Saturday, September 18, 2010
Every once in a while, an idea comes along...
Once in a while a research article comes along that revolutionizes or galvanizes the field of personnel assessment. Barrick & Mount's 1991 meta-analysis of personality testing. Schmidt & Hunter's 1998 meta-analysis of selection methods. Sometimes a publication is immediately recognized for its importance. Sometimes the impact of the study or article isn't recognized until years after its publication.
The September 2010 issue of Industrial and Organizational Psychology contains an article that I believe has the potential to have a resounding, critical impact for years to come. Will it? Only time will tell.
The article in question is by Johnson, et al. and is on its face a summary of the concept of synthetic validation and champions its use. As a refresher, synthetic validation is the process of inferring or estimating validity based on the relationship between components of a job and tests of the KSAs needed to perform those components. It differs from traditional criterion-related validation in that the statistics generated are not based on a local study of the relationship between test scores and job performance. Studies have shown that estimates based on synthetic validity closely correspond to local validation studies as well as meta-analytic VG estimates. Hence it has the potential to be as useful as criterion-related validation in generating estimates of, for example, cost savings, without requiring the organization to actually gather sometimes elusive data.
But the impact of the article, if I'm right, will not be felt based on its summary of the concept, but on what it proposes: a giant database containing performance ratings, scores from selection tests, and job analysis information. This database has the potential to radically change how tests are developed and administered. I'll let the authors explain:
"Once the synthetic validity system is fully operational, new selection systems will be significantly easier to create than with a traditional validation approach. It would take approximately 1-2 hours in total; employers or trained job analysts just need to describe the target job using the job analysis questionnaire. After this point, the synthetic validity algorithms take over and automatically generate a ready-made full selection system, more accurately than can be achieved with most traditional criterion-related validation studies."
Sound like a mission to Mars? Maybe. But the authors are incredibly optimistic about the chances for such a system, and it appears that it is already in the beginning stages of development. The commentaries following this focal article are generally very positive about the idea, some authors even committing resources to the project. The authors respond by suggesting that SIOP initiate the database and link it to O*NET. They point out, correctly, that this project has the potential to radically improve the macro-level efficiency of matching jobs to people; imagine how much more productive a society would be if the people with the right skills were systematically matched with jobs requiring those skills.
So as you can probably tell, I think this is pretty exciting, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.
I should mention there is another focal article and subsequent commentaries in this issue of IOP, but it's (in my humble opinion) not nearly as significant. Ryan & Ford provide an interesting discussion of the ongoing identity crisis being experienced by the field of I/O psychology, demonstrated most recently by the practically tie vote over SIOP's name. I found two things of particular interest: first, the fact that they come out of the gate using the term "organizational psychology" which deserves only a footnote (a fact pointed out by several commentary authors). Second, they take an interesting approach to presenting several possible futures for the field, from the strengthening of historic identity to "identicide."
Finally, I want to make sure everyone knows about the published results of a major task force that looked at adverse impact. It too has the potential to have a significant impact on the study and legal judgment of this sticky (and persistent) issue.