Advice from a Master Jedi Series – Part I: Practical Advice from Gary Latham

On March 25th, people in I/O psych and related fields/interests had the pleasure of meeting Gary Latham, a Master Jedi – he’s a big deal scientist-practitioner in the field of I/O psychology. Check out his CV here (which is longer than probably most of our theses).

Gary Latham at UWaterloo Psychology!

His claim to fame is his research in goal-setting theory (basically, anything you probably know about goal-setting probably has his name or Edwin Locke’s name associate with it). And although he did mention some of his research on goal-setting, what was most useful for us graduate students were his advice on becoming a consultant and also his advice on getting published.

Gary’s Practical Advice

1) Become a “Dr.”

Gary said that when he became a consultant at the age of 26, having a “Dr.” in front of his name carried the day. This idea was echoed by one consultant at the Sigma Assessment Systems Inc. She said that most of the time she has to give presentations to management or execs who are usually old men. And when you look young, having someone introduce you as, “Dr.” definitely carries weight.

2) Be bilingual.

You have to learn what managers want to hear when you’re trying to conduct a research project in their organization.

What a student would say, “I have a research idea.” or “I want to collect data.”

What Gary Latham, a savvy practitioner, would say, “I’ve got a solution to your problem.” or “I have a great project idea.”

Student: “We should randomize the people into different treatment conditions to ensure internal validity.”

Savvy practitioner: “We can’t do everyone at once, so why don’t we randomize? That idea just came to me!” or “If the manager selects who gets into which group, people would think there is favoritism. How about I randomize them?” or “I’ll select them so it’s fair.”

Student: “Can I record the data and publish it?”

Savvy practitioner: “You know what, I can get your company to ___. It’ll be so good that I’ll document it for free. You can charge me/get your money back if it doesn’t work.” or “I like you guys. I’ll even document this for free.”

3) Ask the right questions to get yourself a client.

Student: “Can I do research in your organization?”

Savvy practitioner: “Let’s go for coffee sometimes. I want to know more about your company. What’s driving you crazy these days? Who’s driving you nuts?”

Gary added that when you ask the latter questions, you seem to be asking open-ended questions but you should have specific answers in mind. For example, if you’re good at training, you want to hear your potential client complain about something that could be “solved” with training. Once they mention that, you pounce, “Oh, you know what, I can help you with that!” Deal!

4) Never show statistics. Always show graphs.

5) In the real world, practical significance wins over statistical significance.

An example of this was from one of his research findings. He was helping a company find ways to motivate employees and they were comparing giving employees more money versus giving them praises (and something else). What they found was that giving employees money was not statistically different from giving praises. However, from the organization’s point of view, giving praises is free! Guess which method got implemented?

6) To go far as a consultant and distinguish yourself quickly, you’ll have to find research intrinsically motivating.

Even when one goes into practice, Gary advises that one should still keep up with research, collaborate with academics in doing research in organizations, and present papers at SIOP. One of his PhD students got a consulting job but had a paper she could have presented at SIOP. He suggested that she did but she said she had no interest in doing so. He predicts that you probably won’t hear about her again.

7) Start schmoozing when you are about to come out into the market.

This one is both for consultants or hopeful assistant professors. If you schmooze too soon, big names won’t remember you because they meet too many people.

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