Thirteen Critical Incidents in the Life of a Scientist/PractitionerSep 19, 2017
By Gary Latham
In the 1770s, my ancestors, loyal to King George III, emigrated from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia. In 1950, my father, believing that it was now safe for him and his family to do so, became the first member of our clan to return to the United States. Before going back to Massachusetts, it was pre- ordained by family and knowledgeable friends that I would return to Nova Scotia to attend Dalhousie University. I did so in 1963, following a critical incident that had occurred the previous year.
Another promotion for my father resulted in our family moving, in my senior year of high school, to another city. While I was washing dishes in the back of a restaurant, a 19-year-old waiter, Tom, observed that I was no longer fun to be around. After pouring out my heart to him regarding the girl I had been “forced” to leave behind, he suggested that I major in psychology when I entered university. That was the first I had heard of this discipline. In minutes, he differentiated clinical psychology from psychiatry. In seconds, I knew that this was what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. I have not seen Tom since fall 1962, when he resumed his studies at Boston University. I have never been able to thank him for the impact he has had on me. Sadly, I do not recall his last name.
Although I was accepted into Boston University, McGill University in Montreal, and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the summers I had spent with my grandparents in Nova Scotia had convinced me that Dalhousie was indeed the right place for me to pursue my education. The psychology department at Dalhousie was the hotbed for behaviorism in Canada in the 1960s. The majority of the courses included 2- to 3-hour laboratories. In the first laboratory course, my new girlfriend received 19/25 on her laboratory report with the comment: “Congratulations, highest grade in class.” Stunned, as I had helped her prepare the report, I waited in anticipation for my grade. Imagine my chagrin when I read “21/25 minus 4 points for poor penmanship.” Immediately I raced to my professor, Dr. Horace “Ace” Beach, demanding that my rightful grade be restored. After I patiently explained to him the importance of grades for gaining admission to a graduate psychology department, he patiently replied that I should improve my legibility. Exasperated, I informed him of the impossibility of me doing so at my age. This frustrating man then had the gall to ask me, a third-year student, to define psychology. In my attempt to educate him, I explained that it is the science of behavior. Without looking up at me from his chair, he then laconically requested that I tell him what it is psychologists do. Doubly exasperated, I informed him that psychologists predict, explain, and, and, and; damn it, Dr. Beach had just allowed me to hang myself in his presence. “Well, changing behavior is not easy,” I blustered. He agreed. The grade stood.
The laboratory assignments included two research proposals, one in December, and the second in April. While unimpressed by my poor attempt to improve my penmanship, Dr. Beach was nevertheless impressed by my research creativity as well as my ability to entice my fraternity brothers to serve as participants in my experiments. At the end of my third year, I became, I believe, the first undergraduate psychology student at Dal to become a research assistant. This was the second critical incident that advanced my career.
Dr. Beach was a former Rhodes Scholar, a World War II hero, a boxer while in the military, and the director of the clinical psychology program. I loved him. We did research and subsequently published a paper on the importance of awareness vs. unawareness in the conditioning of the galvanic skin response. My “cool” or distant interactions with clients in his clinic, however, led to the third critical incident.
An article in the Psychological Bulletin mysteriously appeared on my desk in Dr. Beach’s laboratory, an article on job satisfaction and performance by two people named Brayfield and Crockett. I read it. Immediately, I raced into the office: “Dr. Beach, I want to be an industrial psychologist.” He looked at me long and hard before replying that it was time for me to return to the United States. Not only was there no I-O psychology program in Canada in that time period, we students had never even heard of one. (It was Dr. Beach who had placed Brayfield and Crockett’s paper on my desk.)
Walking in the hallway from a psychology class, I noticed a bulletin board with a description of the I-O program at Georgia Tech. That was the fourth critical incident. Fall 1967, I was among that school’s graduate students. I had no way of knowing at the time that I would remain in the United States until 1990.
