Marc Effron Shares a Practitioner’s Wishlist for I-O Research

How do practitioners learn about our research? What topics and questions do they wish we would research? How can we communicate our research more effectively? In this episode, I speak to Marc Effron, talent management consultant and author of One Page Talent Management about these questions and many more.

Guest Bio

Marc founded and leads The Talent Strategy Group and consults globally to the world’s largest and most successful corporations. He co-founded the Talent Management Institute and created and publishes TalentQ magazine. He co-authored the Harvard Business Review Publishing best-seller One Page Talent Management and 8 Steps to High PerformanceHis prior corporate experience includes senior talent management roles at Bank of America and Avon Products. His prior consulting experience includes starting and leading the Global Leadership Consulting practice at Hewitt Associates. He has an MBA from the Yale School of Management. For Marc’s complete bio, click here.


This transcript is AI-generated and may contain inaccuracies. Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

[00:00:00] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Hello, and welcome to Department 12, where we talk about anything and everything I-O psych. I’m your host, Dr. Ben Butina and joining me today is Marc Effron. How are you today, Marc?

[00:00:10] Marc Effron: Doing great, Ben. Happy to be here.

[00:00:12] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: And thank you for being here, Marc. You are the founder and president of the Talent Strategy Group, which provides consulting to the world’s largest and most complex organizations.

You also published TalentQ, a magazine focused on providing talent leaders with science-based insightful and practical information to make critical talent decisions. And you’re also the author of 8 Steps to High Performance and the highly influential One Page Talent Management. You can check the show notes for a complete bio and links to Marc’s world. For now, though, let’s just jump into this.

So Marc, in One Page Talent Management, you introduced the concept of science-based simplicity. You advise your readers, when you design an HR process, you’ve got to start with the proven science. So in that way, you’re really the poster boy for what we I-O psychologists are always going on about, which is, we want informed practitioners who consult the science and apply it to solve real world problems.

So I’d like to start this conversation by asking about your process for this. How do you learn about the science?

[00:01:11] Marc Effron: First, let me start by saying, I so much appreciate all the incredible research that has been done over the past many, many, many years. And for any of your listeners who are actually doing it, it is your work that allows me to do my work.

And I think it’s probably the foundation for the question, which is that I start by reading through whatever is going to inform the problem that I’m trying to solve. Now, some of it I’ve read through a lot, so I don’t need to do it again. Things like performance management or potential.

But when we say science-based simplicity, it means. If we’re trying to solve a problem, like how do we focus people on higher performance? Well, then let’s go look at all the great signs that tells us how to do that, whether that is around goal setting or coaching or anything else and understand first is anything absolutely proven to work. So is there a kind of. Regrets just do this or is there even directional advice? Well, you might not know exactly what to do, but you know, to go Northeast instead of going Southwest. So when we say start with the science it really means that do we already know something from the most conclusive science out there about how we should design a particular human resource practice and the art after that is the simplicity piece.

The science piece is actually relatively straightforward. The sciences there words. The simplicity piece is saying, how do we take this really good advice and make it unbelievably easy for busy managers too?

[00:02:40] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: What tools do you use?

[00:02:42] Marc Effron: Normally in the short run, Google. And then Google Scholar. That’s going to point me normally to something I can get from PsychInfo or maybe there’s something I can get directly from Google Scholar, but the, the most common one, two step is start a Google scholar and go to PsychInfo.

[00:02:59] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: You do a lot of research on new challenges, new problems. I’m guessing there are times where the literature just doesn’t provide you with the answers that you were looking for. Could you share with us for our benefit as an I-O community?

What are some topics or questions that you just wish we would work on?

[00:03:17] Marc Effron: My answers that question of fall under the category of more holistic solutions.

And I understand from a research perspective, you have to start with a core hypothesis. You can’t say what allows success at work. But the challenge is then what we as practitioners end up with a call them bricks. Now that’s in a good way. We ended up with a bunch of bricks. But nobody’s organized those bricks into a wall and most practitioners either aren’t able to or aren’t willing to do that.

