I/O psychology in Workplace: Creating Jobs for Rapid Growth

While rapid growth of a corporation brings good news to shareholders, it also places challenges to executive managers. The expansion of business may push the current operational capacity to its limit in both facilities and the workforce. In this situation, managers and field workers would experience overwhelming pressures with straitened schedules and increased workloads, that could worsen work conditions, decrease work ethic, and break a favorable corporate culture. If this problem is not addressed, they will negatively affect product quality and customer service, and eventually hurt the company’s bottom line.

In order to control risks of rapid growth, the management team often implements various strategies to improve operational workflow. One commonly used strategy is to expand the workforce by adding new jobs. The task of selecting and hiring new workers is always challenging due to multiple dimensions and metrics involved in the process and outcome. To address issues and concerns about creating new jobs in rapid-growth companies, this article studies and discusses the following aspects of the topic: determination of the needs for new jobs to facilitate business growth, analysis of qualifications required for candidates of the new positions, the process of recruiting and hiring, performance appraisal of workers on the new jobs, and analysis of criteria for the job assessment.

Analysis of Job Demand

When business accelerates, the management team must act responsively to keep the growth on the right track and ensure sustainable growth and long-term profitability. A strategic approach starts from assessing current situation and business requirements. Hired by an organization, industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists review and evaluate business operations, employee capabilities, and work conditions in order to identify key issues in work environments and critical demands on human capital.

I/O psychologists utilize various methods and tools to collect data and analyze issues and problems of the workplace. Depending on the business type, orientation, and scale, an I/O psychologist may choose survey, observation, case studies, archival research, and so forth to investigate the workforce, workplace, management, and operations. According to Levy (2010), an I/O psychologist can wield a naturalistic observation technique through which he or she “unobtrusively and objectively observes individuals but does not try to blend in with them” (p. 36). In case studies, I/O psychologists usually exam an individual, a team or a division of the company, or conduct interviews with subject matter experts (SMEs) of a specific business function in order to drill down a perceived problem. Archival research is a helpful method used a great deal by I/O psychologists. This method relies on secondary data sets previously collected by individuals or organizations for the purpose of research on general or specific topics (Levy, 2010). In this case, I/O psychologists may use data from research on other rapid-growth companies in the same industry for comparative study, which may help to identify similar problems and lead to proven solutions.

The I/O investigation can discover specific issues and demands caused by business growth which may be driven by different factors. For example, the growth driven by increased sales may require investment in new equipment and expansion of workforce on production lines; innovation oriented growth would need to acquire new talents for support in research and development; for growth by globalization, the company would likely call for enhancement in many key areas such as international marketing and sales, public relations, and financial management. In many cases, the pain of rapid growth lays on a key business area where there is a shortage of human capital to meet ever increasing demands. Once the key area is determined, I/O psychologists should further conduct detailed job analysis and design new positions to fulfill the demands of business growth.

Analysis of Qualifications

Due to dynamics of today’s business, many rapid-growth companies need to create new positions to handle ever-changing demands in management, marketing, and technology. These new positions often require greater level of integration and diversification in job functions. For example, a new position of social media manager may require job functions across multiple departments of marketing, sales, public relations (PR), research and development (R&D), and information technology (IT). An employee on this position must demonstrate integrated skills and knowledge not only in management, but also in internet marketing, social networking, web technology, and social psychology as well. This phenomenon will certainly challenge I/O psychologists in job analysis and determination of required qualifications for the new jobs. The purpose of job analyses is to recognize all tasks required to perform the job and the conditions necessary for the tasks to be executed. Job analysis also identifies qualifications including knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) needed for performing the tasks under the given conditions.

In the first step of a job analysis, the I/O psychologist needs to distinguish primary job dimensions and the tasks to be done for each dimension, as well as systems, tools, and facilities needed to complete the tasks. All of the information can be gathered by collecting historical data on related jobs, interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs), and observing workers’ behavior and performance. (Aamodt, 2010).

After all tasks are properly identified, the second step requires the I/O psychologist to write task statements. Both task inventory and job description will use these task statements. According to Aamodt (2010), a well written task statement should “contain an action (what is done) and an object (to which the action is done)” (p. 50); furthermore, task statements usually include important components “as where the task is done, how it is done, why it is done, and when it is done” (p. 50). After all tasks are stated, they should be analyzed and rated based on the importance or criticality of the task being performed. The rating on a task determines whether or not it will be included in the job description.

