Last week was the 31st annual conference for the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP). Every year at this conference aspiring I/O psychologists, academics, and practitioners gather to share their research and discuss best practices. Select International had a large contingent of psychologists sharing their knowledge (with over 20 presentations) and attending sessions. We have pooled our knowledge and identified five big takeaways from the conference related to personnel selection and assessment.
1) Size Matters
When it comes to pre-employment assessments and mobile devices, screen size does matter for some types of assessments. Mobile testing has been a big topic of discussion for the past few years. This year, researchers continued to investigate different kinds of assessment methodologies to better understand if mobile candidates are being affected by the device. For simulations and items measuring cognitive ability, the research is consistently pointing in the direction of “YES.” In general, the findings suggest for sections that measure problem solving, analysis, and processing speed, candidates are performing worse as a result of the device (smaller screens are one of the factors contributing to the decline). Given the link between diversity and mobile devices, it’s important for organizations to be aware of their assessment content and the devices candidates are using.
Additionally, it takes candidates longer to complete assessments on mobile devices regardless of item type. This extra time can create frustrations and ultimately affect candidates’ reactions to the process and the organization. For now, it appears that some organizations are choosing to block mobile devices for some types of assessments or are providing strong warnings to their candidates. This seems like a smart move for the present time, but as time passes and technology continues to develop, devices other than PCs and laptops will only become more common. I’m sure this research topic isn’t going away anytime soon.
2) Technology Is Here To Stay
Following takeaway #1, technology – and not just mobile technology – isn’t going anywhere. There was a quite a bit of discussion about newer technologies being developed and how they can be used and/or leveraged for selection purposes. Two main discussions were happening, one involving those who were looking for innovative ways to use them and another highlighting the fairness and legal defensibility concerns of using doing so. Some of the new technologies discussed were wearable mobile devices such as Apple Watch and Google Glass, activity trackers, 3D video, voice and facial expression analysis, virtual reality (e.g., Oculus Rift), and augmented reality (Microsoft HoloLens).
Regardless of how one personally feels about the use of technology in the selection process, it is clear that it is only going to continue to advance and I/O Psychologists will be playing catch up for years to come. As a test developer, I learned that new assessments need to be flexible in terms of the devices on which they can be completed. New technologies will be adopted more and more with every passing year. To maintain relevance and competitive advantage, building for the future is a wise choice.
3) Big Data Is Getting Bigger
Data, data, data everywhere data. For many of us, our lives are being tracked and data are being collected on a regular basis. Every time you use your phone, take a step (with an activity tracker) or use your credit card, information is being stored. Large databases of information are now available for people to analyze to find interesting relationships and linkages. The field of data analytics is booming and there are new techniques for identifying patterns in data that were not available before. This opens up new avenues for predictors and understanding human behavior as it relates to job performance and other important outcome variables.
For many I/O Psychologists, stepping into the world of Big Data has felt a bit uncomfortable and unfamiliar. At SIOP this year, there were many sessions, including a 3-hour training, on Big Data techniques and how to employ them for use in our field. Discussions on the topic covered techniques and how to do it but also how to blend I/O theory and Big Data analysis to find meaningful and defensible information that could be used in practice. Given the personal and private nature of some data, it’s difficult to ensure that factors that could affect a protected group (e.g., gender, race, religion, physical and mental health status, marital status) are not used in the algorithms and decision-making.
Current legal guidelines require that all information used in personnel selection decisions is job relevant and applied fairly across all candidates. Big Data could easily gather information that is not considered to be job relevant and use it in the decision-making algorithm. Given this potential, a takeaway this year with regard to Big Data is to be transparent when using it. Know what is in the algorithm and how it’s being applied to your candidate pool. Be cautious of using variables that could share private information or could be used as proxies for age, race, and/or gender. It is clear that there is a lot of interest around leveraging Big Data and I/O psychologists are learning how to use it to their advantage. You’ll be hearing more about this in years to come.
4) Millennials Aren’t All That Different
Baby Boomers. Generation X. Generation Y. Millennials. All of these groups have been studied separately to find out what is different about each generation. This year’s SIOP included a discussion about Millennials in the workplace. In general, the conclusion was the same this year as previous generational research, they aren’t that much different! Survey data were shared that examined work/life balance and organizational commitment across the generational groups.
Surprisingly, Millennials don’t differ significantly from other groups with regard to these factors. Baby Boomers even reported higher importance for work/life balance. As younger workers enter the workforce and interact with individuals from older generations, differences are apparent and often noted by those experiencing the differences. However, at the end of the day, people are people and age and generation don’t seem to make much different in terms of the kind of employees people are going to be.
5) Pay Attention To Your Leaders
Good leaders can make or break an organization. Leaders are a key reason why some employees turnover in their jobs. As such, hiring great leaders, identifying great future leaders, and keeping great leaders is important to organizations. This year’s SIOP included quite a bit of research on leaders and leadership. Some nice takeaways include tips on leader characteristics, reducing leader turnover and how to handle high potentials. The first bit of information to highlight has to do with leader characteristics.
One research study examined humility or humbleness among leaders and how it relates to subordinate engagement and turnover. They found that humble leaders had more engaged employees and those employees were less likely to turnover. This relationship wasn’t found with leaders who lacked humility. This means look for leaders who don’t use their leader status in a powerful and authoritative way; find leaders who are open and self-effacing and collaborative. Subordinates are more likely to respond to that type of leader and stick around a bit longer.
Identifying future leaders is challenging. For many organizations, current role performance is often used as a key part of the decision-making process for identifying high potentials (future leaders). A session on high potentials discussed an assessment process that was able to identify a set of leader traits that organizations should assess when identifying high potentials: learning ability, creative thinking, competitive drive, managerial courage, and develops and empowers. The organization that assessed for these traits showed that leaders possessing these characteristics performed at a higher level than those who did not. The takeaway – if you’re involved in succession planning, look beyond current role performance and consider these traits in identifying future leaders.
Lastly, one final takeaway regarding high potentials. Once you’ve successfully identified your organization’s future leaders, be transparent with them about their status as high potential. One organization shared an unfortunate story about losing a high potential employee because he didn’t know he was on a track to be a future leader. So, he took another job. Other research supported this finding by showing that future leaders are less likely to turnover if they know they are part of a high potential program. What is the lesson learned? If you want to keep your leader talent, talk to them about it and make sure they know they are being groomed for future leadership roles.
To learn more about any of the topics highlighted above, click here to search the sessions/papers discussed. We also learned that Select International is conducting relevant and up-to-date research in all of these areas. We pride ourselves on staying abreast of the current trends and being part of the conversation. Even though SIOP '16 just ended, we're already looking forward to heading to Orlando for SIOP '17 next year!