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Jenny Baker
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The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice

Sarah Layman, DCI; Jen Harvel, Amazon; & Apryl Brodersen, Metropolitan State University of Denver

 

 “The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice” is a TIP column that seeks to help facilitate additional learning and knowledge transfer to encourage sound, evidence-based practice. It can provide academics with an opportunity to discuss the potential and/or realized practical implications of their research as well as learn about cutting-edge practice issues or questions that could inform new research programs or studies. For practitioners, it provides opportunities to learn about the latest research findings that could prompt new techniques, solutions, or services that would benefit the external client community. It also provides practitioners with an opportunity to highlight key practice issues, challenges, trends, and so forth that may benefit from additional research.

In this issue, Gina Phelps Thoebes and Alanna Roesler discuss the integration of I-O psychology and people analytics (PA). They share insights from a panel of experts regarding how an I-O background prepares individuals to contribute to PA teams, the unique perspective I-O can bring to the PA field, and recommendations for how graduate schools can integrate PA into their curricula. This is the first of a series of installments designed to highlight how I-O can proactively work to bridge science and practice in this rapidly growing field.

I-Os and People Analytics: Insights From Experts in the Field

Gina Phelps Thoebes, MA
Organizational Development Consultant at Cleveland Clinic and PhD Candidate at the University of Akron

Alanna Roesler, MA
People Analytics Change Leader at Schneider Electric

Introduction

People analytics (PA) is the process of collecting and using talent data to improve outcomes for organizations (Spector, 2020). PA involves using a data-driven approach to guide people decisions within organizations and can be used to improve employee experience, increase productivity, and inform talent acquisition and development strategies. A 2019 report by Deloitte (Enderes & Shannon, 2019) identified that 70% of companies are using PA in some way to improve organizational performance, yet a new article by SHRM (Maurer, 2023) highlights the fact that PA is still in its early stages and urges employers to start building a strong data foundation to ensure future success.

With the adoption and utilization of PA gaining significant momentum in organizations, I-O psychologists are strategically positioned to make a meaningful impact within these teams. We connected with several I-O psychologists and fellow SIOP members with expertise in PA to gain valuable insights and learn from their experiences. Below you will find introductions for each of our experts, followed by answers from the experts on the following questions:

Q1: How has industrial-organizational psychology helped you become a people analytics expert?

Q2: What is most important for HR and business leaders to understand about leveraging people analytics?

Q3: How can I-O psychologists contribute to people analytics teams? What would they be missing without an I-O psychology perspective?

Q4: What additional training or curricula in grad school can help prepare students better for a role in people analytics?

 

Meet the Experts

 

Rick Guzzo, PhD
Partner, Mercer and Coleader, Mercer’s Workforce Sciences Institute

Rick Guzzo, coleader of the Workforce Sciences Institute, spent the first half of his career as a professor of I-O psychology at NYU and then at the University of Maryland. A midcareer switch took him to the consulting sector where he helped create and lead Mercer’s People Analytics Services, an interdisciplinary research-based unit serving clients on a wide variety of workforce issues. He has authored several PA professional publications and is a Fellow of SIOP.

 

 

Belinda Williams, PhD
Senior I-O Psychology Consultant, HireVue

Belinda Williams is a senior I-O psychology consultant on the global science team working on AI-based analytic tools at HireVue, a talent experience platform designed to automate workflows and make hiring easy. She spends her time consulting with customers around ethical AI use and developing AI-driven assessments. She has experience as a consultant helping clients select, retain, and develop high-performance talent in their organizations. Belinda received her PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). 

 

Paul Tsagaroulis, PhD
Chief Science Officer, SurePeople

Paul Tsagaroulis leads the people science practice at SurePeople. He has 20+ years of experience in people analytics as a director at Carrier and U.S. General Services Administration and as an analyst at UBS and Allstate. Paul has been recognized as a data visualization expert with a research interest in data literacy. He has a PhD in Business Psychology (industrial-organizational track) from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

 

Steven Tseng, PhD
Senior People Research Scientist, Salesforce

Steven Tseng is a senior people research scientist on the People Strategy team at Salesforce. He works with an interdisciplinary team of research scientists, analysts, consultants, data engineers, and HR professionals to provide data insights and actionable recommendations to a wide range of internal stakeholders. His research has informed a variety of areas, including performance, teams, DEI, turnover, and leadership. He received his PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from The University of Akron.

 

Q1: How has industrial-organizational psychology helped you become a people analytics expert?

