Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Psychology in the Asian Workplace

Sometime back i wrote about the fantastic journey that started at the mega-corporate. That journey continues to bring excitement. As i look back over the past 9 months, and shuffle through the numbness of how work sometimes stifles creativity, I ponder about the many reasons why its becomes so darn difficult to write a decent blog while working.

During lunch last week (and numerous other times) i was asked if i “can read minds”. I had an ah haa moment at that point, that showed me that people no matter how “modern” they claim to be, have no freaking clue who a psychologist is. At least not in Malaysia. This my friends is REALITY.
I am in a position to educate people about this special kind of mind readers. Morons, psychologists don’t read minds. Yes, they do become very sensitive to inferring subtle behaviors that might otherwise be missed out.

As a student of psychology, i would like to dedicate today’s post to explain how I/O psychologists evolved, what they currently do, how they can add value to a organization, and what the future is for I/O psychology in Malaysia.

I/O Psychologists are people are interested to study the interaction (Thoughts, feelings, and Behaviors) between humans (who sometimes act like animals) and the workplace. Why? Because more and more organizations realize that human capital development directly influences the bottom line. The humble I/O psychologist belongs to this ambitions group.

Industry perception of the I/O Psychologist has been not been positive, specially in growing markets such as Asia, where industries are motivated by cheep labor and a general inadequacy of legislation relating to employee health and wellbeing. Psychologists are thus, perceived as people with lot of “fluff” (mumbo jumbo at best) with no real operational experience.

The purpose of this article is to provide psychology students like my self some realistic background on what we can offer an organization and how best can I/O psychologists add to the organizations value proposition.

The Development of I/O Psychology:

The history of I/O psychology can be traced back to a time frame during the industrial revolution. It was at this time, when the research question relating to how an organization is able to effectively manage many thousand employees arose. Though the setting of this early history was derived from systematically observing manual labor, around the factory setting, and then redesigning the workflow, the basic premises of this theoretic model became the building blocks of modern I/O Psychology.

During World War 1, the focus of I/O Psychologists made a major shit in focus and dealt with the question of which people should be hired to perform all the new jobs created. Of course, by this time, the industrial revolution and the society that supported it, was changing radically. Un-validated tests measuring cognitive ability, psychomotor, and personality was developed. These tests would later lay the foundations to I/O psychology. The modern form of hiring experts are born.

As i write this blog, WWIII has come and gone. Society has changed. “work” has been redefined over and over in complex ways. The need for professionals understanding human performance in the workplace and determining how to best hire and promote employees became most important.

So how do these special breed of Psychologists add value to an organization? I have listed below areas in which an I/O Psychologist is able to add value.

The organization understands that strategic development and management of a business does need the help of a scientist. Case studies of compliance issues in the area of racial discrimination, social justice etc, are areas that Psychologists spend years training. Psychologists are also better able to communicate and change existing cultures. Being architects of human behavior adds value to the globalization of work. Psychologists everywhere are increasing the dialogue between very senior management and junior employees by representing the complexities of each side to the other in a manner that is understandable.

So, if you are pondering, “How can a I/O Psychologist really add value in the HR function”, below is a list that can help you bring some understanding. I will not go indepth into each area as they deserve write ups by them selves.

The grand list, and by no means exhaustive, is:

-Recruiting and Staffing
-Leadership Development
-Training and Development
-Performance Management
-Compensation
-Organizational Development
-Survey Work
-Change Management
-Counseling
-Workplace Violence
-Employee Wellness
-Statistical Analysis and Methodologies

So, is there a future if you become a I/O Psychologist in Asia?

In Asia, probably not. Not for the next 10-15 years. Global organizations choose regions such as Asia for the simple reason of it being cheaper than else where. Hence, it is highly unlikely that organizations would be too keen on hiring expensive specialists in this region.

But, that’s no reason why you should not become an I/O psychologist. Entrepreneurs are now turning to Psychologists for ideas to solve the work problem of a modern Asia.

In addition, there is a boom in mid size organizations taking on the services of the I/O psychologist to boom. Mid size HR research organizations, Organizational change management companies, etc all look for the specific talents that these students of psychology carry with them.
The perception of the Psychologist will soon change in Malaysia as key regional players such as Singapore, Japan, and AnZ push forward with advanced forms of human capital management.

If you feel differnt about the development of I/O psychology in Asia, then pls share your thoughts.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sunset in Sri Lanka : A Tribute


As i read Eugene O’Kellys book “Chasing daylight” my thoughts drift to my own dad who like Eugene once did, stands at the edge of darkness. Like for Eugene, Dad has been taken over by a tumor that is about the size of a baseball. Unlike Eugene though, Dads condition is marked with profound confusion and pain.

Days pass, and as i reflect on my own journey so far, it is hard not to search for the meaning that life as we know it offers. As my days with the giant corporate pass by, i increasingly feel more and more numb about the things that i once used to love doing. I am reminded a close friends favorite quote (perhaps from Eugenes own wisdom), “begin with the end in mind”. Had dad known that his end would be turbulent, how different would he have lived his life? I wonder then if this perhaps in his own way, is his own life lesson for me.

Dad is not my hero. He lived in a way that pleased him. His decisions on his own desires. In many ways he lived a life that of his own. Unlike Eugene, he didn’t want to share his lessons, encourage, or be inclusive. Dad is private. His relationship was very much absent from my own life, yet, perhaps he thought me the profoundest lesson, of all what i should never be to my own children. Perhaps then, ironically, his influence on me is deep. When you juxtapose the influence of experience and consequential learning that follows, you derive meaning of a future that in which his influence has been nothing short of magnificent.

Dad moves towards the end of his book. The final chapter teaches me that i need to live each day of my life and only then will my book bring meaning in the end.

I held my fathers hands for the first time ever (he has never held mine). He squeezes them tight and his tears start rolling. He and I both know that his final chapter is magnificent.