 47(1), 33–40.
     McFarland, L. A. (2004). I-O psychology: An international perspective. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 42(1), 59–63.