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Prosocial I-O: Quo Vadis

New Diplomacies in Corporate Social Responsibility 

Stuart Carr
Massey University

Mathian (Mat) Osicki holds a PhD in I-O psychology from the University of Tulsa and is based in New York where she works for IBM. Mat’s primary responsibilities have included assessment and consultation of corporate climate and culture via the design, implementation, and analysis of large-scale international employee surveys, such as the Global Pulse Survey. In the fall of 2008, she was accepted into a top talent program called the Corporate Services Corp. In 2009 this program accepted approximately 300 participants out of 10,000 applicants. The program was set up as a way to help developing nations in need while also helping to develop future potential leaders in IBM via 3 months of extensive cultural training and a month of pro-bono humanitarian work in a “developing” economy. Mat went to Nigeria for 1 month. After 30 short days Mat realized she wanted to do more to help. After returning from the trip she found a way to continue helping the people of Nigeria. She leveraged her philanthropic work and her I-O skills to help negotiate a commercial contract between IBM and the Nigerian government, so she is going back to Nigeria to do more. Here is her story.

Please tell us a little about your own background and work.
As you can see from my bio, I wear two hats at IBM, one more familiar perhaps than the other but both of them global in outlook. In my more “regular” I-O role, I have helped to develop and deploy employee and executive compensation cycles, talent management programs, performance management systems, and other HR-related topics for IBM. In my CSR role, I can’t stop thinking about the people of the Cross River State in Nigeria, in particular a little girl whose malnutrition was so bad she couldn’t hold her head up. I went to Cross River in November 2009, with 10 other IBM employees as part of our Corporate Services Corps (CSC) initiative. The CSC program gives IBM employees an experience of service learning in lower income settings working on community-driven projects at the intersection of business, technology, and society. Something like what your last interviewee called “New Diplomacies” (Carr, 2010).

We joined the Ministry of Social Welfare in Calabar Nigeria in the hopes of helping get two social safety net programs successfully deployed (for more details see IBM Service Corps, 2010). Project HOPE was designed as a free healthcare program for pregnant woman and children under the age of 5 (HOPE stands for “Health Opportunities for People Everywhere”). Project Comfort was a conditional cash transfer program for the most needy people in the state. Conditions for receiving the cash included developmental criteria such as school attendance and adult vocational training (for more details on cash transfer programs in aid and development work, see http://www.adb.org/Documents/EDRC/Policy_Briefs/PB051.pdf).

These projects would broadly fit the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals 4, 5, and 6: reducing child mortality (15% for children under 5 in Cross River State), improving maternal health, and combating diseases like malaria. On the ground, what we did was help with project management, change management, marketing/communications strategy development, and technology and data analysis to help improve the effectiveness of the two programs deployed in August of 2009. The programs were based on state-of-the-art technology, ranging from networked healthcare centers operating on solar-panel-enabled computer terminals to fingerprint readers and biodata cards for accessing and storing patient records. With my colleague Georgia Watson, I travelled to a variety of healthcare facilities across the state to help assess local needs and develop a plan to better deploy the programs being rolled out.

Does the psychology of work and organizations play a role in your work?
I use the psychology of work in everything I do.

At the office, I have moved away from my area of specialty and am currently an HR generalist. However I still use my industrial-organizational psychology skills on a daily basis. For example, my clients are currently interested in how to keep their team motivated during these turbulent economic times. So I provide them with insights from the I-O literature and research on keeping people motivated during difficult circumstances.

Not dissimilarly, in my CSC/CSR role, the work in Project HOPE included training local personnel on effective data reporting as well as change and project management so they could build the necessary database skills to eventually hold and report on vital health information for the state’s population. People skills were crucial throughout. We had to establish trust, for example. To help us, we drew on lessons learned from previous CSC teams, applying theories of organizational learning and memory. The main point we had to get across, though, was that government is trying to save lives. We also wanted to make the project sustainable. CSC projects generally aim to hand over control to local stakeholders after a month, although in some cases the clients want more. This actually happened in Cross River State; the governor was sufficiently impressed with local reactions to the philanthropic work that he has asked IBM back to continue helping them with their efforts and possibly provide a model for the other 35 states in the country. Hence, I am leaving for Nigeria again in 2 days’ time.

How prominent is work/organizational psychology in the CSR domain?
I know that I-O is making progress, and we can always be more prominent. It’s not difficult to see how or why. For example, the CSC is steadily changing the way IBM conducts business, as its prosocial ethos ripples through the various teams in the organization. For example, the next phase of the service corps is to focus on executives who are placed into smaller cities and urban areas. In their role, they can assess the local infrastructure and suggest ways to possibly upgrade transportation, communication, energy, water health, and education services. Sometimes the city is so poor that the project has to start from scratch. Leadership skills from business, especially relationship building, can be helpful in these cooperative joint ventures (http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/cities).

How could it be more so?
I think we could build a closer connection between the business world and employee-centered research. There is a need for translation between the world of I-O psychology and the business community. The new Work Psychology White Papers (WPWP) series, being sponsored by SIOP, IAAP, and EAWOP under the cooperative alliance, is a right step in that direction. WPWP seeks to precisely translate the findings from I-O research into policy suggestions and everyday practice implications. The CSC is a living example of how businesses are changing and becoming more multifaceted. Because they are working more and more in multifaceted environments, they need evidence-based practice more than ever, too. We can help in that regard. We can encourage I-O psychologists to undertake research on CSR, on New Diplomacies, and on what works in what situations.

From your perspective, and with your experience, in concrete terms how could the profession help more?
Data on what works from projects like ours could be incredibly enlightening, not only for practice but also for I-O theory. One hurdle could be the method in which research findings are communicated. They need to be translated into something meaningful for the line. Organizations have policy needs like other bodies do, and the WPWP could perhaps keep multinational groups in mind as it moves forward. The final thing I would like to mention is that we are planning to propose a workshop at next year’s SIOP meeting in Chicago to address these very concerns about “how” I-Os can continue to make contributions to the field of corporate social responsibility and humanitarian activities in general.

Thank you, Mat for this highly illuminating account of how New Diplomacies can intersect with CSR in your I-O workplace. Of course many organizations are looking to make profits, and they can do well by doing good (Prahalad, 2010). Nevertheless they can also do good well. The United Nations has recently called on companies to responsibly align with wider aspirations for human development, like the Millennium Development Goals (United Nations General Assembly, 2010). As I think you and I and many at the recent conference would agree, we in I and O can and morally should have a mindful, ethical, and practical role to play.

Source References

     Carr, S. (2010). Prosocial I-O: Quo Vadis: The new diplomacies. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 47(4), 121–125.
     IBM Service Corps. (2010). Helping people by doing business with them. Available at http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/healthcare_solutions/article/corporate_service_corps.
     Prahalad, C. K. (2010). The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid: Eradicating poverty through profits. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.     
     United Nations General Assembly. (2010). Keeping the promise: A forward-looking review to promote an agreed action agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. New York: Report of the Secretary General..html?sa_campaign=message/leaf2/corp/ideas/csc