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I/O Psychology as a Part of Economic Development Organizations

As the world of work is becoming more open and aware to psychological concepts and how they relate business success, economic development organizations (EDO) should adjust or create new services to include in their economic development toolbox.

We know businesses are waking up to the value of psychologically-informed practices because industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologist occupations grew by 53% since 2012. Clearly, businesses recognize the need to assess their success in more ways than simply profitability. As the business world becomes more open and receptive to these topics, it is important that economic development organizations also tailor their services and toolboxes to accommodate these shifts in business focus.

Let’s talk about how Envision Greater Fond du Lac grew our (I/O) research program and what this means for our businesses. Before we get too deep in the weeds about how to create these programs, let’s quick review what I/O psychology is.

I/O psychology is essentially the application of psychological theories and concepts to workplace dynamics. This type of research provides insights and potential solutions to workplace concerns such as turnover, retention, employee well-being, and engagement. I/O psychologists look at questions of decision-making, effective communication, team interaction and collaboration, performance evaluation, workflows and systems, and more. Using the study of human behavior, I/O psychologists offer new perspectives to business owners on ways to measure and increase success and productivity.

So, where can an EDO begin when thinking about how to include I/O in their menu of services?

First, it’s important that the EDO work with their businesses to identify local business concerns. Before you know your endpoint (how you’re going to address concerns), you need to know where your starting point (what the primary concerns even are). This can be done informally or by using a more systematic approach. Informal conversations with businesses offer insight into what their struggles are. Perhaps your local manufacturers primarily struggle with turnover and retention concerns, or maybe the have worries about the culture of their workplace. If you aim to take a more systematic approach, you could conduct focus groups with business representatives to gain information on their workplace dynamics or even administer internet surveys.

Next, as an EDO you need to evaluate your internal capacity and the expertise of your team members. Think about the information you gathered from businesses. Are there common themes across industries, like turnover, retention, and culture? Use this information to identify your opportunities. Meet with your team to identify their specific skill sets. These skills could be a history in human resources, training in statistics and research, or a background in human services and psychological theory. Match your team members skill sets with potential offerings that align with the tenants of I/O. Consider your organizational capacity to include additional services. Would your current team members have the capacity to take on additional responsibilities? Are you already offering these services in an informal format, but could make them official? Could you hire an I/O psychologist or someone with similar knowledge and background? If you do not have the capacity, educate your team members on I/O psychology and stay up to date on current research and trends. Think about incorporating an I/O “mindset” into your day-to-day work.

Finally, it’s time to take the information you gathered in steps 1 and 2 and use that to create your menu of services. In our EDO, we’ve created specialized services to address turnover and retention; employee engagement; and culture, values, and beliefs. Some methods you could use to address these issues include surveys or interviews of past employees, employee focus groups, workplace surveys, company tours, observations of employees on-the-job, values and beliefs assessments, and systems analysis. These methods can be applied to various issues and concerns, so once you familiarize yourself with these processes, your EDO will be well equipped to utilize I/O methods in your daily practices.

Once these steps are completed, you’re ready to start your journey of integrating I/O psychology into your EDO! Any successful I/O program requires that you consistently monitor new research trends and articles, cultivate a creative mindset, and monitor your tendency to focus on profitability as a measure of success by emphasizing workplace dynamics as a predictor of profitability and workplace success.

For questions on how Envision Greater Fond du Lac has successfully implemented an I/O program, please contact Elle Henne, Director of Business Intelligence at [email protected] or (920) 921-9500.