Everything that I’m going to find valuable is more holistic. Let’s start with potential to advance. Now you can piece together the literature in there, and there are some actually comprehensively. Around what allows people to be successful at work. And it’s going to say, well, it’s intelligence and select personality factors in and out.

My buddy, Alan Church has done a lot of great work on that, but there isn’t an act at least that I know of an academic model of potential that says here, What it is, and here’s the confidence we have in that. And again, not looking for absolutely predictive, but at least a model that says in general, it’s this, and it answers this much of the variants of this much of the question that we have part of that also goes to there’s.

That I’ve seen holistic research to say, not only what does an individual bring to the table in terms of potential, but how do we measure different types of fit with different either organizational cultures, organizational strategic challenges? Because I think a lot of times we have this very well, especially among practitioners.

It’s very one-sided debate now, high potential or not high potential. It’s like, well, I don’t know, high potential for an entrepreneurial environment. I’m potential for a turnaround. High-potential orient thrive a lot of change. And it would be great to see a more holistic model that said both from an individual and an organizational point of view.

Here’s what allows people to succeed in a variety of challenging situations.

[00:05:17] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I’m hearing you right, you would like to be able to sit down with some research that shows here’s a holistic model of potential. With various dimensions of what potential could mean potential in fast moving environments, potential and more stable environments potential for this potential, for that be able to go down, you know, work, maybe a table or something and say, okay, well, here are the characteristics that we’re looking for. Here’s the recipe, you know, it’s, it’s general cognitive ability plus conscientiousness plus whatever for, for this. And it’s openness to experience plus intelligence for this kind of potential something like that.

[00:05:48] Marc Effron: Absolutely. There’s a, there’s a decent mentor information again from the individual side. Hey, a little more extroversion are likely going to be a little more successful in sales roles. Okay. But that still doesn’t tell me. Okay. Sales role in any company that the organizational side still seems to be missing. And part of it, I think is . There’s not a sorting of the variety of organizational situations against which we should assess people.

So there’s no categorization to say, look, organizations tend to exist in five different forums. Let’s assess potential against those five forms an organization might take, or the five challenges that an organization might be going. And there might be nothing there. It could be that there is, there’s nothing to assess because you can’t categorize our organization that way, but it does feel like there must be some additional level of granularity that we can get to around , maybe we call them scenarios in our organization.

[00:06:45] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: We have a tendency to just say, okay, well, here’s the sample we did this study on and we kind of leave it to the reader to decide whether or not it’s going to generalize to the experience that they have, but maybe coming up with some kind of categorization of organizations so that we could be able to.

You know, large, complex for-profit organization versus a small service delivery, nonprofit organization and categorize things that way.

[00:07:11] Marc Effron: So the answer is there’s no variability, maybe, maybe it’s no organizations or monolithic beings. It does not matter. That’s what we’ll answer as well, but let’s get to an answer or move towards an answer.

That’d be incredibly helpful for the practitioner community, because potential is the last big unanswered question. Thanks to all you smart IO, Sykes. We already know the answers to a bunch of questions that we need to deal with every day. Potential is still that last half answer. That best question that HR leaders struggle with every single day.

[00:07:46] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: What other topics or questions do you think we should focus on that you just haven’t seen the attention paid to?

[00:07:51] Marc Effron: Let’s go into diversity. I haven’t seen a lot of great research on either gender or racial diversity.

 And I think there’s a challenge in the workplace that we can split diversity into social goods and, and scientific research. And I think most of us would say hopefully all of us, but most of us would say that diversity is a very good thing and there should be more of it to have a fair and equitable workplace.

Now that’s different than. Is there an optimal bull mix of men and women? Is there an optimal mix of, of races? You know, these are interesting questions because right now the, the language among both practitioners and researchers seems to be diversity is good. Yes. And I see sloppy research, people like McKinsey saying more women on a board is positive.