The third step of job analysis is to identify knowledge, skill, ability, and other characteristics (KSAOs) needed to perform the tasks. Here knowledge refers to intellectual contexts needed to do the work, skills reflect the proficiency to execute a learned task, and ability is defined as the general capacity for completing various types of tasks, obtaining knowledge, or learning a skill. Other characteristics include variety of personal factors such as personality, motives, attitudes, willingness, interest, education, credentials, and experience. In general, KSAOs are referred to as competencies and they were used to be called job specifications. KSAOs reflect the desired qualifications for the new positions.

Finally, the job analysis should result in the job description. According to Levy (2010), a job description typically includes “the job title and descriptions of the tasks and machinery involved, and it sometimes includes information about the working conditions and physical environment, social environment, and conditions of employment” (p. 69). To make a job description valuable and useful, the I/O psychologist must describe the job in enough detail and with maximum accuracy so that correct decisions about hiring and training new employees can be made based on the job description. As Pavur (2010) stated, accurate job descriptions are crucial for filling new positions. If a rapid-growth firm needs to fill an executive position, the hiring team must “conduct a contextual job description and combine accurate job analysis with the leadership mandate” (p. 119) in order to generate high-quality prospects and locate a more successful executive.

The Hiring Process

A rapid-growth company usually recognizes urgent needs for new staff, thus it will create new positions to be filled by qualified applicants. The hiring process starts from recruitment which is the procedure of “generating a pool of qualified candidates for a particular job” (Gómez-Mejía, Balkin, & Cardy, 2012, p. 170). The company should form a hiring team which may include mangers, HR staff, and I/O psychologists, and the team must announce availability of the new positions to the market and attract qualified candidates to apply.

After résumés have been received, they should be screened by the hiring team to assess eligibility of applicants. Job descriptions and other data from the job analysis can be used to evaluate applicants’ qualifications. Only the most qualified applicants are selected for the interview. The hiring team should plan and structure the interview process in advance to make it successful. The interview process should be structured to incorporate an oral exam of subject matter and ability test. Interview questions should cover all dimensions of the job. Before interview, the interviewers should reach agreement on requirements of competencies for the position. The hiring team should focus on “the KSAOCs that interviews can assess most effectively, such as interpersonal or oral communication skills and job knowledge” (Pynes, 2009, p. 197).

Optionally, a standard assessment test may be given to job applicants for pre-hire screening. Depending on the position’s functionality, the assessment could be a job knowledge test, cognitive ability test, mechanical ability test, motor and sensory ability test, aptitude test, achievement test, integrity test, or personality test (Ajila & Okafor, 2012). Because new positions in a rapid-growth company may require higher level of abilities in communications, learning, and adaption to change, assessments by job knowledge test, cognitive ability test, and personality test are recommended. According to Hegebarth (2012), commonly used assessment tests “are validated by organizational psychologists and other experts, and are purported to be excellent predictors of on-the-job performance” (p. 31). Hegebarth (2012) also recommended an approach of hiring optimization which is a human capital management method to assist corporations in analysis of the relationship between pre-hire evaluation and observed operational performance. The hiring optimization method can help a company choose the right testing tools to predict future performance.

In the final selection process, the hiring team must decide which candidates are best fits for the jobs. Using the data of job analysis as the baseline, the hiring team should determine what characteristics are required for effective job performance thus they can use these characteristics to evaluate candidates’ status. A metric scoring system should be developed to help the decision makers to quantitatively measure each candidate’s qualification. Depending on candidates’ ranks and scores they earned in interviews and tests, the hiring team will use a pre-defined cut score to finalize the selection for job offer.

Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisal as a common human resource management tool is "an evaluative process involving the assessment of employee performance in light of predetermined standards" (Smither as cited in Mitchell, 2010, p. 82). To ensure continuous success of the employee on the new job, a performance appraisal should be conducted to provide the worker and the organization with “the systematic review and evaluation of job performance, as well as the provision of performance feedback” (Levy, 2010, p. 105).

The management, human resources (HR), and I/O psychologists should work together to design the performance evaluation aiming to encourage employees to grow professionally and to reach full potential in their work. They also should develop an appropriate rating format for performance appraisal measurements. Graphic rating scale is proven to be a reliable and convenient format thus it can be used in the evaluation of performance. In this format, raters assess how much of each particular trait or behavior the worker possesses or where on this dimension the worker falls with respect to organizational expectations (Levy, 2010). Because these positions may include new tasks for facilitating the company’s fast growth, and these tasks have not be evaluated previously, raters of performance appraisals should be trained to get familiar with the new job functions and subject matter knowledge. To minimize errors and improve accuracy, raters may be trained to enhance their appraisal skills. Two common training options are Rater Error Training (RET) and Frame of Reference (FOR) Training.

