Category Archives: Consulting

Perils of an I/O Grad Student Life

1) Lack of Work-Life Balance

One topic that Industrial/Organizational Psychologists study is work-life balance. However, I don’t study this topic, and I feel that I have no balance. It’s a lot of work, some social life, and almost no personal life.

2) Detriments to Occupational Health

I will probably get carpal tunnel or some form of permanent damage to the forearm muscle on my right arm and the area between the thumb and forefinger soon. Oh, and permanent lower back and trapezius pain.

3) Delays of Payment

As of May and June 2010, I’ve completed 2 paid Consulting Projects (subcontracts). I have received $0 from these endeavors. I’m completing one more at the end of July. We’ll see where I get money from first!

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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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Be Authentic

Today I had a brief chat with one of my supervisors, JM, about being a practitioner. And authenticity came up again.

I was telling JM that the more I read, I less I knew, and the more uncertainty there is. I was reviewing literature on diversity training in order to design a diversity workshop, but there’s inconclusive evidence of the effectiveness of the training. When you’re a trainer on a topic, people expect you to be an expert, but firstly, I don’t even feel like I am one (yet?). Moreover, you would think that there is evidence that what you’re going to do works. Why do it if it doesn’t work? Also, how would I sell myself to people who need problems solved or workshop designed if I have this “well, I could do something for you but I’m not sure if it’ll work” attitude.

But then JM said, “What did Block say?” “Block” is Peter Block, the author for our consulting book. I actually didn’t know what JM was talking about so I stayed silent (silence works, by the way). Then, JM said, “He said, ‘Be authentic.’ If you’re not 100% sure, that’s ok. At least your clients will know that you’re being honest with them. And once you become 100% on something, they’ll know you’re for sure.”

(Note: obviously profs, especially JM, don’t talk like that, but that’s how I’m paraphrasing it.)

That’s pretty insightful. However, JM has a tenured job in academia. So, when he goes out looking for consulting jobs, it’s almost like he wants to challenge and entertain himself (I think). But when I have zero credentials and I go out there and say, “I’m not sure if this is going to work” to potential clients, I don’t think it’ll fly.

Dilemma.

Addendum:

I just remembered that this issue of being authentic also came up with I did my run-through for the emotional intelligence (EI) workshop I am facilitating. I was so caught up in getting my “facilitation skills” right and that I had everything verbatim that I came across really unauthentic. My peers were concerned that, although my content was great, I wasn’t practicing what I preached, which was actually to “be authentic”! JLM said, “It doesn’t matter whether you use the facilitation skills or not. What matters is whether the students get a good experience. I think what would hurt you more is you not being yourself and not saying things like ‘crap’ than you being yourself and saying ‘crap’.”

Because I am a very informal person by nature (have you heard my “gangsta” talk?), I fear that I won’t come across sounding professional enough and that I’ll use inappropriate words. Luckily, at least with the group I am facilitating for EI, I can get away with saying things like “crap” and still be credible and respected…IF I can be authentic.

I think it’s about balance. Obviously the goal is to become more comfortable with the facilitation skills so that I can use them naturally, but for now, it’s balancing who I am with what I should do and give the best experience both to the participants and myself.

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