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What I Learned Along the Way

Frank J. Landy
SHL North America

I have been editing this column for 2 years now, and I continue to be fascinated by how my colleagues got to be my colleagues. Everyone has a story and every story is different. The variance is much more interesting than the mean. This issuescolumn includes underwear, confidence, and deer hunting. Go ahead and try toconnect those dotsor maybe you had better not do that. My fondest desire, however, is to get submissions from junior collleagues. I DEFINITELY dont want you to average the age of the contributors of the columns to dateit will scare you. Although the NUMBER of experiences as a professional is correlated with age, the QUALITY of experiences is not. So I urge my junior colleagues to lower the average age of the contributors to the column and share your formative experiences with your fellow I-O psychologists.

A Brief Confession

Scott Highhouse
Bowling Green State University

An incident that stands out in my mind as particularly influential, with respect to my eventual career as a psychologist, happened when I was still an adolescent searching for some career direction. It was 1980, and I was in the 10th grade. My father was a manager of a small manufacturing facility on the west side of Cleveland. This was at the tail end of the touchy-feely era of management development when companies were having their managers trained in transactional analysis (Im OK, Youre OK) or some alternative whim. I remember my father telling me about a fascinating psychological consultant who was teaching him new ideas about managing people and forecasting future talent among the workforce. I wasnt much interested in the gray-flannel career my father had chosen, but I was mesmerized by the fact that companies actually paid consultants to come in and analyze everybody. I especially recall one story in which a consultant was brought in to do psychological assessments of candidates for an upper-level management position. My father told me how the psychologist was able to exact from one candidate that he insists on having his wife iron his underwear and hang his shirts exactly one inch apart in the closet! He also told me of a one-page test the consultant used that involved having the candidate write a paragraph about a stick-figure climbing a rope that appeared at the top of the page. How cool is this? I had discovered a career where you dig into peoples brains, ferret out their deepest and darkest secrets, and use this information to forecast management success. This was the career for me.

Some years later, I was in my 2nd year of community college discussing with the college counselor my plans for the future. I told her of my interest in learning how to become a psychological seer in industry. I wondered where one trains for such things. Wisely (for once), I did not repeat the underwear story. Although she was not immediately familiar with the particular career path I described, she did hear that the University of Akron had a good reputation in the field of industrial psychology. That seemed close enough, so I enrolled the following semester. Filled with anticipation, I signed up for my first I-O psychology course. I was going to finally learn how to uncover the dark side of applicant personalities, intervene (at just the critical moment) in interpersonal conflicts, facilitate meetings to develop team harmony, and share my wisdom before adoring crowds of management executives. I was a little disappointed when the 50-minute periods consisted of lectures on mechanical comprehension tests, content validity, and linking-pin theories, but I was ready to pay my dues. It was distressing, therefore, when my first exam came back with a C- grade. I informed my instructor of my intention to pursue a lifetime career in this field. He suggested I reconsider. 

Things turned around for me at Akron, and I eventually got involved in research with the I-O faculty thereresulting in an actual publication. From Akron, I parlayed my unexceptional GREs into an offer for admittance into the doctoral program at University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). Thankfully, the admission committee overlooked my stated desire to pursue a career in organizational change and development (and I again suppressed my desire to tell the underwear story) because I became exposed to a slew of topics that I never imagined that I might find interesting. The mix of faculty from psychology and business provided me with a balance of basic psychological theory and very practical HRM. The resulting juxtaposition of research interests in traditional I topics, along with basic behavioral decision theory has proved very useful in developing a research niche in I-O psychology. 