Georgia Tech embraced the scientist-practitioner model. The majority of the faculty had served in the military as psychologists during World War II and/or had worked as psychologists in industry. They taught me how psychology could make a difference in the lives of employees. Their focus was on individual differences and on ways of measuring and then both predicting and influencing the criterion. Our heroes included Marvin Dunnette, John Flanagan, Ed Ghiselli, and Ed Webster. Since our department head’s dissertation adviser was Ted Cureton, we students knew validity, reliability, and what constitutes baloney (Cureton, 1950). My mentor was Bill “Red” Ronan, who had studied under John Flanagan. My thesis was based on criterion development using the critical incident technique.
In 1968, the American Pulpwood Association (APA) requested Dr. Ronan’s services to help them identify ways to measure and then improve the productivity of pulpwood producers in the southern United States. He agreed to be a consultant on condition that he be paid the astronomical sum of $200 a day, and that I be hired as a research assistant for $400 a month, twice the sum I received as an RA in the psychology department. I was elated, particularly when APA agreed with Dr. Ronan that my work for them should be of sufficient rigor to serve as my master’s thesis. In 1969, I passed my oral defense of my thesis and then presented my findings to a panel of 12 executives from APA’s sponsor companies (e.g., Georgia Kraft, International Paper, Owens-Illinois, Union Camp). When I finished my presentation, they asked me where I planned to go next. As it was 11:55 a.m., I told them I was going home for lunch. Seeing their eyes roll, I was relieved to be informed that I should leave the room. Before going very far, I was summoned back. To my astonishment, the executives offered me the position of staff psychologist, in addition to lunch. This was the fifth critical incident in my now-budding career.
APA was populated solely by industrial engineers who conducted time and motion studies, or mechanical engineers who designed equipment to minimize the human factors that they believed restricted productivity. Because psychology was so alien to the forest products industry, the executives who hired me stated that my acceptance in the industry might increase if it were said that my job was to examine the “nonphysical” factors that influence productivity. Hence the title on my business card, “Manager of Non Physical Factors.” Because I would be working in the deep South, they also emphasized to company foresters that I am a Canadian, not a Yankee; much to Lincoln’s consternation, Canada had supported the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
1969-1971 was exhilarating for me. If Dr. Beach had gotten me into the air, Dr. Ronan had given me the confidence to fly. (In those days not even graduate students addressed professors by their first name.) Critical incident interviews with pulpwood workers and questionnaires completed by foresters led to the conclusion that a measure of job attendance was a much more reliable (inter-observer and test–retest) measure to predict and influence than subjectively classified measures of absenteeism. Behaviorally anchored rating scales proved not to be effective in assessing what differentiates the productive from the nonproductive pulpwood crew. Hence, behavioral observation scales (BOS) were developed for use by company foresters as a checklist for identifying independent pulpwood crews with whom a forest-products company should do business. BOS have served as dependent variables for me to assess the effectiveness of an intervention or as criteria to assess the validity of one or more predictors in my practice and research to the present day.
Georgia Tech had instilled in me the belief that theories are invaluable frameworks for guiding practice. Thus, one Saturday I drove to the Tech library to peruse the Psychological Abstracts for ways to increase the productivity of pulpwood crews. Serendipity struck in the form of a sixth critical incident. There was a series of abstracts written by a young Ph.D. who was at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) founded by Flanagan. This newly minted Ph.D., hired by Ed Fleishman, then the Director of AIR in Washington, D.C., had recently taken a job as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland. His laboratory experiments showed that a person who has a specific high goal solves more simple arithmetic problems, makes more words out of scrambled letters, and creates more toys out of plastic bricks than do people who are merely urged to do their best. I quickly telephoned Dr. Ronan, who was still working for us as a consultant. In a factor analysis of survey data on pulpwood producers, we had found that setting specific high goals and supervisory presence loaded positively on the same factor as objective measures of productivity. Yet that finding had not captured my attention until that day in the library. “Dr. Ronan,” I said excitedly, “Locke says...”
