People Analytics Is a Missed Opportunity for I/O Psychologists to Increase Influence and Impact.
“Grit filled a gap with an amateur survey by a social psychologist with limited psychometric expertise, but a great eye for marketing.” This is how Angela Duckworth, the Godmother of Grit, was described to great laughter and applause at the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) annual conference. I didn’t laugh. Instead, I interpreted the comment not as a badge of honor for the I/O psychology community, but rather, as a missed opportunity for the people in the room to increase their influence and impact. While Duckworth is giving TED talks, publishing a New York Times best seller, and consulting to Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks, the I/O community is missing the point by chuckling about her credentials. I/O psychologists are at risk of being sidelined by the buzz about new solutions, AI, and big data. So why are I/Os missing from these conversations? I’m not an I/O so I can’t speak for the community. However, others like Joel Quintela have written more eloquently than I ever could on the internal challenges to I/Os broadening their impact.
I/O Psychologists Should Be Leading the Big Data and AI Revolution in HR.
They have the theory and research foundation to know where to look for possible patterns and relationships. They understand compliance and legality to keep our organizations out of hot water and ensuring we “do no harm.” So, what does the I/O psych community need to do exactly?
Get a seat at the right tables
I was one of a maybe a handful of people who attended both Wharton People Analytics Conference and SIOP in the month of April. What a shame. More shared attendance across the two would have helped the segregated audiences at each event.
- The People Analytics community (business leaders, faculty and students from Wharton, big data practitioners, and social psychologists) can benefit from the foundational research and practical experience of I/O psychs to accelerate progress and avoid pitfalls of validity and compliance.
- The SIOP community can benefit from the elevated visibility and willingness to pursue innovative new approaches of people analytics business leaders. Informing such change from an I/O psych perspective would maximize the utility and impact of such efforts to maximum benefit for all.
Proactively seek out innovation and collaboration opportunities
The buzz around big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence is nearing deafening proportions. Don’t wait for your leadership to bring a project to you, scope something and propose it to them. It can be the difference between being seen as an innovative leader and a reactive compliance function. There are lots of people exploring big data, but they all can benefit from your grounding in theory and research and deep understanding of legal and compliance issues. It can be a little overwhelming or intimidating, but choose a partner who respects your expertise and wants to collaborate over the long-term. Blending these two disciplines is hard and takes time, but as the Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is today.”
Focus on delivering business outcomes and tracking impact
Validity, p-scores, and Cronbach’s-Alpha are not business metrics. Revenue, retention, costs, and customer satisfaction are. If I/Os tracked their impact through to the bottom line, they would be a profit center. You know what happens to profit centers? They get to influence the organization’s direction and they get more resources themselves. This also means focusing on the last mile of delivery to your end users. What does that end user need to know, in their language, and focusing on what’s in it for them? A little flare for marketing doesn’t hurt either. No hiring manager ever exclaimed, “Bring me more candidates with organizational citizenship behavior!” More likely, they are looking for “high ownership,” “sense of accountability,” or “takes initiative.”
It’s a Crossroads Moment Between I/O Psychologists and People Analytics.
Will I/Os be seen as proactive or reactive? Will they drive business outcomes or be conservative stewards of compliance? Will they shape the big data revolution or be shaped by it? As one of those individuals who wants to collaborate and who sees the immense value that I/Os bring to the table, I hope that more and more I/Os will choose to be proactive. As the same speaker who scoffed at Duckworth’s success also begrudgingly admitted, “You’re either at the table or you’re on the menu.”
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