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Thought Leader Articles by Ralph Monley

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A Different Angle on Diversity

by Ralph Monley, 28 November 2019

Whilst we are appropriately fascinated by the mysteries of the brain and the complexity of the individual, it is also true that human beings are fundamentally social animals. Consequently, organisational psychologists have a long history of research, analysis and applications at the team level. We have all heard about group think and its dangers and we have read about self-directed teams and been excited by emerging high tech approaches like ‘sociomapping’ (used, for example, to analyse and track team relationships in a Mars voyage simulation).

Writing on diversity has mostly followed on from concerns about discrimination, whether on grounds of sex, race, marital status, religion, sexual preference and so on. Psychologists have often promoted the use of tests, at least in part, on the basis that, unlike the interview, a test is blind to these aspects of the candidate and can instead focus on the abilities or personality factors of greatest relevance to the job or the required competencies. General research on diversity at the team level has found that greater diversity increases the creativity and capacity for innovation of the team. Balancing this is the finding that too much diversity can undermine team cohesiveness. But this type of generalisation does not get us very far. I also take the view that recent developments in identity politics run the risk of taking group identity to unhelpful extremes, as described in recent books such as The Coddling of the American Mind and The Madness of Crowds. You may be able to have safe spaces and trigger warnings on campus, but these are less likely to be available in company or organisational environments.

The different angle on diversity that I have found more practically useful is the idea of different roles or functions that the team needs to cover – psychological diversity, if you like. This first came to my notice in the 1990s with the work of British psychologist Meredith Belbin. He (yes he is male; the British in their quirky way were early in not being too bound by gender traditions when naming their children) identified eight types and gave them the names of Chairman, Shaper, Plant, Company Worker, Team Worker, Monitor-Evaluator, Resource Investigator and Completer-Finisher. Each of these team roles was associated with characteristic types of personality. The names are a little idiosyncratic, but essentially the Chairman took the leadership role, the Shaper brought a drive for results, the Plant was the source of ideas, the Company Worker brought specific professional skills and company knowledge, the Team Worker looked after interpersonal relationships, the Monitor-Evaluator offered critical analysis of plans, the Resource Investigator was typically the sales person with a commercial focus on influencing, while the Completer-Finisher looked after details and tied up loose ends. A later addition was the Implementer, whose primary contribution was their organising skills. This psychological diversity meant the team was able to handle the full range of challenges more effectively than any individual. My experience with this approach was through SHL who, via their Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ), were able to provide a reading on a candidate’s preferred team roles. Belbin also developed his own questionnaire. In all these models the individual can typically fulfil several roles, so the size of the team is not unduly restricted.

More recently, I have had practical experience with the Hogan approach to team analysis. As you may know, the Hogan suite of personality questionnaires consists of three instruments: the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), Hogan Development Survey (HDS) and the Motivation Values Preferences Inventory (MVPI). In addition to their application at the individual level, the results can be analysed at a team level. Hogan identifies five roles: Results, Pragmatism, Innovation, Process and Relationships. Briefly, the Results role is taken by people who organize work, clarify roles, coordinate, and provide direction for others; Pragmatism identifies people who provide practical, hard-headed evaluations of ideas and proposals; Innovation is where people recognise when conditions have changed and when the team needs to adapt; Process is where people are concerned with implementation, the details of execution, and the use of processes and systems; and finally Relationships identifies people who are concerned about morale and how team members are getting along. These classifications are based on the HPI. The second instrument (HDI) gives us additional helpful information on likely team derailers – essentially the team’s likely non-adaptive responses when heavily stressed. The final measure (MVPI) gives us a flavour of the team culture, for example whether it is altruistic or competitive. When applied during a consulting project, this proved a powerful discussion focus for the executive team of a prominent resource company. It enabled, for example, identification of situations where critical roles were under-represented or unfilled, representing gaps that the team needed to manage.

