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Change Is Constant in I-O Psychology Practice

Tracy Kantrowitz

It’s often said that the only constant in life is change. Work life is no different, as change goes hand in hand with innovation and technology, but also organizational restructuring and downsizing. Similarly, change is ever present in the practice of I-O psychology. While core foundations, practices, and methods have held steady over time, the role of I-O practitioners has evolved. I-O psychologists in external and internal roles are increasingly expected to wear multiple hats, possess a high degree of business acumen, and demonstrate the value of I-O processes and interventions in bottom line terms, in addition to demonstrating technical expertise on topics like job analysis, validation, training, and performance evaluation.

In the last Practitioners’ Forum, Rich Cober reflected on changes brought about in the Professional Practice Committee under his auspicious leadership (Cober, 2012). As I assume the role of chair of the committee, I wanted to take the opportunity to consider how I-O practitioner roles have changed and how the work planned by the Professional Practice Committee is designed to bring about change on a variety of levels.

A Look in the Rear View Mirror

To start, I gathered reflections from a variety of seasoned I-O practitioners in internal, external, and independent consultant roles on how I-O practitioner roles have changed during their careers. Thanks to Rich Cober, Jeff Facteau, and Rob Silzer for their collective experience and insights.

I posed this question: Reflecting on your early days as an I-O practitioner, how has the role of I-O practitioner changed? That is, if you were in the same role now that you were in then, what are the top differences in terms of roles, responsibilities, and expectations of I-O practitioners? Responses included the increasing diversity of roles, titles, and areas of content expertise held by I-O practitioners; the ubiquity of technology; and changes in stakeholder groups that influence I-O processes.

The roles for which individuals with advanced degrees in I-O psychology are hired are increasingly diverse. Decades ago, practitioners were hired to develop and shepherd discrete personnel programs within organizations. In the 1970s, it was not uncommon for most I-O practitioners to have a title of “personnel research psychologist” or some variation. And, more often than not their chief responsibilities focused on employee selection and test validation. As business leaders started to realize the additional skills and general know-how I-O psychologists brought to their roles, I-Os were given increased responsibility for programs such as employee surveys and performance management. Concurrently, the rise of dominant consulting firms dedicated to I-O practice also brought about a change in the landscape of I-O practice jobs as people now had a multitude of choices for employment. As consulting firms demonstrated the value of an expanded set of services, such as employee development, engagement, retention, and recruiting, and internal practitioners were now viewed as critical to HR strategy, I-O psychologists started to occupy an increasingly strategic set of roles and titles. Job choices weren’t restricted to consulting firms or organizations; those looking to work for themselves also branched out into independent practice as a viable employment option. The evolution of roles from personnel research psychologist in an organization, to director of Consulting, senior VP of HR, or LLC illustrates divergent career paths I-O practitioners have created as a result of the increasing value I-Os have demonstrated to organizations.

Accounting for technology in the design of I-O processes and interventions has become critical to practitioners. Technology has brought about a renewed focus on the concepts underlying selection, training, and performance evaluation rather than the mechanics of data collection, enabled on-demand test and survey delivery, and facilitated integration of employee and organizational data across systems. The increased emphasis on technology systems has also required practitioners to step outside their area of expertise to understand how the systems operate and interact, set business requirements for what systems need to do, overcome technology limitations, and account for system-related work in project plans. In a previous Practitioners’ Forum column from earlier this year, Craig Dawson and I provided some reflections on how I-O practitioners can effectively work with technology to design meaningful and efficient systems that meet organizations’ needs (Kantrowitz & Dawson, 2012).

It also noted how stakeholders involved with implementing I-O practices have changed over the years. External and internal practitioners often work together to accomplish organizational objectives, but business line leaders play an increasingly critical role in accepting or rejecting proposals and recommendations. Internal and external consultants may talk the same language, be interested in applying the most rigorous methodology to study the organizational phenomenon of interest, and report outcomes in terms of statistical findings, but the communication and expectations are much different with business line leaders. Information must be tailored to both technical and non-technical audiences; the broader business context including field operations, budgets, and competing initiatives must be understood to understand the potential successes and pitfalls of I-O initiatives; and the value of I-O practice must be demonstrated in terms of bottom-line results.