In that time period, I read the journals primarily for practice rather than to advance scholarship. The emphasis of both Tech and APA was on applications that “make a difference” in the lives of employees. In reading the journals, I stumbled upon two names that began appearing again and again: Drs. Yukl and Wexley. Realizing from my reading of the literature that my knowledge as a psychologist was limited, I decided I should return to school for a Ph.D. Together, Drs. Yukl and Wexley were applying the experimental procedures in behavior modification, procedures that I had learned at Dalhousie, to I-O psychology.
Not much older than I, Gary Yukl and Ken Wexley shared and enhanced my love of application as well as the need for empirical research. Ken, a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, strengthened and deepened the knowledge that I had acquired at Georgia Tech. His focus was on the selection interview and ways of minimizing rating errors. He was phenomenally effective as a teacher. He would alternately enter a seminar in the role of a vice president of B. F. Goodrich, an HR person seeking a knowledgeable consultant, or as a critic of our field. As Dr. Wexley, he drilled into us the necessity of publishing in our journals; if we did not do so upon receipt of our Ph.D., he said, we were no longer to contact him. He inspired in us the goal to become a Fellow. My association with Yukl, however, was a seventh critical incident. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, it was Gary who opened my eyes to the “O” in our field. Gary’s research passion was leadership. Within the year, Rensis Likert and Ed Lawler were added to my list of heroes. The newly published book by Campbell, Dunnette, Lawler, and Weick (1970) that both he and Wexley assigned to us to read became my academic bible. But most of all, I wanted to continue to read everything by Ed Locke. Dr. Yukl encouraged me to write to him regarding the field studies I had conducted at the American Pulpwood Association on goal setting. To my delight, Ed responded immediately to my letter with encouragement to submit my findings to a journal.
Before I could complete my Ph.D., the eighth critical incident occurred. Because of my work experience between the receipt of my master’s in 1969 and entering the University of Akron in 1971, I devoured the assigned readings from Drs. Wexley and Yukl. Exams were relatively easy as I was consistently asking myself ways that I could apply what I read in the journals to improving the performance of pulpwood crews. Both Yukl and Wexley assigned us roles to take in weekly debates on sundry issues (e.g., composite vs. multiple criteria; pro vs. con on expectancy theory). Unknown to me, since my leaving the American Pulpwood Association, the Weyerhaeuser Company had been tracking my progress at the University of Akron. They telephoned me in the fall of my second year of my doctoral program to ask me to join them as their first staff psychologist. When I explained that I could not accept the offer because I had yet to do my doctoral dissertation, they countered with the promise that they would provide me the resources to do it with them on any subject I wished. I accepted the offer without further hesitation. I did so without stating that I had yet to pass my comprehensive examinations. I passed the written examinations the following spring with relative ease.
The oral examination was a different matter. “Explain how training is directly based on learning theory,” commanded Wexley. I did. “Give another example.” I did. “Give another example.” I did. Now it occurred to me that if Wexley continued to pursue this matter, I might run out of examples. He did; I did. Yukl stared at the ceiling. Another faculty member noted that a new book had appeared on The Greening of America. He wanted to know how the book would affect my work when I went to Weyerhaeuser. I didn’t know. Yukl continued to stare at the ceiling. Wexley jumped back in regarding an article published a year or so earlier by Abe Korman. He wanted my assessment of it. I sputtered that I did indeed recall the article as I honestly had read it. I simply could not recall at that instant what Abe had written. Yukl stared at the ceiling. Hours passed before I was instructed to leave the room while the committee voted on whether I should be passed or failed. As I left the room, I recalled that Weyerhaeuser had informed me that I was to be there by June 15, 1973, or not to come. The reason this date was so important to them eludes me to this day.
The day of my oral examination, the plane from Cleveland left at 5 p.m. for Seattle. With legs wobbling, I left the oral examination room. The graduate students waiting outside to wish me well remained respectfully silent when they saw me emerge crestfallen. As my career opportunity of a lifetime was passing me by, the door to the examination room flew open. Wexley strode quickly down the hall, stopped to congratulate me with a wide grin, and then kept on going. Other faculty were equally congratulatory. Yukl, the last to emerge, walked slowly toward me. Incredulous, I asked him how I could possibly have passed my orals. I can still hear his response: “I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions either.”
