The role of IO psychologists

By TRINA PINEDA, M.A.
PSYCHOLOGY@WORK

THE education of Industrial-Organizational (I/O) psychologists should be founded on the scientist-practitioner model because it trains one to look at it as both a science and a practice. As a science, we look at and study the behavior of people at work through our own researches and the researches of others in publication.

As practice, we take what we have learned and have come to know through the science and apply it to the concepts learned. Generating knowledge is not limited only to the field of industrial psychology but also by looking into multi-disciplines that can also be applied for the good of the organization, as it has benefited from this in the past.

I/O emerged as a specialized field from social psychology precisely because of the close link between theories and application. As Lewin once put it, “There is nothing as good as a practical theory.”

The roles of an I/O psychologist are many and varied, yet somehow all are interconnected as it contributes to the attainment of the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. It also takes part in the formulation of the organization’s values and strategies used.

By definition of the field, the I/O psychologist needs to be able to integrate the individual and the organization into the functions and systems of the organization and examine the people processes in which this can be done.

The I/O psychologist should be able to formulate systems and policies for the smooth and efficient workings of the organization; and provide knowledge and information that would help the managers make decisions and be able to contribute to the business strategy of the organization.

The former is what David Ulrich, author of the book entitled The HR Value Proposition, refers to as operational focus and the latter as the strategic focus. These are achieved in a balance between processes and people.

In the operational focus, which has been the traditional role of HR, the concern is in the delivery of HR services like recruitment and selection, performance management, compensation and rewards, being an administrative expert who designs and delivers infrastructure towards efficient HR processes.

He is also an employee champion who deals with the everyday needs, problems, and concerns of the employees. He is into people management, developing the talents, which is usually proclaimed as the most valuable assets of an organization, possibly through training and development. These promote well-being, capacity-building, and commitment.

In the strategic focus, the I/O psychologist does not just tend to the personnel administration and management but becomes strategic by initiating action to improve the organization capability and performance.

On the process end, one’s role is to be a strategic partner by aligning HR strategies and practices and making tangible contributions to business strategy. So an I/O psychologist needs to know not only about the day-to-day operations of the unit, but also about how the company makes money by reading profit and loss statements and the overall situation of the company.

On the people end, one has to be able to determine what the organization needs today, and what it will need to be in the future by identifying and developing new behaviors that build capability for transformation towards sustaining the organization’s competitiveness.

In this way, the s/he becomes a change agent.

These roles bring value to the organization because knowing what the “internal customers” (employees)want, and matching these with the organization’s needs, makes HR very relevant indeed. These contribute to the overall business effectiveness of the company concretely by increasing a firm’s shareholder value to as much as 78.7%, as reported by the Watson-Wyatt’s Asia-Pacific 2002 study. These make the practice of HR “quicker, cheaper, better and more” (from acing the Future in HR: Current Issues and Trends by Edna Franco, Ph.D.)

Therefore, for the education of an I/O Psychologist to be effective and applicable, it has to be founded on the scientist-practitioner model. The I/O psychologist cannot just postulate or hypothesize in his or her nice office about the driving forces that be in the running of the organization, the inner workings of the people or how they relate to one another at work.

The I/O psychologist must be able to gather information and to be able to test this. But unlike other psychologists, the I/O psychologist hardly limits oneself to the four walls of a laboratory or an experimental design. By the very definition of I/O psychology, the workplace is where these hypotheses get put to the test, and if found to be of sense and is practical, then it is further applied.

An I/O psychologist should have the ability to research whether in an academic or an organizational setting and be able to use empirical observations. The I/O psychologist is not only a scientist but a practitioner as well. These two, for the best results and efficacy, should go hand in hand.

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