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Lost in Translation: Communicating the Practical Value of Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Michael L. Litano and Andrew B. Collmus

“Part of the effort to expand our horizons [to enhance the impact] of science and practice necessitates that we do a better job of translation… we need new mechanisms to translate relevant research findings into actionable knowledge, advice, and tools… and other ways to facilitate translation in both directions – science to practice; practice to science”

Steve W. J. Kozlowski, SIOP 2016 Presidential Address


From the commencement of graduate studies, I-O Psychologists are trained to develop an expert-level understanding of psychological methods and principles, experimental design, and advanced statistics. This rigorous training equips I-Os with the ability to apply our knowledge of human behavior to unique workplace situations and evaluate potential outcomes. It would be hard to argue that applied psychological research is not valuable to organizations considering the abundance of empirical evidence demonstrating the field’s influence on organizational success and employee well-being. However, many clients and stakeholders are still largely unfamiliar with what I-O Psychology is or what practical value I-O psychologists can bring to organizations. As a result, translating years of graduate training and work experience into a brief, impactful statement that communicates the value of I-O Psychology has become a form of art, a skill that needs to be developed through experiences. Unfortunately, many graduate students, early-, and mid-career professionals are put into the unenviable position of communicating their expertise to unfamiliar audiences, and are ill-equipped to do so.

The Lost in Translation Column

This dilemma is not a novel issue, and to help address these concerns, articles have been written about developing an I-O elevator speech (Thoroughgood, 2010); interviews have been conducted with academics and practitioners to gain an understanding of an I-O Psychologist’s primary job responsibilities (Below, n.d.); the IOP Practice Forum has been implemented under editors John Scott and Mark Poteet; and the SIOP Professional Practice Series (Salas, 1999) has published 28 volumes intended to help bridge the scientist-practitioner gap. Our recurring column in The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist seeks not to overlap with the information that these sources provide, but rather to provide practicing and budding I-O Psychologists with a set of first-person experiences from experts about communicating the value of various specific I-O concepts to non-I-O audiences.

For each topic, we will interview I/O Psychologists employed in industry, applied research, and academic careers to better understand how they mastered the ‘art of translation.’ Using a consensual qualitative research (CQR) approach (Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997), which includes semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions, consensus-building with multiple judges, and cross-analysis to organize the interview responses, our intention is to disseminate the collected data in two primary forms; a recurring written column and a video supplement.

Each column will describe the importance of effectively translating an I-O topic of interest, highlight the primary themes that emerged in interview responses, and offer practical recommendations generated from the experiences of I-O professionals. In addition, each article will be accompanied by video clips highlighting some of the exemplary quotes and stories from our interviews and author commentary on the specific topic.

Inspiration for the Column

As doctoral students, we have progressed from first year students coping with the anxieties of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ to demonstrating our expertise in the forms of candidacy exams, dissertations, internships and other applied experiences. Our motivation for writing this column stems from our own personal experiences being ‘lost in translation’ and a dearth of readily available resources to help those individuals who struggle to communicate the practical value of certain I-O topics develop this skill. When we first submitted our proposal for the column, we did not realize how much vulnerability we would have to reveal. In a field where the majority of I-O professionals have earned advanced degrees and you are constantly surrounded by so many intelligent people, it is easy to develop perfectionistic strivings; that is, as experts-in-training, we tend to be overly concerned about avoiding mistakes and negative evaluations by others.

By sharing our inspiration for writing this column, we are openly admitting that we have yet to fully develop the ability to effectively communicate complex I-O concepts to certain audiences who are unfamiliar to I-O Psychology. In brainstorming ideas for the column, we were amused by the idea that we might be more comfortable defending a dissertation challenging the eight-factor model of job performance with John Campbell as our committee chair than explaining what I-O Psychology is to our grandparents at Thanksgiving dinner. We both have had extremely salient personal experiences where we found ourselves ‘lost in translation.’ For example, Michael reflects back to his first internship experience as the only I-O in a workforce composed mostly of physical scientists and engineers, and Andrew recalls explaining his graduate school experiences at a family gathering, after which his uncle replied “oh, I thought you were going to school to learn how to help businesses”… You can hear more about the personal experiences that inspired us to write this column in the following video supplement.

The Current Column: Experts’ Lost in Translation Experiences

Perhaps the most enlightening aspect of the interviews we have conducted to date is that we are not alone in our inability to effectively communicate the value of I-O Psychology. In his 2016 Presidential Address, former SIOP president Steve W. J. Kozlowski dedicated the majority of his presentation on enhancing the impact of I-O Psychology to advocate for mechanisms that facilitate the translation of scientific research findings into practical knowledge and guidance. Certainly this is an effort that exceeds the scope of one article. However, we aim to provide a collection of advice, anecdotes, and tricks used by those at the top of our field, which can serve as a resource for current and future I-Os at any level of their careers. Our goal is to show that even the best I-Os have struggled with the art of translation, and to collect the various tips and tricks they have learned along the way to deal with this issue.