After a year and a half in Akron, I arrived at Weyerhaeuser, in Washington State. I immediately put into practice what I had learned about reinforcement schedules as an undergraduate and doctoral student. Company vice presidents as well as union officials congratulated me for bringing “Las Vegas” to the forest products industry. Employees were now planting trees or trapping the mountain beavers that eat the seedlings in order to “gamble” for money that was paid on different schedules of reinforcement. We never had a single grievance over the program from an employee. A year or two later, I received a letter from Pat Smith stating that only I would have the temerity to conduct such experiments in field settings.
Ed Fleishman thrilled me by accepting an invitation to speak on the subject of leadership to Weyerhaeuser. He thrilled me even more so by accepting an invitation to spend the weekend in Seattle. His visit was a ninth critical incident because of the advice he gave me in his role as a president of Division 14 (SIOP) and editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology. “Give your manuscript to your ‘enemies’ before you submit it to a journal; whereas your friends will tell you how good it is, your ‘enemies’ will gladly point out its weaknesses.” The word enemy was hyperbole to stress his point on seeking criticism. To this day, I heed his advice by sending my manuscripts to those I believe will be constructively critical of them.
Henry Tosi had given me similar advice on the value of criticism. At a party that Ken Wexley held in honor of me getting my Ph.D., Henry, who was in Akron visiting Ken, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Kid, always be the first to criticize your own work. Not only will it lead to another publication, it will drive your enemies crazy.”
My tenth critical incident is related to the sixth. In 1974, Milt Blood organized a symposium at the American Psychological Association on behavior modification in the workplace. When I finished my presentation, an urbane well-dressed blond-haired individual introduced himself: “Hi, I am Ed Locke.” Knowing Ed’s loathing of behaviorism, the irony of the setting did not escape me. Despite the context, we went to lunch and immediately became close friends and colleagues, a relationship that has lasted well over a quarter of a century. Our only conflicts have been over the order of authorship. He has argued vehemently that I should be first author when I have said that he should be. We have yet to coauthor an article together that failed to get published.
The eleventh and twelfth critical incidents are the support I have received from colleagues. Dr. Beach continued to be my mentor until his death, October 2, 2008. In 1974, as president of the Applied Division, he invited me to present the results of my doctoral dissertation on goal setting and Likert’s approach to participation in decision making to the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). Subsequently, I became the first I-O psychologist to be elected President of CPA (1999–2000). In 1975, Jim Naylor invited me to join his newly formed organization, the Society of Organization Behavior, a group of 50-60 individuals who focus on scholarship. That same year, Fred Fiedler was instrumental in getting me an adjunct appointment in the psychology department at the University of Washington. In 1977, Mel Sorcher was instrumental in inviting me to join the Summit Group, a group of 20 or so people evenly divided between academics and full time practitioners who to this day instill in me the avid desire to be a scientist-practitioner. As a young psychologist, and year after year there after, I benefitted immensely from the knowledge I gained from such luminaries in our field as Paul Banas (Ford Motor), Mike Beer (Corning Glass and later HBS), David Campbell (Center for Creative Leadership), Dick Campbell (AT&T), John Campbell (U Minnesota), Milt Hakel (Ohio State and now Bowling Green), John Hinrichs (IBM), Tim Hall (Northwestern and now BU),Wayne Kirchner (3-M), Ed Lawler ( U Michigan and now USC), Bob Morrison (US Navy), Lyman Porter (UC Irvine), Ben Schneider (U Maryland) Mel Sorcher ( GE and later Richardson Vicks), and Wayne Sorenson (State Farm) among many others.