This brings me back to the beginning of the story. It has been more than a decade now since I began my academic research career. Although I had gone on to develop a reputation in the field for doing theoretically based research on organizational decision making, I never lost my fascination with the softer-side topics. Sure, I learned that I had little interest in being an OD consultant (my 2 years in the OD department at Anheuser Busch changed my mind about that), but I always felt that some of those OD practices that fascinated me in my youth had not been thoroughly investigated in a scholarly way. In recent years, I have spent some of my spare time researching the origin of some of the consulting practices that my father described. For instance, I studied the roots of the clinical or holistic approach to selection, resulting in a paper published in Personnel Psychology in 2002. I also dug into the history of the group dynamics movement in industry to understand where some of the management development fads originated. This resulted in a paper in Group Dynamics in 2002 on the t-group and a forthcoming chapter on the history of organizational psychology in practice. I guess the point for me in all of this is that there was a way to use my evolved interest in scholarly research to revisit some of the topics that drew me to this field in the first place. I am considering future research on the incidence of underwear ironing among executives in industry. You can take the kid out of the underwear, but you cant take the underwear out of the kid. In all seriousness, I think there is value in pursuing research on the very topics that dragged you into the field in the first place, no matter how strange they may seem. 

On-the-Job Training: A Post-Hoc Evaluation

Kurt Kraiger 
University of Tulsa

I was in graduate school at The Ohio State University from 1979 to 1983. When I arrived there, Milt Hakel was the senior, best-known faculty member. Milt was kind enough to take over as my advisor on my thesis when my first advisor left the university. Milt also had two significant influences on my early career. First, I was aware that he had built his scholarly reputation by (at the time) being one of the few I-O psychologists doing systematic research in the area of employment interviews. One of my goals leaving graduate school was to find another area of research with room on the green. Second, Milt taught a class on training and development, a topic I found, by far, to be the least interesting I encountered while in graduate school.

In my first few years out of graduate school, I was involved primarily in performance appraisal researchmeta-analyses of race effects and work with the Air Force on the Job Performance Measurement Project. I had started several other high-risk areas of research that didnt pan out. I didnt particularly like performance appraisal research, but I enjoyed collaborating with my coauthors (e.g., Kevin Ford and Mark Teachout). However, I hadnt really found the underresearched topic I wanted to focus on.

In the summer of 1989, I took a summer faculty fellowship with the Navy in Orlando, working on what was then the Aircrew Coordination Training Project with Eduardo Salas and Jan Cannon-Bowers. My wife had just quit her job to go back to school to complete her science requirements for veterinary school, and this was a stressful time for her. Ed likes to joke that I spent my entire summer stipend flying home for weekends. 

The research group I was visiting was beginning to transition from the study of team performance to the development of team training methods. Because the group had both an applied and scientific focus, their plan included conducting evaluation research on potential training methods. Eduardo asked me to think about issues related to training evaluation. I didnt know anything about training evaluation, but I assumed that it would include performance appraisal, and I knew something about that.

Within a few weeks, I had read everything I could find in and outside of I-O on training and training evaluation. There wasnt much to read and not much of it seemed theory based or research tested. My surprise at how sparse and atheoretical I found the evaluation literature led to the idea to develop a learning outcomes taxonomy, published 4 years later in the Journal of Applied Psychology with Kevin Ford and Eduardo Salas as coauthors. 

Early on, I sat in on a team meeting with Ed, Jan, and a number of graduate students helping on the project. When the agenda moved to evaluation, Ed turned to me and asked, if I had to create an evaluation plan at that moment, what would it look like? I had not yet thought that specifically, but I knew the training they planned to do, I remembered everything I had read about evaluation, and, thinking out loud, I made some suggestions that probably included assessments at multiple points in time (in-training, post-training), of multiple constructs (knowledge, behavior, and performance), by multiple sources (revealing my performance appraisal bias). When I finished, Eduardo slapped the table and looked at the graduate students and told them that what I had just done was what he was looking for them to docome to meetings with ideas, even without having done all the research or thinking through all possible ideas. 

Although I didnt necessarily take pride in accomplishing what the graduate students could not, I took from this event the importance of having confidence in your ideaseven if they are not fully formed. I often tell our graduate students before their first internships that they will be surprised at how smart they really are. Sometimes graduate school seems to be more about what you dont know or need to learn, and students forget how much they really are learning. I tell them that they are very bright, and because they are smart and well-trained, the solutions they generate will help their clients and add value, even if its not what they believe is the best approach given unlimited time to research and study a problem.

