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« How I Stumbled Upon I-O from a Totally Different Career | Main | Are We Ready To Innovate? »

February 21, 2012


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Awesome article.

Adrienne, your blog had me thinking about several things I have done in the last few years that may be outside the box of traditional I/O impact but have been significant and influenced by the knowledge/skills I have in I/O specifically.

In my everyday work as a consultant to major corporations I am passionate about what we do to influence decision making that not only improves business outcomes, but also improves people's lives at work and at home.

In the last few years, I have had increasing interest in I/O's relationship to corporate social responsibility. In 2009 I was chair of the Saturday Theme Track devoted to Corporate Social Responsibility and all the sessions that day covered the ways in which I/Os influence CSR in business. The committee also decided to sponsor vounteer-related activities in our host city of New Orleans. Almost 100 participants worked at an elementary school that was hard hit by Hurricane Katrina and spent the day on a library "makeover." We also started the fund for "The House that SIOP Built" to sponsor the building of a house in the 9th ward in New Orleans through the "Make it Right" project, which aims to build sustainable/green homes. We've raised about $27,000 to date of the $100,000 needed and hope to achieve that goal someday. So, the CSR Theme Track on I/O topics led to these important other activities of being involved directly in the community.

Over the last year I have worked on a book chapter on Corporate Philanthropy that is part of a Frontier Series book that will be published this year called "Using I-O Psychology for the Greater Good: Helping Those Who Help Others." The impact I/Os can have in the world of work is profound in terms of our skills and knowledge to influence the decision making of corporations and individuals that has direct effects on the world.

Finally, over the last year and a half I have worked with Kenexa's CEO Rudy Karsan and a dedicated committee to design and execute a new program called Time to Care. Employees can apply for up to a three-month leave with full salary and benefits to work for an organization or a community that "serves humanity." There are certainly I/O skills required as Chair of the committee running the program, and more broadly this program is a source of great joy to see the significant positive effects on the greater good that these employees are able to have.

These have been my experiences that have been shaping my contributions as an I/O over the last few years.

HOW TO DEFINE "IMPACT" OF PSYCHOLOGISTS: As Viewed by a Grizzled Veteran
A psychological impact occurs when something unexpected or unusual happens in the life of an individual, group, or organization that creates or results in a new way (or ways) of viewing oneself, one's group, or one's organization. I/O Psychologists create impacts at all three levels through one-on-one interactions, implementation of systems and new programs, and through organization interventions such as morale and satisfaction surveys. Our impacts can be of mixed value - in some cases positive results occur, in others pain can result. For example, an individual may discover during a feedback program that many colleagues dislike him. His or her reaction may lead to positive or negative outcomes.
Let me illustrate with a mixed situation. A newly minted, young physician was appointed as Director of a major hospital's blood analysis lab. He came to me for advice. His long-service, fifty-five year old administrative assistant had worked for the previous Director, who had retired, for many years and was committed to his way of doing things. The new young doctor did not want to offend her, but she was mothering him and giving him instruction he did not welcome. He did not want to replace her, but wanted to change her behavior. I suggested that like other MDs in the hospital he might try making rounds of patient floors, accompanied by his self-appointed mentor, and request that she take notes for him on his patient observations. Later he told me that she got the message and that their relationship changed. In short, he got what he wanted, but at some ego expense to his assistant.
On a larger scale, an organizational intervention program which I once implemented created several internal tasks forces to resolve issues identified in a preliminary survey. The senior executive group agreed, at the start, to meet with these groups (thirteen of them) on a reporting date set for nine months later. Every group reported with visual aids, and written material. During the ensuing summer, the executives took ownership of the findings and recommendations, and followed through. Clearly the program influenced how the executives viewed not only the issues, but also how they evaluated the abilities of the lower level employees who worked in the task forces. They even created a new department of internal communication and appointed one of the task-force members as its manager. The entire program had been unusual, captured attention, and produced new ways of seeing things. The executives at the same time were somewhat embarrassed for not addressing some of the issues previously.

Thank you all for responding.
Reading through these blogs and from responses generated through other communications, I can see that impact means a great many things to different people. It is a refreshing part of my day to hear about what I/O psychologists are doing which brings passion to their lives (and everyone writes about their impact with passion). I am also grateful for the more provocative responses which make us take a step back and examine the ethicality of our impact and what we do. Early in my career I attended a small conference of disability researchers and was told by a very wise woman that one should never forget the end results or consequences of one's research. I remember her words and see them echoed throughout many responses.

Keep on sending me your thoughts and get your colleagues involved!