My lucky thirteenth incident can be traced back to Billy Hoke, a forester at the International Paper Company in North Carolina. When I was with the American Pulpwood Association, he stressed to me the importance of being bilingual, that is, being able to explain theory and research in meaningful, memorable ways not only to scholars but also to managers and hourly employees. Embracing this advice not only has allowed me to conduct research in field settings, it also propelled me into the business school. With the support of Cecil Bell and Terry Mitchell, I joined the University of Washington’s business school as an assistant professor in 1983. In 1985, I was department chair. By 1990, I was back in Canada with an endowed professorship in the Rotman School of Management with cross appointments in the Department of Psychology, Industrial Relations and the School of Nursing. In 1989 Bob House had left the University of Toronto for Wharton. Hugh Arnold and Martin Evans asked me to be a candidate for the vacated position. Bob talked to me at SIOP in Boston and urged me to do so. (Years earlier, Gary Yukl, my mentor, introduced me to Bob at my first Academy of Management meeting. Bob, who thinks very highly of Gary, said that if I ever decided to leave Weyerhaeuser, I should contact him about the possibility of coming to Toronto. That was 1974. True to his word, Bob encouraged me in 1989 to take his place. Having a mentor introduce a doctoral student to key people in the field can be invaluable.)
Among the principles I have followed as a scientist-practitioner are the following: (1) Seek mentors. They have been and continue to be indispensable to my career. (2) Embrace their constructive feedback; set specific high goals based on their feedback. (3) Acquire the skill to speak and write to people in the workforce in addition to scholars. Doing so not only increases the likelihood that what is said will be remembered, it also increases the likelihood of being invited by organizational decision makers to do field research. (4) As Ken Wexley urged: “Give back” to our field. Contribute knowledge to our journals and to our scholarly societies so that our field can continue to provide as exciting a career for others as it has been and continues to be for me.
The principles that have enabled me to function as a practitioner and a scientist are described in Latham and Latham (2003). (The other Latham is my wife Soosan. She was the Vice President of HR for J.P. Morgan, Canada when we wrote that article. We argued constantly over science versus practice. Shortly thereafter she obtained her PhD. She is currently teaching HR at York University.) In brief, they are as follows:
1. Set mutually interdependent goals. Academics and organizational decision makers typically view each other as pursuing self-serving interests. As a staff psychologist, I was sometimes seen by industry leaders as wanting to pursue narrowly defined interests that would affect an easily measured dependent variable and hence lead to a journal publication; I viewed the human resources manager as wanting to pursue broadly defined objectives that would affect a fuzzily conceived “bottom line” and hence will lead to a salary increase, if not a promotion. Working together could jeopardize the attainment of both of our goals—a rational reason perceived by both parties for maintaining two solitudes. (My use of the word solitude is borrowed from a famous Canadian author, Mordecai Richler, who lived in Montreal. He used it to describe the unhappy relationship between the province of Quebec versus “the rest of Canada.”)
A solution for overcoming this distrust is to set mutually interdependent goals. Two facilitators for the setting of interdependent goals are for the two parties to become members of the same team and for their effectiveness to be measured with the same yardstick. For example, I joined the American Pulpwood Association upon completing my master’s thesis. The goal that the organization had of finding concrete ways to increase the productivity of logging crews coincided with my goal to do meaningful research (e.g., Latham & Kinne, 1974; Ronan, Latham, & Kinne, 1973).
2. Stop, look, and listen: Be seen as a team player. “Are we doing this project for Gary or for the company?” When I was a staff psychologist, this question too was asked on numerous occasions by human resource managers. Their suspicions were frequently the result of me taking the initiative to attack issues I believed needed to be resolved. Questions such as this subsided once I learned to listen first and speak second. There is an art to being “proactively reactive” to organizational needs. It is mastered by stopping to hear the concerns of organizational decision makers before offering one’s suggestions. This can lead to researchers being invited to join ad hoc teams that are formed to problem solve a question of concern to one or more members of senior management: “What does one logging crew do that results in high productivity while another crew goes out of business” (Latham & Wexley, 1977)? “How can we motivate engineers/scientists to achieve excellence in the eyes of line managers” (Latham, Mitchell, & Dossett, 1978)? “I can step on more mountain beavers than those union employees can trap” (Latham & Dossett, 1978).
