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SIOP Award Winners: 2019 Distinguished Professional Achievement Award

Liberty J. Munson

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 winner of the 2019 Distinguished Professional Achievement Award, Seymour Adler.

What award did you win?

SIOP’s 2019 Distinguished Professional Achievement Award. I was nominated for this award by a long-time mentor, Allen Kraut.

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

I am a partner at Kincentric, a global talent advisory firm, and I consult with client organizations on the design and implementation of a range of talent management practices, including leadership assessment and development, performance management, talent strategy, and selection testing. In addition, I have taught throughout my 40+ year career at the master’s and doctoral levels, currently as an adjunct at Hofstra University’s PhD program in Applied Organizational Psychology.

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

Early on in my career, with my partners at Assessment Solutions Incorporated, I adapted assessment center methodology for remote delivery, at scale and with psychometric rigor, to assess sales, customer service, and managerial skills. Over the years, we delivered live, multi-exercise, multi-assessor simulations on behalf of clients to over a half-million candidates.

Later, with my I-O colleague Miriam Nelson, we designed and delivered innovative methods for customer service performance monitoring and monitored hundreds of thousands of calls with a centralized team of professional I-O assessors. With Miriam, Lorraine Stomski, Brian Ruggeberg, and other I-O colleagues, we designed assessment tools and protocols that have guided hiring and promotion decisions for decades at leading global organizations. Our team also designed and delivered state-of-the-art holistic leadership development processes and programs for organizations large and small. More recently, I have tried to provide thought leadership to the more effective design and delivery of performance management processes. In addition, I have had the privilege and pleasure of teaching hundreds of graduate students over my 45 years of teaching, with so many in turn making meaningful contributions to research and practice in our field. These contributions were all noted in the award citation.

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

I think it was the combination of scientific rigor, practicality, and scale of these solutions.

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

A big “aha” moment early on was when I took seriously one of the most well-established findings of our science—that mechanical combinations of quantified judgements were at least equal, and often superior, in validity to clinically aggregated composite judgements. For me, the implication was that assessment center administration would not only be more efficient but also more rigorous if ratings collected during exercises were mechanically combined to produce an overall score. We altered the then-standard assessment center practice accordingly and changed the way results from assessment centers were combined.

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?

We demonstrated that high-touch assessment approaches can be delivered rigorously at large scale. Because the simulations were of high fidelity to target jobs, they enjoyed strong applicant credibility. Because they were rigorously designed, validated, and delivered, they were never legally challenged.

Who would you say was the biggest advocate of your research/work that resulted in the award? How did that person become aware of your work?

Allen Kraut was already a prominent I-O psychologist at IBM, and an assessment center thought leader, when as a freshly minted PhD I was just assembling my first assessment center. I first reached out to him “out of the blue.” He gave of his time and expertise unstintingly and has been a mentor, advocate, and inspiration ever since. Joel Moses at ATT also was an early mentor. Both are prior winners of this award.And, of course, over the decades, clients have been wonderful supporters of these practices and have been instrumental in spreading the word.

Are you still doing work/research in the same area where you won the award? If so, what are you currently working on in this space? If not, what are you working on now and how did you move into this different work/research area? 

I have always been intrigued by every aspect of I-O, from the most I to the most O. I continue to work within that very broad space.

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

I received all of my formal education—from nursery school through a PhD—on Manhattan Island in New York City.

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

Never forget that your primary identity is as a psychologist and that your primary advantage over other very smart consultants from adjacent disciplines is our science. Even if you become a full-time consultant, never stop keeping up with key developments in theory and research. Talk to your fellow grad students who have pursued academic careers to understand what they and others in their network are thinking about and studying. I was blessed going through grad school with Howard Weiss, and our 50-year-long dialogue has been a source of inspiration and discovery throughout my career.

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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