A final option for diversity that is gaining attention is the area of neurodiversity. Many people with neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and dyslexia nevertheless have extraordinary skills. These may include pattern recognition, memory and mathematics. A growing number of companies, including SAP, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and Microsoft have introduced programs to access this talent and have seen productivity gains, quality improvement and boosts in innovative capabilities. Past recruitment and selection practices tended to screen out these candidates and have had to be revised and adapted. One of the challenges that organisational psychology can assist with is in helping develop non-interview assessment processes and advise on how to set up support systems.

References:
Radvan Bahbouh (2012). Sociomapping of Teams (translated by James Critz).
Meredith Belbin (1981). Management of Teams: Why They Succeed and Fail
SHL: www.shl.com
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathon Haidt (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind
Douglas Murray (2019). The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity
Hogan Australian Authorised Distributor: www.peterberry.com.au
Robert D Austin and Gary P Pisano Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage Harvard Business Review May-June 2017


Productivity – Can Organisational Psychologists help?

by Ralph Monley, 25 September 2019

Productivity is very much in the news, with recent advocacy from the Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and the head of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, amongst many others. Productivity is seen as a key driver of economic growth for the national (indeed global) economy. It impacts on competitiveness, living standards and wages. A broad definition of productivity would encompass the extent to which the workforce, with the adoption of things like new technology or more flexible working arrangements, can produce more goods and services per person for the same or lower cost. The usual levers are in the industrial relations sphere, in infrastructure spending and through investment in research and development.

Can Organisational Psychologists help? Yes we can! I can readily cite two areas where we have already made a major contribution, one fairly well known; the other quite famous. The former comes out of the work on the utility of selection processes. The paper that perhaps presented this with the greatest impact was that by Schmidt and Hunter (1998). Citing 85 years of research in personnel selection, they used meta-analysis to confirm that the most valid predictor of future performance and learning is general mental ability, i.e. intelligence or general cognitive ability. They found that combining this with a work sample test, an integrity test or a structured interview produced validity coefficients of between .63 and .65. This finding certainly bolsters the case for the use of ability or aptitude tests in selection. And other research makes a similar case for relevant personality traits (e.g. Barrick and Mount, 1991). It is well established, for example, that the Big Five trait Conscientiousness predicts success in just about every type of job, whilst trait Extraversion is a valid predictor for occupations involving social interaction, such as sales and management.

Schmidt and Hunter also specified significant monetary value arising from differences in performance. The standard deviation of the dollar value of output has been found to be, at minimum, 40% of the mean salary of the job. So, if the average salary for a job is $80,000, then this figure would be $32,000. This means that workers at the 84th percentile produce $32,000 more than average workers (those at the 50th percentile). They also found that a superior manager or professional produces output 48% above average. These differences are large when multiplied across an enterprise and certainly factor into the economic health of the organisation. Wider application across the economy would clearly impact productivity.

Let us now look at the more famous example. As far as I am aware only one psychologist has ever won a Nobel prize – and that was in Economics! (There is, of course, no Nobel prize for psychology.) It was won by Daniel Kahneman in the field of behavioural economics, more specifically in relation to judgement and decision making. Whilst much of his research was in partnership with his colleague Amos Tversky, unfortunately the latter had died and was therefore not eligible to share in the prize. Books like ‘Nudge’ and ‘Thinking, fast and slow’, detail this research. Whilst most of us probably feel that it’s obvious that the rational decision maker of classical economics is a very rare bird indeed, behavioural economics research has been able to identify a number of biases in our decision making.

One such bias is optimism and overconfidence. A class in managerial decision making is asked, “In which decile do you expect to fall in the distribution of grades in this class?” Students can choose the top 10 percent, the second 10 percent, and so forth. These students well know that in any distribution, half the population will be in the top 50 percent and half in the bottom. So only 10 percent of the class can, in fact, end up in the top decile. Instead, what happens is that typically less than 5 percent of the class expects their performance to be below the median and more than half the class expects to perform in one of the top two deciles. Similarly, most people believe they are above average drivers and have an above average sense of humour! This again reinforces the need for objective, scientific evaluation of situations.