Hi Adrienne,

As mentioned by the Global Task Force for Humanitarian Work Psychology, any talk about "impact" needs to include the welfare of people around the world - especially those in developing settings who experience salient threats to their welfare from a number of sources. As important consideration in helping to support human welfare is supporting those who defend it - namely humanitarian and development workers.

IO Psychology rarely talks about this group of workers, focusing mainly on private organizations and for-profit settings. Yet in their daily work, humanitarian and development workers often operate in regions plagued by social, political, and economic problems. Working in such demanding contexts can lead to increased emotional exhaustion, which may manifest over time in the form of decreased engagement, withdrawal, and poorer health. However, not all workers who are emotionally exhausted become disengaged and withdraw but may depend on the extent to which they are driven by prosocial motives.

I was curious why this was, so I focused my dissertation on trying to answer this question. Drawing from the Conservation of Resources (COR) model and using a longitudinal survey over 3 months, I found that more prosocial workers experienced less withdrawal but poorer health compared to their less prosocial counterparts. Moreover, the impact of contact with beneficiaries depended on workers’ motivation. Among less prosocial workers, contact heightened emotional exhaustion’s positive relationship with turnover intentions while among more prosocial workers, contact buffered emotional exhaustion’s effect on turnover intentions. Although the study has its limitations, I think its findings highlight how we can and are broadening our definition of "impact" to include helping those who helps others.


I have been employed as an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist for the federal government in a variety of departments and settings for the past 15 years. The U.S. government is under intense pressure and constant scrutiny over how it delivers (or doesn’t deliver) the goods and services required by the citizens of our great nation. To that end, simply put, impact to me means observing the reaction from a group of senior executives when presented with results from a linkage study demonstrating, for example, that a one percentage point increase in employee satisfaction will result in a one and a half percentage point increase in customer satisfaction—and observing their sudden epiphany that “people matter” along with the resultant change in behavior supporting new cutting-edge human capital initiatives to support transformation of the workforce.

My greatest accomplishment in my federal career has been around organizational culture transformation—organizational culture has remained a significant impediment to federal agencies becoming effective (Max Weber’s assertion that bureaucracies are intended to be efficient is still as applicable today as it was during his era though).

In a previous position, I was able to apply years of behavioral science research in this area to provide robust, understandable and value-added solutions (e.g., models/surveys) to aid the organization and its leaders in “moving the needle” towards become more flexible and customer focused among many other attributes. In my current assignment, I am applying the LMX theory of Dr. Gaen to design, pilot and implement a solution to significantly improve the quality of the professional relationship between supervisors and their direct reports, while changing their behavior towards one another, knowing that this relationship remains a linchpin to and drives so many major outcomes in the organization.

All in all, my career as an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist has been fulfilling albeit with some frustration from working in entrenched bureaucracies.


Impact - Affecting the processes of an organization in a positive way, and impacting the lives of people; those on the job and those looking for work.

I am an I/O Psychologist - and love my job. At one point in my career I helped a refinery develop the basic skills of around 3,000 employees, thereby improving the safety of their employees and the profitability of the entire organization.

Most recently I came to work for a municipality. The person I replaced had built an assessment process for the City from scratch, but did not understand the concepts of test reliabiity and validity. I found virtually no assessment process with adequate validity (in many cases, no validity at all). EEOC concerns were considered irrelevant. No one cared about employment law. At the very top of the organization I was told that the preference for selection was "gut instinct." And that attitude was was pervasive throughout the organization. In the past 3 years, I have completely revamped the process of assessment for this City; both internal promotional assessment and external. At first, the notion of linking assessment processes to the job was resisted. There is a certain amount of time involved and SMEs did not want to participate - they just wanted a test and they want it yesterday. After going through the process multiple times, however, virtually all the hiring authorities within the City have seen the dramatic increase in the quality of the hires and promotions. With the economy as it is, we get roughly 300 - 400 candidates for every opening; particularly for lower level openings. For a recent Assistant City Manager opening, we received 170 applications. Times are rough for all levels. For the City, I've been ensuring that selection is based on science and have been using the whole job-specific competency model to define our selection process, rather than just selecting for specific abilities. This has clearly improved the quality of our hires (as defined by satisfaction surveys and anecdotal evidence). I have also participated in revamping the applicant tracking process, thereby improving our ability to ascertain and track Adverse Impact statisitics; previously never measured. I have taught all my subordinates the concept of validity and how to implement valid processes. Now all of our processes have adequate and documented validity. But more important, I have ensured that no one is hired or promoted based on some irrelevant test score. Test performance has meaning. All tests are linked to the job and high performance on the test is related to high performance on the job. For the community, I've been ensuring that they have City employees who can be counted upon to do their jobs correctly. For candidates, I've been promoting learning opportunities available from the surrounding educational institutions. I feel good that I've made an impact on my environment.