Cool. How many women is it? One woman? Is it all women? There’s a lot of the research that I read. If you take it to its logical extreme would say. Now women are better leaders. Great. Well then we should screen out men as leaders because if women are better leaders than we would want all women in leadership positions.

So I would like to see some scientific some good IO psych research to say here’s how diversity actually works in organizations. Here’s the, the benefits or here are the drawbacks. So there’s more practical guidance instead of It’s kind of just broad side. Yes. Diversity is a good thing.

I think a lot of it is that it’s not at a, an applicable level. Is diversity good? Yes. So exactly. How should I apply that?

[00:09:36] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: What other topics or questions do you have in.

[00:09:39] Marc Effron: A holistic model of performance at work. In other words, what allows someone to be a high performer? And this is the one going back to my pile of bricks analogy. I think there are. Rick’s available to build that wall.

And I think what we need is someone to start building that wall to say, look, we know a ton about goal setting. We know about coaching. We know a lot about psychological safety. We know about person job fit. We know about jobs we know about so much. So great. Build a high performer for me, what exactly would need to be in place from an individual and an organizational perspective to create high-performance among as many people as.

[00:10:26] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: There are lots of consulting firms out there that are claiming that they can do exactly what you just said. Given that that’s the case. Why is it important to you that we meaning the IO site community look into this?

[00:10:36] Marc Effron: Loved the question, Ben. And let’s start off with, I am. Hi, skeptical on a Hogan derailer survey. And so when a consulting firms says we have solved the problem, the answer is X. My first thought is. And what I love about IO psychology is that you all prove this every day, you have to publish in a peer reviewed journal, your your conclusions and other people are allowed to look at your research and say, either I believe that, or I’ve got some questions, whereas if, and I’m not picking on any of these firms, but if a Korn ferry comes out and says, we’ve solved the problem, the human.

Cool. Show me the research, because if your job is to sell people, stuff to make money, then I’m not going to just believe you, that you found the answer because that’s actually a really good way to sell people stuff, to make more money. Please prove to me that you’ve done decent quality objective research that would stand up to.

[00:11:36] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I love your pile of bricks analogy, and I think we’ve got a lot of bricks lying around in the yard of IO psychology, and it points me to my next question, which has less to do with the specific topics or questions and more about how we communicate those findings to practitioners like you.

What can we be doing better to communicate our research to you and others?

[00:12:01] Marc Effron: I think a few things. I think part of it is I understand that the purpose of doing academic research is to do academic research and the place to communicate that is in a peer reviewed academic journal. So that’s wonderful. It would be great if there was a next step to say, and in some of these cases, we’re at least going to write a thousand words for a popularly read.

HR talent journal that says, you know what, in the workplace, it would look like this because a lot of academic, as you know, from reading a lot of these, a lot of academic articles and with things like this has strong vocations. It’s like, cool. Which implications does it have her selection? How would I apply this?

You end up with these very these very broad conclusions important for engagement in the workforce. Sure. How. And so just having a an academic, perhaps you were working with a practitioner to trains like that, to say, Hey, actually, because of this, you might want to change your engagement survey to include questions Q S and wine.

You might want to analyze it in this way to get a more accurate something that takes it from the. Brick stage to do something more useful. And I’ll, I’ll put in a plug for our talent Q magazine that is all called a charity. We don’t make any money. We lose quite a bit of money on that, but we, to that, to publish articles from the smart people, like your listeners that say, Hey, we found something new that you might be interested in, and we’ve translated it into a nomenclature and language that you as a practitioner can easily understand.

So I think step one is. Beyond the academic journals, the final resting place, where your knowledge, if you really want to help the practitioner community, then you need to get this into into something that a practitioner reads or even on a podcast that a practitioner lead listens to. But I would lean towards the reading side.

 Presented conferences kind of let’s take that same concept forward. There are plenty of conferences. Conference board offers a lot and, and others show up and speak at those.

