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SIOP’s Visibility Committee Informs Non-I-Os How Big Data Can Benefit Business


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

SIOP’s Visibility Committee Informs Non-I-Os How Big Data Can Benefit Business

Translating mountains of data into smart decisions involves balancing discovery through data digging, defining needs, asking the right questions, determining the appropriate data set, and analyzing the results to implement a successful business strategy.

Harnessing all that information to its fullest advantage was the focus of presentations by three SIOP members at a preconference program at the University of California at Irvine April 13.

The event was another in the Visibility Committee’s “Top Minds and Bottom Lines” series that is conducted to raise awareness about I-O to non-I-O HR and business practitioners and graduate students and to demonstrate how I-O can benefit their organizations.

The UC Irvine program was titled “Making Sense of Big Data: How I-O Psychologists Use Big Data to Drive Smarter Business Decisions” and featured presentations by Alexis Fink, general manager of Talent Intelligence and Analytics for Intel Corporation; Rick Guzzo, partner, Mercer and co-leader of Mercer’s Workforce Sciences Institute, and Sara Roberts, cofounder and principal consultant of Category One Consulting, in Omaha, NE.

(In the photo on the left moderator Jolene Skinner and panelists Rick Guzzo, Sara Roberts and Alexis Fink discussed making sense of big data at the Top Minds event at UC Irvine.)

Jolene Skinner, global director of Engagement and Culture at Sitel Corp. in Nashville, TN, moderated the program, which was attended by local business professionals and graduate students. Jone Pearce, dean’s professor of Organization and Management at UC Irvine, coordinated arrangements for the event and welcomed participants.

In her presentation, Fink listed key steps to data success and said “it all starts with asking the right questions and identifying the right method to answer the questions.”  That is followed with the task of locating or generating the data to answer the questions, she explained.

Perhaps the most important step, and one that I-Os are especially trained to perform, is effectively and appropriately analyzing the data. Whereas statisticians can crunch big numbers and spot trends, what I-O psychologists bring to the table is the training to think critically about human behavior and what that dimension adds to the process, she said. She added that when mining data, it is likely some really interesting information will be revealed but shouldn’t take away from the real goal of making a difference to your organization.

“Keep focused on value,” she advised.

Roberts started her talk by asking the audience if their organizations considered it important to use data to inform decisions or use data to inform employees about those decisions. The answers were mixed, perhaps an admission that some organizations may be missing out on the advantages of using data to support decision making.

She cited a few real-world examples of how data can be used to answer questions and drive decisions. One company wanted to improve sales performances and wondered if their sales training program was effective. A company involved in a merger wanted to know if there were cultural gaps between their company and the company it acquired. Yet another organization used a data study to determine if their top performers were at risk of leaving.

She said it is always important to start with a question, problem, or decision; don’t start with the data or analyses. The most effective way to utilize data is to ensure that the appropriate research methods, data sources, sampling techniques, measurement tools, and statistical analyses are all being used, she added.

Guzzo said that while many organizations base decisions on benchmarking and best practices what works best for an organization is big data analytics and finding and leveraging uniqueness revealed in the research.

Data can belie human assumptions if carefully analyzed. He cited a study of voluntary turnover at a bank where management thought that pay and workload were the reasons people were leaving. A study of turnover drivers revealed that opportunity and stability mattered more to employees, a finding that called for a shift in strategy to maintain the workforce.

Held in conjunction with SIOP’s annual conferences and Leading Edge Consortia, previous “Top Minds” sessions have taken place in Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston.

Mark Rose, past chair of the SIOP Visibility Committee, said each Top Minds event has focused on different topics and has met its goal of attracting non-I-O psychologists to learn more about how industrial-organizational psychology can impact their organizations.

“Also, the events are the first time some of the undergraduate and graduate students have been exposed to I-O, and they may influence their decisions to pursue a career in our field,” he said.

The topic for the Top Minds event was similar to that of this fall’s 12th Leading Edge Consortium titled “Talent Analytics: Data Science to Drive People Decisions and Business Impact.” The LEC, which will be held October 21-22 in Atlanta, will showcase the power and promise of combining organizational science and new or emerging methods in data collection, analysis, and display to deliver game-changing insight for organizations. To learn more about this year’s consortium, visit the LEC page or read a full story here!