Rick Guzzo (RG): Training: The sophistication in research methods and data analysis that comes with good I-O training are critical to being a good PA expert. Practice: The ability to communicate analytic plans, findings, and implications for practice is critical. This ability comes with experience working as an I-O psychologist more than it does via formal training, in my view. Also, helpful to becoming an effective PA expert is being able to be interdisciplinarythat is, appreciative of other professional disciplines such as labor economics or sociology or HRbecause people from those disciplines are accessing and analyzing the same data and addressing some of the same issues as I-O types in the PA space. This interdisciplinarity can come from a mix of training and practice. Last, a willingness to assert I-O-relevant theories is important to being recognized as a PA expert by I-O’s constituents. An explanation of findings that is grounded in good theoryof attitudes, motivation, performance, turnover, social relations at work and on and onis a powerful device for communicating and telling compelling data-based “stories” to the smart nonpsychologists in managerial and executive ranks.

Belinda Williams (BW): The field of I-O psychology has given me theoretical lenses and knowledge of past research, which enable me to ask good questions, collect meaningful data and make sound interpretations, and provide empirically grounded recommendations. Technical skills can come from a variety of disciplines, but the content knowledge I-O psychology training provides helps guide the overarching process of conducting research and applying findings in the workplace.

Paul Tsagaroulis (PT): I-O psychology has been instrumental in my development by providing a science-based approach and a deep understanding of people in the workplace. PA leverages data to derive insights that help leaders and teams make optimal decisions about their people. I-O psychology focuses on understanding group dynamics and peoples’ behaviors in business and society (see SIOP’s annual top work trends). As I-O psychologists, we have expertise in assessing people, teams, and organizations, and understanding the data and statistical models that inform PA work. In addition to describing where PA has been, I would like to share my thoughts about where it may go. I believe this will continue to grow into a new field that combines the data-centric practices of PA and I-O psychology’s focus on workplace science into the new field of people science—a multidisciplinary, data-driven, and people-centric approach to understanding people in the world of work and the future of work.

Steven Tseng (ST): Having an I-O background gave me a solid foundation for working in PA, with the two pillars of this foundation aptly being knowledge of psychology and behavior at work (people) and expertise in research methods and statistics (analytics).
 

Q2: What is most important for HR and business leaders to understand about leveraging people analytics?

RG: Leaders do not fully appreciate how much value good PA can deliver, so that’s the most important thing: understanding what’s possible from PA and how it supports business objectives.

BW: Organizations that invest in a data-driven people strategy are more successful than those that don’t. A PA function informs the organization with insights from across the entire lifecycle of an employee, from recruitment to retirement. Organizations with an embedded people process and strategy are more flexible, agile, and thoughtfully responsive to changes in work than organizations without these processes. When an organization invests in a PA process, they can not only respond to what their people need but also attract top talent, retain the best employees, and keep teams engaged to outperform the competition.

PT: PA is vital for HR and business leaders to support strategic goals and objectives and drive organizational impact. The PA team is a hub of convergent perspectives that can be leveraged as a decision-support function. It must go beyond data storytelling to synthesize insights and drive actions. Data-to-insights-to-actions frameworks using predictive and prescriptive analytics can support these strategies. To have an impact, PA should align people and organizational goals while balancing business outcomes, such as financial measures, and people outcomes, such as well-being. In conclusion, HR and business leaders should leverage PA to make better decisions and drive their strategic goals while highlighting their focus on people.

ST: PA is an interdisciplinary and cross-functional team sport. Everyone—from the data engineers who manage data to the research scientists who derive insights from data to the partners who help translate insights into action to the leaders who champion the value of evidence-based management and make informed decisions—plays a role.
 

Q3: How can I-O psychologists contribute to people analytics teams? What would they be missing without an I-O psychology perspective?

RG: I believe most PA teams should be led by I-Os because of the blend of analytic excellence, excellence in research methods, and ability to communicate. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with non-I-Os in a PA team is another way to contribute. What PA teams without I-Os would be missing would depend on how a PA team is staffed, so it is hard for me to generalize.

BW: There are many effective practitioners in PA without an I-O background, but in my experience, a team with an I-O psychologist can combine science with practice as it is the cornerstone of our training. An I-O psychologist has the experience of working collaboratively with research teams and managing research projects from inception to completion. They bring to the table a unique blend of in-depth content knowledge and expertise across various domains that allows for effective decision making. For a PA team this is important because they add understanding across the lifecycle of a project beginning with design principles in item creation, an understanding of psychometrics that leads to measuring constructs successfully, and the training on how to apply what they’ve learned. An I-O psychologist is bringing the scientific approach to the workplace, understanding the importance of how to collect data as well as how to measure it in a meaningful way. When an I-O psychologist isn’t included on the team, they miss out on the breadth and depth of knowledge that leads a skilled practitioner to bridge the gap between research and application.