It is difficult to hear the question or concern of organizational decision makers, see the contextual issues, know who is the primary person who is asking the question, offer suggestions, and subsequently receive an invitation to join the team unless the researcher is a member of the organization where the issues arise—a group member who is evaluated by the same senior manager with the same yardstick as every other member of the team. To this day, I have found that it was easier to conduct field experiments when I was an employee of the American Pulpwood Association and subsequently the Weyerhaeuser Company than it is now that I am a faculty member of a university. As an outsider to organizations, I now propose ideas that I hope some decision maker in some organization will find of interest; but, as an organizational insider, I was able to respond to concerns that I knew one or more key decision makers wanted/ needed answered. Fortunately, universities are organizations too. They, like any organization, have difficulties with employee attendance (Frayne & Latham, 1987; Latham & Frayne, 1989) and with taking disciplinary action (Cole & Latham, 1997). As a scientist-practitioner, I capitalize on this fact.
3. Find a champion who is an influential member of the other solitude. The research question becomes important, the research process is seen as doable, and the results are soon implemented when there is a champion of the academic’s research who is a member of the other solitude. Among my champions was a Weyerhaeuser VP, Peter Belluschi. He valued facts rather than hunches or intuition to unanswered issues. Jim Taylor, his HR manager, Bob Butler, his financial manager, and I met regularly to find ways to get answers to questions that Pete asked. His desire for hard data led to his appreciation for empirical research.
4. Become bilingual. As noted above, I learned from Billy Hoke, the forester at International Paper, that academics are perceived as having mastered the language of obfuscation. We are often viewed as making seemingly straightforward explanations complex. I learned from other managers that academics are frequently seen as confusing the words quality and precision with hard and abstruse. Consequently, I found that I was making it easy for business people to ignore me. Adding to my self-infliction, I would buttress my conclusions with statistical techniques. I was a newly minted Ph.D. when Mike Beer asked teasingly, “Latham, are you still doing statistical tests? When you become good, you won’t have to do so. You will know when your intervention worked.” My final coup de grace to my lack of credibility with managers would be hedging the most straightforward conclusions with contingencies, followed by whining for the need for “more research.” People such as Billy Hoke and Mike Beer helped cure me of these ailments. In becoming bilingual, in learning to speak to managers in addition to researchers, I stopped doing “research” and I started doing “projects” and “interventions.” I stopped doing “statistical analyses” and I started doing “documentation.” Instead of presenting the results of a statistical analysis, I showed people graphs. Rather than refer to a control group, I showed what failed to occur in a comparison group. For example, when logging crews who set specific high productivity goals had lower performance than they had prior to setting them, I showed a graph that documented how productivity was significantly worse among those crews who did not set goals. My graphs would also display how a hurricane or flood can be a boundary condition, a moderator variable, and a situational constraint for productivity. I consciously worked on ways to phrase and present material in memorable ways. I used language to capture the attention and imagination of organizational decision makers with little concern on my part for the precision in language required by a scholarly audience. In time, I became bilingual.
5. Educate the other solitude. At the University of Washington and now at the University of Toronto, seldom have I passed up an opportunity to teach in a university executive program or an executive MBA course. As part of their education, I pose a question to the managers (e.g., Do you think bias can be minimized if not eliminated in a performance appraisal?), encourage strong debate (Why? Why not?), and then immediately involve them in an experiment to obtain the answer. The participants love the suspense, and I do too (e.g., Latham & Seijts, 1997).
As noted earlier, I served as President of SIOP in 2008-2009, the first to do-so as a citizen and resident of a country other than the U.S. ( Victor Vroom, a fellow Canadian, was a resident of the U.S. when he was elected President. An avid sailor, he owns a summer home in my native province, Nova Scotia. Because he is an avid musician, I requested him to join me on the stage during SIOP’s annual meeting, in New Orleans, to play “When the Saints Come Marching In” on his clarinet.) Having been President of the Canadian Psychological Association (1999-2000), I had learned the importance of setting and testing the viability of the goals I wanted to attain in the following year as President while I was President Elect.