At the 2016 SIOP Conference in Anaheim, we specifically reached out to esteemed and experienced I-Os to learn about their most memorable ‘lost in translation’ experiences, and in doing so, our vulnerability was greatly rewarded. For example, Dr. Nathan Kuncel described his unforgettable experience as a graduate student being interviewed on a radio show and having difficulty explaining the value of correlation coefficients and percent of variance explained. Dr. Alexis Fink was kind enough to share a story about her time as a post-Master’s graduate student using I-O jargon while working in a manufacturing plant and how that experience helped her develop her translation skills. In addition to sharing a time where he had difficulty communicating the value of data analyses to a senior human resources manager, Dr. Russell Matthews mentioned, “I’ve gotten lost numerous times over the years, and honestly, that’s part of the process… getting lost is part of the reason we [provide students with applied opportunities] is so they can get lost in a safe environment.” You can hear these and other I-O experts’ ‘lost in translation’ experiences in their own words in the following video supplement.

Possibly the most reassuring takeaway from our SIOP interviews was that of the ten I-O professionals that were interviewed for the first two ‘Lost in Translation’ columns, four (40%) mentioned that they were either yet to fully master the art of translation or were actively working to learn how to better communicate the value of certain I-O topics. Being ‘lost in translation’ is not something to be embarrassed about; rather, it is a normal part of the development process as graduate students and early-career professionals transition into a job where communicating the value of their skills and knowledge is just as important applying them in the workplace.

Upcoming Topics

Over the next seven issues of The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, we aim to address effectively communicating the value of specific I-O topics in the hopes that those I-Os who become ‘lost in translation’ can use the recommendations provided in our columns as a practical, on-the-job resource.

  • The October 2016 issue will act as a follow-up to the current column, and will include selected responses from the aforementioned I-Os that reveal the concrete steps that were taken to overcome the personal ‘lost in translation’ experiences they described in this issue’s video supplement. We also provide practical suggestions geared toward mastering the art of translation generated from the advice and interview responses of over 30 I-O academics, applied researchers, practitioners, and current graduate students.
  • The January 2017 issue will be aimed toward communicating the value of I-O research methods to critics of social science research methods. More specifically, this column will highlight some of the primary obstacles that I-O professionals encounter when proposing solutions involving survey-based or qualitative research, and will offer advice on how to overcome these barriers using effective translation.
  • The April 2017 issue is positioned to directly align with the policy advocacy efforts of SIOP leadership over the past decade. In particular, the best practices offered in this column will be designed to facilitate the translation of I-O to policymakers within the federal government when seeking I-O funding opportunities.
  • The July 2017 issue is intended to assist with the visual presentation and verbal and written communication of validity evidence and advanced statistical analyses. For example, although conducting a hierarchical multiple regressions or structural equation modeling may be methods one uses to analyze organizational data, what are the most effective ways to convey the importance of these findings to clients and stakeholders that have no familiarity with statistics or experimental design?
  • The focus of the October 2017 column will be on bridging the gap between what clients want and what they actually need, and being able to communicate the value of the science-driven, systematic process that embodies organizational research rather than simply catering to what the client or stakeholder requests.
  • The January 2017 issue will be focused on the selection and development of teams, with a specific emphasis on the importance of team members’ personalities, interpersonal skills and other team-relevant KSAOs that may not be well understood by non-I-O project managers and senior leaders.
  • Finally, the April 2017 issue will shift focus toward a graduate student and early-career professional audience as we specifically emphasize the translation of graduate student experiences into valuable KSAOs as one begins the job search process. This column will provide advice geared toward translating research experience and internships into job experience, and how certain graduate student experiences (e.g., publications, degree, proficiency with statistics, etc.) are valued differently across various I-O jobs.

We have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback and support that we have received since beginning work on this column. Ultimately, for this column to be successful, we need a wide-range of I-O professionals to become involved by willingly sharing their personal experiences and providing guidance on the effective communication of each of these topics. That is where you, the TIP readership, can make a contribution that benefits this column and the field. We are currently welcoming recommendations and suggestions for the upcoming issues, including:

  1. Volunteers for interviews: Do you feel particularly well-equipped to discuss one of the ‘Lost in Translation’ topics? Have you mastered the art of effectively communicating the value of any of the aforementioned I-O themes? We want to interview you! We are seeking to build a wide network of I-O professionals who are willing to contribute so that we can include perspectives from academia, internal and external consultants, data scientists, applied researchers, among other potential interview candidates. If you are an I-O who feels well-equipped to provide advice regarding the translation of these I-O topics, please contact us.
  2. Introductions to I-Os who have mastered the art of translation: OK, so you have yet to master the art of translation, but are well-connected to an I-O who is experienced in this area, please connect us! Although we are looking to greatly expand our network, we particularly desire connections with experienced practitioners who would be willing to be interviewed for our column.
  3. Suggestions for ‘Lost in Translation’ topics: Although we have eight topics planned for this column, our ultimate goal is to create a practical resource for the TIP readership. As such, we are open to suggestion if there are topics that you feel we missed or that you would like to see explained by I-O veterans. The topics we are not able to touch on in our eight columns will be the focus of a panel discussion at the 2018 SIOP Conference in Chicago.

We invite those I-Os who are interested in making a contribution to the ‘Lost in Translation’ column to contact Andrew and Michael via e-mail (LostinTranslation.TIP@gmail.com).




Below, S. (n.d.). What do I-O Psychologists really do? Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/psychatwork.aspx

Hill, C. E., Thompson, B. J., & Williams, E. N. (1997). A guide to conducting consensual qualitative research. The Counseling Psychologist, 25, 517–572.

doi: 10.1177/0011000097254001

Salas, E. (1999). Professional practice book series: Translating science into practice. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 36, 4.

Thoroughgood, C. (2010). The two-minute elevator speech: Communicating value and expertise as I-O Psychologists to everyone else. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 3, 121-125.

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