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Jenny Baker
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SIOP Award Winners: Does Grit Matter?

Liberty J. Munson

Meet the Team Who Won the Hogan Award for Personality and Work Performance AND  Was Honorable Mention for William A. Owens Scholarly Achievement Award!

As part of our ongoing series to provide visibility into what it takes to earn a SIOP award or grant, we highlight a diverse class of award winners in each edition of TIP. We hope that this insight encourages you to consider applying for a SIOP award or grant because you are probably doing something amazing that can and should be recognized by your peers in I-O psychology!

This quarter, we are highlighting the team that won the Hogan Award for Personality and Work Performance and was Honorable Mention for the William A. Owens Scholarly Achievement Award as told by Peter Harms (below left).

What award did you win?

Our authorship team (with Marcus Crede [not pictured] and Michael Tynan, both at Iowa State University) won the Hogan Award for Personality and Work Performance and were an honorable mention for the William A. Owens Scholarly Achievement Award.

Read the article: Credé, M., Tynan, M., & Harms, P. D. (2017). Much ado about grit: A meta-analytic synthesis of the grit literature. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113, 492–511.

Share a little a bit about who you are and what you do.

PDH: I’m a personality psychologist by training. Both Marcus Credé, the lead author, and I received degrees from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I currently work at the University of Alabama in the Management Department of the Culverhouse College of Business. My research areas include the assessment and development of personality, leadership, and well-being. A huge part of that research has been partnerships with the U.S. Army for the past 10 years.

Describe the research/work that you did that resulted in this award. What led to your idea?

PDH: Our research was essentially a meta-analysis concerning the validity of the recently popularized concept of “grit,” the tendency to persevere and be passionate about one’s goals. It has been the subject of best-selling books and a widely viewed TED talk but had not previously been closely scrutinized. Our paper found a number of reasons to question claims about “grit.” Some of the most important reasons were that there had been a number of misleading claims about the factor structure, the predictive validity, and the “newness” of the concept. Our paper was able to provide a much more accurate assessment of the predictive value of grit, but it also found that it was not meaningfully different than the already identified, and widely known, personality trait conscientiousness.

What do you think was key to you winning this award?

PDH: I believe that a major determinant of the award was that we were challenging provocative claims that were being implemented in both companies and as part of national government policies. Grit has been labeled a “critical factor for success in the 21st century” by the U.S. Department of Education, and the government, along with major charitable organizations, are spending massive amounts of money to promote it in schools. When the stakes are that high, it is really important to have an accurate understanding of what we are talking about and how to measure it.

What did you learn that has surprised you? Did you have an “aha” moment? What was it?

PDH: The degree to which the positive effects of grit had been overstated in prior work. For example, in one paper, the results claimed that successful completion of completing a particularly difficult challenge was 99% more likely for individuals who were high on grit when the actual data showed that high-grit individuals were only 3% more likely to succeed. That’s the difference between a proverbial magic bullet and minor incremental contribution.

What do you see as the lasting/unique contribution of this work to our discipline? How can it be used to drive changes in organizations, the employee experience, and so on?

PDH: I hope that one of the contributions will be that organizations and scholars more closely scrutinize claims by science popularizers that “one simple trick” will change lives in a dramatic way. When you dig down into these claims, the reality rarely matches the rhetoric. We believe that the concept of grit as a combination of passion and perseverance should be abandoned due to lack of evidence. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to work hard to pursue goals, but the conceptualization and measurement of grit doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. Although I’m skeptical as to whether our paper will change the rush to embrace grit, I would hope that I-O psychologists would consider it an ethical obligation to inform themselves and their clients as to the problems with grit.

How did others become aware of your award-winning work/research? 

PDH: Well, we certainly didn’t hide what we were doing. We did the normal press releases and the article did appear in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which is probably the most read journal in social psychology. Marcus and I have also written a number of other articles calling into question widely accepted claims in the literature. So, perhaps some people came across this paper as a result of that work.

Learn more: Credé, M., & Harms, P. D. (2019). Questionable research and reporting practices when using confirmatory factor analysis. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 34, 18–30.

Credé, M., & Harms, P. D.  (2015). 25 Years of higher-order confirmatory factor analysis in the organizational sciences:  A critical review and development of reporting recommendations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36, 845–872.

Harms, P. D., Credé, M., & DeSimone, J. A. (2018). The last line of defense: Corrigenda and retractions. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 11, 61–65.

Credé, M., Jong, J., & Harms, P. D. (2019). The generalizability of transformational leadership across cultures: A meta-analysis. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 34, 139–155.

What’s a fun fact about yourself (something that people may not know)?

PDH: One of the deep ironies of my life is that I am a Canadian who was raised as a pacifist in the Mennonite faith, but I have been working with the U.S. military for more than a decade.

What piece of advice would you give to someone new to I-O psychology? (If you knew then what you know now…)

PDH: When I first entered graduate school, a senior I-O psychology grad student (Sasha Chernyshenko) took me aside and gave me some great advice. He told me not to get frustrated with the research and publishing process and that, in the end, good research would win out and be remembered. I’ve held on to that throughout my career, and I’ve tried to do things that mattered and to do them well. Much of my best work did not end up getting published in the “top” journals, but eventually it did get published; once it did, people found it and the citations followed. So, I guess the lesson is to be passionate about what you do and to persevere in the face of obstacles. In a word: grit. And a sense of humor never hurts.

 

About the author:

Liberty Munson is currently the principal psychometrician of the Microsoft Technical Certification and Employability programs in the Worldwide Learning organization. She is responsible for ensuring the validity and reliability of Microsoft’s certification and professional programs. Her passion is for finding innovative solutions to business challenges that balance the science of assessment design and development with the realities of budget, time, and schedule constraints. Most recently, she has been presenting on the future of testing and how technology can change the way we assess skills.

Liberty loves to bake, hike, backpack, and camp with her husband, Scott, and miniature schnauzer, Apex. If she’s not at work, you’ll find her enjoying the great outdoors, or she’s in her kitchen tweaking some recipe just to see what happens.

Her advice to someone new to I-O psychology?

Statistics, statistics, statistics—knowing data-analytic techniques will open A LOT of doors in this field and beyond!

 

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