Consistent with the emphasis I have placed on the value of mentors throughout my career, I formed an advisory group consisting of former SIOP Presidents, for ensuring institutional memory as well as providing me advice on the “here and now”: Ed Fleishman, Milt Hakel, Leaetta Hough, and Paul Thayer. By no coincidence, each of them had played a role in getting the vote out for my election as President. In addition to seeking feedback from these individual’s, I held focus groups.
Having heard the complaints of my mentors when I was in graduate school, having heard the complaints of untold SIOP Presidents subsequent to me joining Division 14 in 1972, and having been keenly aware of the events that led us, Division 14, to “break away” from the American Psychological Association (APA) to incorporate as SIOP, I took two steps to minimize the probability that I too would have difficulties with APA. I had concluded that APA’s treatment of SIOP can be characterized as “benign neglect” rather than malevolence. Thus my first step, soon after I took the reins of the Presidency, was to arrange a meeting at APA’s headquarters with the President, James Bray, our Executive Director, Dave Nershi, and me. I also arranged for Bray, the first to do so as an APA President, to give an invited address at our annual meeting. I took these two steps in order to minimize the ongoing misunderstandings that existed between our two organizations. The result was two-fold. SIOP had no unpleasant issues with APA that year, and APA subsequently invited me to give an invited address to a meeting of President Elects on how to serve effectively as a Division President.
The second step I took to minimize problems with APA was to initiate an alliance with the Presidents of other APA Divisions (e.g., measurement, social psychology, engineering, military) to guard against policies that might benefit APA clinicians yet harm us. Together we were able to get APA’s attention whenever they were planning to do something that was not in the best interest of other Divisions’ respective members.
When I became SIOP’s President at the conclusion of our 2008 annual meeting held in San Francisco, I presented four specific, challenging, goals to the membership.
1. Our first and arguably most important goal was for SIOP to move beyond the borders of the U.S., to place an emphasis on all of us worldwide who see ourselves as organizational psychologists, to bring to bear our knowledge and skills as scientists-practitioners on human resource issues of global concern.
Our April 2009 conference in New Orleans was a historic event. At our opening plenary session, Franco Fraccaroli, President of the European Association for Work and Organizational Psychology (EAWOP), Jose Maria Peiro, President of Division 1 (Work and Organizational Psychology) of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), and I signed a document creating the Alliance for Organizational Psychology. The purpose of the Alliance is to “globalize” our respective conferences and workshops, develop joint services for our respective members (e.g., reduction in membership fees), and most importantly, influence organizational decision makers (e.g., UN, WHO, Red Cross). (I set the stage for this historical movement while I was President Elect. At an EAWOP meeting, I asked for a meeting of SIOP, EAWOP, and Division 1 IAAP members to discuss the viability of an alliance among our three groups. At SIOP’s San Francisco meeting, I held a meeting with past and present EAWOP and SIOP presidents as well as the president of IAAP’s Division 1 to lay the ground -work for getting the Alliance off the ground as soon as I became President.) I chose John Scott, a full-time practitioner, to represent the Alliance to the United Nations. Milt Hakel is a SIOP “saint” because since leaving the Presidency in 1983, he has done everything from stuffing envelopes in the SIOP office to making the Alliance a reality. The Alliance would not have gotten off the ground without his leadership. He was deservedly elected as the first President of the Alliance.
2. Sometimes the gods smile. The year I was elected President of SIOP was the same year I was elected to the Board of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), with its 260, 000 members in over 130 countries. Hence our second goal was to bridge the gap between science and practice in HRM.
Nancy Tippins, a former SIOP President, agreed to my request to work with our Chair of Practice, Deb Cohen, who coincidentally is the Chief Knowledge Officer of SHRM. The two of them made this SIOP goal a reality:
- SHRM agreed to showcase our Frontier Practitioner series, at SHRM conferences.
- SHRM is publishing papers written by SIOP members for its members.
- For the first time in SIOP’s history, the President and CEO of SHRM addressed our annual meeting.