The majority of my career has been devoted to helping organizations leverage psychological science to improve workforce productivity. My focus on this topic is driven by a belief that positively impacting the quality of work is one of the most powerful and sustainable ways we can improve the quality of the world overall. Other than personal health and social relationships, few things have more impact on people’s happiness than having meaningful and fulfilling work. Creating high quality work environments positively influences the lives of employees, their families, their managers, their customers, and their broader society. Everyone is directly and indirectly affected by the work environments of the companies they work for or depend upon for goods and services. Higher quality work environments create better world environments.

Despite the value of high quality work environments, our society is plagued by examples of poorly run companies. Workplaces are so frequently mismanaged it has led to the creation of a popular genre of humor solely devoted to making fun of office life (e.g., Dilbert, The Office). I often find this humor enjoyable. But I also find it somewhat sad and tragic. It is sad because it is based on real problems that financially and emotionally hurt employees, managers, customers, and their families. It is tragic because we have the knowledge to avoid many of these problems. The challenge is organizations struggle to effectively apply this knowledge.

Most of the positive impact I have had as an industrial organizational psychologist has come from creating more productive, healthy, efficient and sustainable work environments through leveraging technology-enabled talent management methods. It has been my privilege to work on technology systems that have directly impacted staffing, promotion, pay, and career development decisions affecting literally millions of individual employees and managers. Often the influence I have on any one system may seem relatively minor. For example, making small changes to the design of a performance management tool, the scoring of a selection algorithm, or the processes used to develop high potential leaders. But these seemingly minor changes become significant when one realizes the breadth of people they touch.

Knowing that my design decisions are informed by rigorous, empirical research increases my confidence that these processes will help candidates be hired into jobs where they can succeed, enable managers to have better conversations with their employees about their careers, and assist leaders in making better decisions about workforce design and structure. In most cases I will never meet the people I impact. But it is good to know that if I did meet them I could confidently explain to them that the processes that impacted their career success were rooted in empirically tested theories and methods developed through collective research conducted by thousands of industrial organizational psychologists and their colleagues.

The inconvenient truth is that I/O psychology throughout its history has been both apolitical and amoral and largely confined to matters of labor, or the workforce, a relatively minor cost of doing business and mostly exploited by big corporations.

World-shaping politics takes place in corner office suites. It is a politics and money that corrupt corporations as well as the governments they corrupt. I/O psychology tends to be a water carrier for corporate America, which is with the help of its pawns in our three branches of government gradually ruining our nation. America, among industrialized nations has the worse socioeconomic conditions and is, sole for self-serving purposes the most warring nation on earth.

My assessment of an overall negative impact on America is not confined to the I/O field. In my research I have noted an unmistakable and alarming trend in most fields of science and the professions, including in the research and practice of psychology. These fields and professions are becoming increasingly “corporatized;” that is, they are becoming more and more compromised and neutralized by government and corporate funding. They have in effect become an unwitting, unknowing, or self-denying ally of the corpocracy, the Devil's marriage between powerful corporate interests and government. Public universities, for example, have become sources of corporate tainted research and teaching. I/O psychologists look around and at your selves. Do you spot, for example, any corporate tainted research or teaching? Do you see here and there a corporate endowed professorial chair? Is any of your work funded by the government or corporations, and is the nature and outcomes of your work unduly influenced by your patrons? Do you find yourselves rationalizing or tolerating corporate mistreatment of the workforce?

I doubt if Joel Lefkowitz's I/O workshop on professional ethics will even come close to addressing I/O's role and impact in the broader context of the abusive power of corporate America.

Gary Brumback


Probably the largest impact I have had was working as part of the DOD working group looking at the issues and providing recommendations related to the repeal of DADT. There were three psychologists (two I/O and one developmental) that were part of the working group, and we made a very significant impact on the findings of the working group. We drew on the decades of research on group dynamics, knowledge and research related to survey design and response bias, as well as a wide spectrum of organizational research. If you read the report closely, you will even see Schneider's ASA model showing through.

Hello Dr. Colella,
Congratulations on your first blog!

Talk of impact should include the tiny things as well as the big things- things that are unlikely to be included in publications or reports. I assisted a team that engaged hundreds of employees in open dialogue about culture. The team was led by an experienced internal I-O professional. I’m sure the long term big impacts will be significant, measured and reported. But what moved me more were the “tiny impacts” that aren’t big business impacts, but that were nonetheless important to the individuals that they affected. There were dozens of examples, but here are a few:

1) One workgroup had been moved and was frustrated because they didn’t have a toaster in the new location. They had asked for one and were told to walk up the stairs and use one of the other toasters. This seemed to matter more to them than one might have expected. Perhaps it was because they had interpreted this to mean they were not considered as important as other groups or perhaps the toaster had become a symbol of negative feelings they had about being moved. They got a toaster right away.

