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In a Sea of Change, McPhail Sets Course to Prepare I-O for the Future


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

SIOP President Mort McPhail challenged members to embrace and adapt to rapidly changing business and social environments during his closing plenary remarks at the recent 2016 conference in Anaheim.

Acknowledging that SIOP’s leaders and committed volunteers have accomplished a great deal in recent years he warned that more work is still to be done, “primarily because the world will not stand still but keeps presenting us with new challenges and opportunities.”

With all this change, he said SIOP and I-Os must be willing and able to adapt to both the rate of change and the changes themselves. 

 “Fortunately, our science has shown itself to be highly resilient, adaptable, and broadly applicable to emerging problems in organizations of all types,” he added.

To help prepare for these changes, McPhail listed four major goals for the coming year, including:

  • Celebrate what we have done already
  • Support work that is on-going and needs to be continued
  • Think deeply and carefully about the future to identify what may lie ahead
  • Identify roadblocks to our preparation and adaptation     

Among the accomplishments SIOP should celebrate, he offered: 

  • Developing an advocacy function and infrastructure in Washington D.C. to increase the awareness of what our field has to offer and to ensure our inclusion in policy discussions and research funding decisions
  • Obtaining status as an NGO with the UN, allowing us to weigh-in on issues such as “decent” work
  • Updating Guidelines for Graduate Education 
  • Linking SIOP with other professional organizations around the world through the Alliance for Organizational Psychology

However, there are initiatives that have not been completed and SIOP needs to maintain focus and bring them to fruition. Projects like:

  • The Police  Initiative through the advocacy team, an effort that was begun by Jim Outtz.  

“Moreover, with that initiative, we have demonstrated that we have the capacity to marshal expertise and resources to have an impact on the national stage,” McPhail said.  “We need to pursue the work Jim began and work with our advocacy team to identify and pursue other efforts like this one.”

  • Continuing initiatives to translate between science and practice such as the self-organization of members into communities of interest and advocacy and the new Practice Forum in IOP
  • Furthering the process of updating the Principles for the Validation and Use of Employee Selection Procedures.  This is a significant effort and will continue with all the care and diligence due such an important document.
  • The on-going column in TIP that explores the “Application of Modern Technology and Social Media in the Workplace” currently written by Nikki Blacksmith and Tiffany Poeppelman with Evan Sinar soon to replace Nikki.  

“I think their efforts will take on greater importance as we prepare for the future and need to be sustained,” he said of the TIP column.

Looking further down the road, he said “as a profession I think we need an enduring method for scanning the horizon, seeking input from a variety of sources. But this is a big job, and at this point we do not have a comprehensive, cohesive, consistent, and intentional way to go about this scanning or to organize and use the information we obtain.  I hope during this next year to develop an initial mechanism that will serve us as we seek to surf the wave of the future, rather than being swept up by it.”

As SIOP works to prepare for and meet the changes ahead, there will inevitably be hurdles to face. He cited one example--the on-going consolidation in the consulting industry--that may be particularly difficult and have a significant impact upon I-O. 

“Will this trend increase or decrease job opportunities for I-O psychologists?” he asked. “How will the nature of the work that psychologists in very large consulting firms change – or will it?  Will there still be room for small firms or even individual practitioners? The answers to questions like these may have important implications for the nature of education and training and for the aspirations of young psychologists just entering the workplace.” 

“No one can dispute that we live in a changing world where organizations and the work that people do in them are changing rapidly,” he said.  “Moreover, the rate of change appears to be increasing, both in the general environment and within organizations.”

He categorized change in three areas: on-going, just getting started and those on the horizon.

Among the on-going changes, he listed rapidly developing technological advances that impact things that are foundational to I-O, such as selection and training. These also include automated testing; virtual reality, gamification, and simulations; adapting training, expansion of virtual work environments; and increasing automation of higher-skilled jobs.

Even the effects of global climate change will affect organizations with new types of jobs, new technologies and geographies, and changes in risk profiles in multiple business sectors. All of this will lead to restructuring organizational priorities and strategic planning, he said.

In the category of changes just getting started he sees the collection of massive amounts of data having a huge impact on organizations and individuals as well as the interaction of virtual communication and teamwork.

Also, “we are only beginning to see the impact of social media on issues ranging from definitions of self-worth and privacy expectations to functions like selection and recruitment strategies and concerns about person-organization boundaries,” he said.

Further in the future, the growth of artificial intelligences may result in automation of many management functions. Also, the acceptance of terrorism as a continuing risk factor can
influence how organizations will act, he noted.

“Broad changes at the macro-level—climate change, economic trends, technology, and global security—ripple down to create changes that affect organizations and individuals.  Such change may result in the creation of entirely new enterprises, in new organizational designs, in new work structures, in new social interaction models, and in new human skill requirements and have other implications that we cannot yet even imagine,” he said.

McPhail said he plans to spend the next 12 months working toward these goals and hopes SIOP members will join him as the Society deals with today while watching for and shaping tomorrow.

Given all the challenges, McPhail expressed confidence in the future of I-O psychology. “This profession (I-O) is vital and energetic and continuously self-renewing.  Our science and its application has shown itself to be renewably relevant and consistently innovative,” he said.