3. To impress upon the public that SIOP is the “go-to-organization” of choice for evidence based management, our third goal was to educate them. Hence we stole a page from the business schools – specifically, their page on executive programs. Business schools make literally millions of dollars a year from non-degree programs they offer to managers. What do B schools teach these managers? Not accounting or finance. They teach what we do. So why aren’t we, SIOP, tapping into this revenue stream? During my presidential year, we did. We adapted our 2007 fall Leading Edge consortium on innovation for a presentation to executives in Toronto, charging $800 to the University of Toronto alumni, $1000 per advanced registrant, and $1200 for those who registered on the day of the event. SIOP then split the profits with the UofT Rotman business school. We made more money that one day than we did for the 2007 LEC conference. Sadly, this initiative has not been continued.
Thanks to the efforts of Judy Blanton (RH&R) and Becky Turner (Alliant), SIOP partnered with the California Psychological Association to present a program to 200 technology executives that was simultaneously broadcast to 16, 000 business and technology viewers on the web. The topic was “How Executives Shape Organizational Culture to Boost ROI.”
Our fourth goal was to take concrete action on the results of our practitioner survey conducted in the winter of 2008 and reported in multiple issues of TIP. Why? Because our practitioners are our face to the public. It is they who apply the findings of our research on an on-going basis in the real world. It is they who distinguish us in the eyes of the public from other professions. If SIOP’s full-time practitioners do well, SIOP will shine in the C suite. If they do not, SIOP won’t.
(a) The Awards Committee, in conjunction with the Professional Affairs Committee developed an early career professional award.
(b) Dave Nershi, beginning with the upcoming fall LEC conference that year, initiated a pre-consortium event for practitioners to “share and network.”
(c) The Professional Affairs Committee, chaired by Mark Poteet, created a mentoring program for practitioners at our annual conference.
(d) TIP editor Wendy Becker created a column that showed where practitioners have been giving key note addresses. The object was to showcase the value and impact of our practitioners on the private and public sectors.
(e) Our conference program chair, Sara Weiner, encouraged sessions at the spring conference that showcased ways practitioners have impacted organizations.
A highlight for me as President was the SIOP Executive Board. Many Presidents may have enjoyed Boards that were as good as mine, but none enjoyed a Board that was better. No matter how thorny the issue, we came to meetings well prepared. We debated them vigorously and constructively. Never were there ad hominem remarks. As Jose Cortina pointed out, rarely did we take a vote. ( Jose Cortina served as SIOP’s President, 2014-2015.) Almost always we reached consensus. In addition, I benefited from a wonderful President Elect. I found Kurt Kraiger (2010-2011) to be a true team player.
In addition to the Executive Board (EB), I benefited immensely from Past Presidents who have yet to realize their term of office has ended. They keep on serving and serving SIOP. Ann Howard (1988) graciously agreed to come back and serve as Chair of the Fellows committee. Paul Sackett (1993) served as the inaugural editor of our journal, Industrial-Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice. Leaetta Hough (2008) served as President of the Foundation of Behavioral, Psychological and Cognitive Science. Paul Thayer (1977) served as President of our Foundation. I have already mentioned the help given by Nancy Tippins (2000) and Milt Hakel (1983). Together with the EB, these past presidents all but ensured SIOP would experience a highly successful year. In addition to the EB and Past Presidents, I benefited immensely from having a highly effective and efficient SIOP staff whose leader is our Executive Director, Dave Nershi. I am proud to call him a friend.
In my final hour as SIOP’s president, at our conference’s closing cocktail party, Virginia Schein and Jose Maria Peiro approached me to ask that I run for the presidency of Division 1, Work and Organizational Psychology, of IAAP. Shortly thereafter I began my 4-year term as President Elect and a member of the IAAP board of directors. In July, 2014 I begin my 4-year term as President.
About the Author
Gary Latham is the Secretary of State Professor of Organizational Effectiveness in the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. In addition, he is the President of Work and Organizational Psychology in the International Association of Applied Psychology, and a Past President of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology (US) and the Canadian Psychological Association. Among his many awards is election to the status of Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada.
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