2) Two groups had been combined under one leader. One group had been accustomed to celebratory outings paid for by their leader but the other was not. This was interpreted as special privileges or fiscal irresponsibility. The new leader was unaware that these differing practices were occurring and that there were frustrations between the groups. The leader immediately apologized for not noticing and committed to creating equivalent practices.

3) Complementary coffee stations were available for all employees. Few managers and few men took the time to make a new pot when one was low or empty; it was the lower level female employees who made most of the coffee that everyone enjoyed. The room energized as everyone agreed that that bothered them. Since I knew that I did not make my fair share of coffee myself, that comment really resonated with me. I, and probably others in the room in that session, now make coffee more often than we used to.

The I-O led initiative “held the mirror” up and forced everyone to take a fresh look at everything, big and small. Without the I-O intervention these seeming little things- toaster, coffee-pot and outing practices, might have remained the source of unnecessary frustration indefinitely for many employees. It would be difficult to quantify the overall impact that dozens of these tiny impacts had, but I suspect that collectively they may add up to one big impact.

The manager might be more observant of other sub-culture difference between the groups and may be more effective at merging them. When the organization moves other groups to new locations they may be more likely to ensure that the perks and amenities are equivalent for all locations. People may be more likely to notice when they are taking little favors that others are doing for them for granted. The open dialogue taught everyone involved an important lesson- sometimes things seem like intentional favoritism or otherwise unjust, but they may be nothing more than innocent unintentional oversights. People are human and busy and sometimes just don’t notice things, so you have to speak up… and, importantly, if you do, the organization will listen and positive changes will result. That’s Impact!
Carrie Anne Zapka

Hello Dr. Colella,
I like this idea. I am excited to hear what others come up with. I have provided my responses below:
1. An impact means contributing to a larger purpose by promoting the wellbeing of others.
2. As an IO psychology PhD student, I am grateful to have learned many skills to help me make an impact. Perhaps the most significant experience I have had in this respect was with the women’s organization I was apart of in college, a sorority. As an alumna member with I/O psychology training I have been able to bring many IO practices back to my local chapter where I served as President years ago. I have listed several examples below:
a. Implemented training and development practices for our undergraduate Executive Board Members
b. Began offering individual assessments using I/O career assessment tools for graduating seniors
c. Employed chapter leaders with summarized literature on the skills demonstrated in transformational leadership research
d. And more anecdotally, I have had candid discussions with our current undergraduate leaders, in almost an executive coaching regard, discussing research findings that could lend some insight to issues these women face.
Since implementing some of these changes on local levels we have seen even more success, primarily with the individual assessments and coaching. I, personally, deeply enjoy being able to provide some insight to these women based on a field I am so passionate about. They have been extraordinarily receptive to me. In fact, once I was even invited to speak to another new colonizing sorority about these strategies. This impact may seem small to some, but it is my hope that I have been able to help aid a strong group of women in preparing them for life in the organizations they will enter after college.

-Ashley D. Bugeja

Thanks for the shoutout Adrienne! Looking forward to responses. From my perspective the impact of I/O Psychologists is really starting to catch wind. I just heard today about former SIOP president Gary Latham being featured in Women's Health, and MSN is reporting on us. #6? Hyper-specialized? I'll take it. The first part is getting our exposure to the mass media, and I love seeing this as an initiative for our organization.


Great topic!

I think there are a lot of really simple things that a researcher in I/O Psychology can do to increase their impact.

1. Copyright permitting, post copies of publications on a personal website so that the knowledge is indexed by Google.

2. Share insights and ideas. Create a blog; If you give a talk, get it recorded and share it on YouTube.

3. Contribute to websites that are heavily read and indexed by Google, in particular:

3.a Wikipedia - add or improve articles

3.b http://cogsci.stackexchange.com - Contribute questions and answers.

In particular, I think http://cogsci.stackexchange.com/
is a great new forum for asking questions and providing answers about psychology.
I've explained why I think it's so great in a blog post:


With all of these resources, knowledge is being made more accessible to the world both through indexing of content and reduction of copyright restrictions. Furthermore, blogs, stackexchange sites, YouTube, and many more sites, permit you to track your impact in the form of views, comments, and other hard data.

I think all of the above is important in any academic discipline, but it is especially important in an applied field like I/O psychology.

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