SIOP Professional Practice Committee: Advocating for I-O Practice

In line with the theme on “change,” I wanted to highlight selected goals of the 2012–2013 Professional Practice Committee and how we envision keeping pace with changes in our practice. The committee’s work will build on the fantastic momentum of previous committee activities, expand on ongoing initiatives in novel ways, and advance newly identified areas important for SIOP and I-O practice. Activities are designed to impact the education and development of I-O professionals and extend the influence of I-O psychology in the broader community.

A large-scale study of professional careers of I-O psychologists will be conducted this year, led by Practice Committee members Mike Trusty and Gary Carter, along with input from the SIOP Education and Training and Scientific Affairs committees. The study is driven to fulfill several needs, including: (a) provide valuable input to academic program administrative personnel responsible for undergraduate and graduate curricula, (b) create a body of knowledge with direct implications for the Guidelines for Education and Training at the Doctoral/Master’s Level in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, (c) advise efforts for lobbying for licensure and/or certification criteria, (d) provide a standard base of information for SIOP mentors when working with mentees, (e) provide a standard and informed framework from which people with advanced degrees in I-O psychology can consider how to manage their individual careers, and (f) link with the SIOP Salary Survey process to provide additional benchmarks and inform the way future salary surveys are structured. The study will document work activities of people with advanced degrees in industrial-organizational psychology in order to document the career paths and experiences that contribute to their success in both applied and academic settings. The outcomes of this study will provide fantastic career advice to I-O psychologists and graduate students.

The committee will also undertake a study of the nontechnical competencies often needed for success in practitioner roles. Led by Alex Alonso, Jamie Lopez, and Samantha Morris, this study and resultant learning modules seek to address gaps early career practitioners might experience when taking a first professional role. Models of business acumen (e.g., sales, marketing, financial concepts) will be reviewed and information will be provided in a variety of educational formats.

The committee will build upon previous successes with the speed mentoring session at the annual conference in which seasoned practitioners provide career advice to early career practitioners in a “speed dating” format. Samantha Ritchie, Maya Yankelevich, and Karina Hui-Walowitz will lead the charge to take this program to new heights and consider new options for year-round mentoring activities.

We will expand our relationship with SHRM to build out a SIOP–SHRM educational series on evidence-based HR practices. We previously kicked off a cobranded white paper series to disseminate research-based practical advice to the SHRM members. David Morgan, Alex Alonso, and Anu Ramesh will expand on this to include other educational formats that will allow I-O psychology to be at the forefront of evidence-based HR practice, including webinars and “top-10” lists of distilled research and practice findings to share with the broader HR community.

We’ll take a closer look at the legal-I-O intersection and work with the EEOC to identify areas in which science and research have extended knowledge of practices related to employment assessments beyond the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures. The committee, led by Eric Dunleavy and Rich Tonowski, will facilitate the creation of a set of fact sheets that describes the state of the research and collaborate with the EEOC to make them available to organizations.

Led by Rob Silzer, the committee will forge a closer relationship with Division 13 (Society of Consulting Psychology), particularly related to the topic of coaching psychology. Members in Divisions 13 and 14 are active in the practice of coaching, and we will support Division 13’s efforts to create a model of coaching competencies and use it as the basis for potential certification models.

These are a few initiatives underway within the Professional Practice Committee that will help us continue to advocate for the practice of I-O psychology and keep pace with changes in the organizations in which we practice. In addition to those above, we will also remain nimble to act on information that has the potential to impact our practice. Given the ongoing changes in our work, roles, and environment, it’s an exciting time to be practicing I-O psychology.


Cober, R. (2012). Keeping practice on the move. The Industrial Organizational Psychologist, 50(1), 132–133.
Kantrowitz, T. & Dawson, C. (2012). The intersection of technology and science: Perspectives on drivers of innovation in I-O practice. The Industrial Organizational Psychologist, 49(3), 81–85.