I am sure there are many more areas where organisational psychology can boost productivity. I am thinking of the work on leadership, organisational culture and team composition – just for starters!

References:
Schmidt, F. & Hunter, J. (1998). The validity and utility of selection processes in personnel psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 262-274.
Barrick, M.R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The Big Five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44(1), 1-26
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Penguin Books
Thaler, R. & Sunstein, C.R. (2009). Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness.


SIOPA Stack of balanced rocks

The replication crisis and its implications for Organisational Psychology

by Ralph Monley, 24 August 2019

Despite living in these days of ‘Fake News’, we organisational psychologists have always prided ourselves on our evidence based approach. We have defined organisational psychology as the ‘science of people at work’. Then along comes what is known as the ‘replication crisis’. Briefly, this is the discovery that when researchers have gone back and tried to replicate a range of famous findings in the social sciences, they have not been able to do so. This potentially undermines our confidence in our knowledge and the foundations of our professional practice. What should we do? Do we just accept that all knowledge is relative and that for every set of facts there is an alternative set of facts?

Definitely not! A recent ABC ‘Big Ideas’ program shows us that we can respond much more positively. The program was entitled ‘Sharing science for the good of all’. The speaker was Brian Nosek, Executive Director @ Center for Open Science, and he spoke of how we can address the issue by striving for complete transparency in a process known as ‘Open Science’. The values and norms of science include the sharing of information and the establishment of credible findings through a review of the evidence and the inferences made from it. This is the opposite of relying on authority or the ‘just trust me’ approach.

There are some inherent conflicting motives within scientific research and these must be addressed rather than ignored. For example, we strive to achieve findings that are disinterested, yet researchers are also motivated to get ahead in their careers. This may be restated as, “What is best for me?” versus, “What is best for science?” There are definite incentives that encourage publication, as this is often, most obviously in academic settings, the basis for career advancement. And not everything gets published. There is a preference for positive results, novel findings, underpinned by a narrative that is neat and tidy (with few, if any, messy exceptions). In fact, if we take a longer perspective, we recognise that scientific progress comes in fits and starts and ideas can initially be unclear or incomplete. The strengths and weaknesses of theories and research emerge over years and not in individual papers.

So what are some of the features of ‘Open Science’? In simple terms one is sharing your data and your reasoning, with the entire process able to be evaluated. Full transparency can make replication possible and allow the self-corrective methods of science to work. A framework has been developed and adopted by 168 journals. This involves more initial peer review after the design phase, with the ability to question methodology and early experimental findings. A proposal is developed to which reviewers and editors give in principle approval. This changes the incentives and puts the emphasis on the questions being asked and the methodology employed rather than on the results. So what has happened? In the standard literature the positive results were running at 80-95% of the total, whereas this new approach has led to about half negative results. These negative results were always there, but were being screened out by the publication process. There has been no disadvantage in terms of citations. In fact the research has been cited more frequently.

A ‘badge’ has been introduced for research that conforms to these principles. Sounds trivial right? But let’s look at its effects. The journal Psychological Science initially had 3% of articles so badged in 2012. By 2014 that had risen to 39%. In 2019, 90% have open data. We can therefore have greater confidence in the findings presented and continue with the aspiration to make our understanding, our techniques and our overall practice of organisational psychology scientific and evidence based.

A note of reassurance. Tage S Rai found in a recent article that 87% of 78 previously published articles linking Big Five personality dimensions with life outcomes effects replicated successfully.

Reference: Tage S. Rai Science 26 Apr 2019 Vol 364, Issue 6438 pp 348 DOI: 10: 1126/science. 364.6438.348-b
See also: Center for Open Science website.