PT: I-O psychologists contribute to PA teams by providing an understanding of people in organizations. Without the I-O psychology perspective, we may not have the same level of understanding of who people are and how to help them thrive at work. I-O psychology provides a deep awareness of people in the workplace, including employee wellness, meaning, and purpose, based on scientific frameworks, theories, and principles. For example, I-O psychology has added value to the field of PA by providing insights into the changing nature of work (a top-10 work trend in recent years) and frameworks to guide people through changes. I-O psychology’s focus on broader issues such as mental health, belonging and inclusion, and psychological capital will continue to be important in the evolving world of work. In the end, understanding the how and why behind peoples’ drives, needs, and attitudes, and the effects on performance and behaviors in the workplace is vital to any organization interested in advancing its workforce. It is encouraging that I-O psychologists and PA teams are exploring how to drive meaningful and purposeful work experiences, and I think this is what makes I-O psychology so unique.

ST: I-O psychologists bring a lot to the table. We bring our deep knowledge of psychology and behavior at work and our expertise in research methods and statistics, which ultimately enable PA teams to ask the right questions, determine the appropriate methods/data needed to answer the questions, recognize the limitations to the inferences, and translate data insights into actionable, ethical recommendations.
 

Q4: What additional training or curricula in grad school can help prepare students better for a role in people analytics?

RG: (1) Do something seriously interdisciplinarycoursework, research project, field experience, whatever is feasible. (2) Do a research project that makes use of one or more large organizational databases“organic data” as it resides in organizationsand not rely on just the “designed data” of a researcher and their instruments. (3) Do #2 in a way that engages representatives of a host organization in data review, hypothesis generation, and the interpretation of findings with its data. Don’t just ask an organization to “send data” without engaging the enterprise in working with it.

BW: Graduate schools should focus on outside partnerships, internships, and/or applied projects to help prepare students with practical skills and networking opportunities. Research lags behind technology; companies are creating methods that research proves out only years later. By connecting students to outside opportunities, graduate programs will not only provide students with valuable applied experiences but also form bonds with companies, which can facilitate research opportunities. Additionally, schools should focus on bringing in outside I-O psychologists and PA experts for talks, networking, and projects. Although some do it well, many graduate schools need to place a greater training emphasis on statistics and quantitative work. We’re seeing that content knowledge is rapidly changing to include working knowledge of how statistical techniques, technology platforms, and user experiences work and interact with one another. As always, course work should include business case reviews and assignments that have application to the field, but the broader goal should be increased engagement between researchers in academia and practitioners in the field.

PT: I-O psychology students seeking a role in PA can prepare better by developing data analytics skills, awareness of HR technology systems, and learning data science methods. They can start by building data literacy programs, learning about the different HR systems in the industry and how they are used across HR processes, and gaining familiarity with data visualization practices, coding in machine learning languages, and other data science methods. Rotations in HR functions and gaining experience in HR technology platforms may be helpful. The key to success in a PA role is technical aptitude with HR technology platforms, data skills in general, data science methods, and knowledge of the HR field.

ST: More exposure to all aspects of working with data—from understanding data warehouses to becoming proficient in data wrangling—can be helpful.

Key Points

The key points highlighted from the experts interviewed shed light on the significant value I-O psychologists in PA teams can bring to organizations. To summarize

  • HR and business leaders will benefit from understanding the potential of PA in supporting organizational objectives.
  • I-O psychologists bring an important perspective to PA teams, as they have a unique combination of scientific knowledge, research management skills, and a deep understanding of people in the workplace that is invaluable to reaching business objectives.
  • Students aspiring for a career in PA can prepare themselves by getting involved in interdisciplinary course work, participating in research that includes organizational databases, investing in practical skills development, and building their knowledge in data analytics, data science, and HR technology.

Conclusion

Our experts have provided practical insights into how I-O psychologists can contribute to the field of PA. The depth of knowledge around people in organizations, adopting a scientific approach, and experience with research, statistics, and data analysis makes I-O psychologists highly valuable to PA efforts. Stay tuned for the next part of this series, which will continue the conversation with our experts and explore the role of AI, ethics, and additional learning opportunities for I-O psychologists and practitioners.

References

Enderes, K., & Shannon, M. (2019). People analytics solutions. Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/human-capital/us-human-capital-bersin-lt-people-analytics-solutions-market-primer.pdf

Maurer, R. (2023, May 22). SHRM research: People analytics still in early stages. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/shrm-research-people-analytics-still-in-early-stages.aspx

Spector, P. E. (2020, March 24). Using people analytics. https://paulspector.com/using-people-analytics/

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