About 3 years later, I spent my first sabbatical working in a consulting firm based in Golden, Colorado. I went on a number of calls to potential clients seeking help in the area of training evaluation. Invariably, they were already doing some form of training evaluation and had read the same resources that I did but felt incapable of designing better evaluation methods. They thought there was some magic form, a magic method that they were missing in their research. Instead, the help they needed was a framework for thinking about their problems and help in decision making about the best way to solve it. They often had the knowledge they needed but not the confidence or a way to apply that knowledge. From this, I learned the value of not only having in-depth knowledge and the confidence to apply it but also a general strategy for problem solving that can be applied to most of the ill-defined problems we face all the time. 

The Wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld: 
Knowing What You Dont Know

Frank Landy

It is the fall of 1969. I have arrived at Penn State, a new PhD. I am teaching a stat course and an intro I-O course. Because I had some free time that summer, I had prepared all of my lectures for the I-O course so I was feeling pretty good. They were all written out down to the 4th level heading. It was a quarter system so I would deliver about 25 lectures. By the end of the 6th week, I had gone through all of my lecturesALL OF MY LECTURES!!!! I discovered that I had very little to say that was not already in the book. My research in grad school had been very specific and pretty much all on the same topic. I had done no consulting and very little field research. I simply had no war stories to tell. I invited colleagues in to talk about their research and managed to make it through the semester. 

It is the fall of 1971. I have been at Penn State for 2 years. My best friend and colleague is Don Trumbo. The guy knows everything and everyone in I-O. On top of that, he is the best friend anyone could ask for. He has taught me the art of deer hunting with a bow. We go out on beautiful fall afternoons into the mountains and sit and wait for the deer to come along. The deer sit and wait for us to leave. In the meantime, we often fall asleep sitting and wake up as the chill sets in after the sun has gone down. One day while we are sitting and waiting, I say Lets write a book. Don looks at me vacantly and answers OK, about what? I say, a text in I-O, what else? He says, But you dont know anything about I-O smiles and goes back to watching for our super buck to appear. I ruminate and decide he is right. I dont. And dismiss it from my mind. Several months later we are at a party and he comes over and says OK. I respond OK, what? He says OK, lets write a book. I talked to Ellen (his wife) and she says OK, we can skip our summer vacation so you can work on it. I am terrified. I wasnt really serioushe is VERY serious. I gulp and say OK. We write some sample chapters and send them out. His topic is human engineering and mine job satisfaction. The reviews come back. They love his, they hate mine. He has stories and applicationsI dont. He writes with the confidence of someone who has thought about his topic a long time. I dont. Nevertheless, we get a contract and do the book. It takes 4 years to complete it. By then I have some stories and some theories. Don dies 2 years later and I do three more editions of the book. I use his chapters on training and human engineering for each of those editions. The last edition was in 1989, and his stuff was as good then as it had been 15 years earlier. God, that guy was smart. He still appears in my dreams now and then. Usually, we are sitting and waiting for the deer to stroll by. They never do. 

It is the fall of 1992. I have been teaching intro I-O for 24 years. I have conducted research in about a dozen different distinct areas, done consulting for about 100 companies, testified in 40 or so court cases. I come to class with a few notes scribbled on a scrap of paper and talk for an hour about job analysis and dont finish what I want to say. I continue talking about it next class and into the third class. It is the second week of the semester and I am already two lectures behind in terms of topical coverage. It will get worse as the semester progresses. I wish the semester were 35 weeks long so I can say everything I want to say. I never run out of stories. The students ask if they are responsible for the stories for the mid-term exam. I have to stop telling stories. I run into a student at the market. He says I really love your stories. Ugghh. 

Sometimes you know too little, and sometimes you know too much. There must have been at least a week somewhere in the 23 years covered by these recollections where the balance was just right. 

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