The integrity of a performance appraisal system depends on both managers’ and employees’ understanding on its objective therefore it is important for managers to review the appraisal results with employees. Using actual job performance as a basis for review, managers and employees can discuss developmental needs, career goals, and organizational objectives with a mutual interest. When managers and employees work together, they can use the performance appraisal to develop an action plan for each worker to enhance competency and advance career.

Criteria for Job Assessment

The management team needs to conduct a job assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of the new job in helping the company address its rapid growth. This assessment is very critical because the company needs to ensure its growth is properly facilitated and the return on investment (ROI) well managed. This assessment should be conducted sooner in order to identify issues and make adjustments as early as possible. However, the appropriate time of assessment may depend on the operational lifecycle thus it may be necessary to allow enough time for the new job to produce stable results. In general, four to six months after the start of the job should be sufficient.

The criteria of the assessment should quantitatively measure contributions of the new job to the company’s bottom line, which may include better financial data, improved business workflow, eased work conditions, and increased employee and customer satisfaction. With data collected from accounting, finance, and sales department, the assessment may determine how much the new position has helped meet the demand of rapid growth. A survey on employees in the related work areas can reveal the impact of the new job to daily operations. Field data in production may be collected to analyze the new job’s significance in improving productivity and customer service.

Discussion

The rapid growth of a business reveals success of leadership. Business growth brings both opportunities and risks. Adding new positions in key business areas can often facilitate business expansion and alleviate potential risks in production and services. Using scientific methods, I/O psychologists analyze business and social dimensions in workplace and operations thus they can determine critical issues and recommend practical solutions. Interview and observation are common techniques for data collection. To address the demands for rapid growth, I/O psychologists provide consulting services to help organizations for job creation through all stages including determining demands, job analysis, hiring new employees, performance appraisals, and job assessment.

Job analysis is the foundation of staffing process. The challenge for staffing growth oriented positions is that these new jobs involve new tasks, broadened functions, and diversified competency which may have not been evaluated, tested, or proven in the past. In a rapid-growth company, constant change is the norm thus the job itself is often a moving target, therefore knowledge and skills qualified for the right candidate are likely going to change as business and technology continue to evolve. In this case, I/O psychologies must develop specific metric criteria to measure the candidates’ KSAOCs to predict best performance.

Recruitment may be more difficult for rapid-growth organizations which tend to acquire workers in high demand thus the hiring team should use multiple recruiting channels to reach out potential employees. Systemic plan and procedure should be made for resume screening, interview, assessment test, evaluation, and selection. In addition to subject matter knowledge, a candidate’s communication skills, learning ability, and personality should also be evaluated to ensure the new worker will fit in the corporate culture and do the best job. Once a person is hired, the company should provide orientation and support to help the new employee jump-start.

After new jobs are started, it is important to conduct both performance appraisal and job assessment in order to track and evaluate the effectiveness of the new positions. Performance appraisal allows the company to document new employees’ work and help workers setup goals for improvement. Job assessment measures the new positions’ effects on catalyzing business growth and tracks financial return on human capital investment.

In summary, a rapid-growth company faces many challenges including workforce shortage. The management must take strategic actions to place best-fit workers on new positions to ease implosion of growth and ensure sustainability of long-term profit. With help of I/O psychologists, the company can effectively step though the complex processes to conduct accurate analysis, hire the right person, and correctly assess the results of new jobs. Using proven analytical methods and data collection techniques, I/O psychologists can build solutions to optimize business operation to its highest potentials.

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Ajila, C. O., & Okafor, L. (2012). Employment testing and human resource management. IFE PsychologIA, 20(2), 91-98.

Gómez-Mejía, L. R., Balkin, D. B., & Cardy, R. L. (2012). Managing human resources (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Hegebarth, K. (2012). Hiring optimization: Measuring the effectiveness of hiring tools on operational performance. Employment Relations Today (Wiley), 39(1), 31-36. doi:10.1002/ert.21352

Levy, P. E. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (3rd ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

Mitchell, L. D. (2010). Emotional responses to performance appraisal feedback: Implications for organizations. The Journal of Applied Business and Economics, (11)4, 82-108.

Pavur, E. R. (2010). Use job descriptions to support leadership. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 13(2), 119-122. doi:10.1080/10887151003776596

Pynes, J. E. (2009). Human resources management for public and nonprofit organizations: A strategic approach (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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