Hey, we’ve got some quota research, the implications for you as people who are trying to solve these problems every day are. Now part of the challenge might be a lot of folks have never been in the private sector. And so they might not understand, here are the practical implications of this finding great partner with somebody.

You’ve got a ton of IO, Sykes who are working in the private sector you know, find folks who are smart lift to understand the work that you’re doing and partner with them to translate that into. Practical outcomes and advice for practitioners, the other piece. And actually we’re going to try and make this, this clean more strongly, which is around a title, your academic articles in language that a a high school junior could understand because there’s some.

Titles out there. I’ve, I’ve found one last. I sure. Trust there’s a wonderful article, but just as an example, increasing dispositional legitimacy, progressive legitimization dynamics in a trajectory of settlements.

Now I know. I think I know what each of those individual words mean, but when you string them together in a sentence or a title, I don’t have a clue what that is. And I find that I find that challenge regularly and that could be due to my intellectual capabilities, but oftentimes I will be looking up a number of words in just the title of the article to try to understand what it’s about.

 And that means. Willing to make the effort to do that. Because I think that this knowledge is cool, but how many normal HR practitioners who are extremely busy are going to spend the time, once they even crack open an academic journal to say, I don’t even know what they’re talking about. I’m not gonna spend the time looking this up and trying to understand it.

[00:16:00] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: If you’re listening to this show and you sit on a tenure committee, you know, very well that this is your problem to solve. Other than hyper motivated researchers who are inclined to help out because they feel strongly about it. It’s you who control the incentive for things like tenure and the kind of communication that Marc’s talking about here, we know isn’t rewarded by those incentives.

I’m going to make a prediction about the future of talent, man. I predict that within 20 years, most companies, talent management processes will be determined

by their HRS. So we buy human resource information systems. They have processes built into them for calibration, succession planning, nine bucks and so on. And Hey, if you want to use the system, which you do, because you just spend a bunch of money on it, you’ve got to follow the process. And when we change, you’ve got to change to any validity.

That that prediction.

[00:16:55] Marc Effron: I’m going to give you a level of consulting answer, which is independence. And here’s what it depends on. Seeing a bit of that, but we’re also seeing a bit of pushback and here’s what I’m seeing. I stay in regular touch with about the top 50 talent leaders in big companies around the globe.

And this is the number one unprompted complaint that they offer to me, which is we hate our technical. And when they say we hit our technology, most of them mentioned the names of the most popular programs in that, and especially around talent or whether it’s talent reviews, succession. And they say, what is built in is garbage.

It doesn’t work. It doesn’t present information in a helpful way. It doesn’t help us with analysis. Therefore, we have a system off to the side, or we have a manual system that we use to do that. We create a data lake. You know, pull the information back in. So is it possible that the, the HRS systems will be dictating talent practices going forward?

It certainly is possible, but if what we’re seeing right now is any indication of the future. You’ve got a lot of HR systems that are not designed in the way that smart talent practitioners want to use. And so I think this is a real challenge for the folks who are building out, you know, Workday and Oracle products and others is to say, you know, talk to your customers about what they need.

I did a speech, a number of years go to the HR tech conference that said basically HR it or HR iOS providers have. Paved the cow path in many ways they simply taken what we always did and automated it instead of thinking, what do people really need from their technology?

 What I am hoping. That we will see more automation of analytics, meaning that I am going to get a text on Monday morning at 8 25. It says you’re about to speak with your team member, Ben in this conversation. Here’s what you should say because we know this about Ben ABCD and ENF. Therefore your conversation with him should get on QSR and why.

I think kind of decision support management support from HRS and analytics would be incredibly helpful. And I think that’s what I would love to see more of from these big providers is how do you actually use that data to help managers to make smarter decisions? so that’s a great sort of request for what you’d like to see.

[00:19:26] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Do you have a prediction of what we can expect to see in terms of changes in talent management

[00:19:31] Marc Effron: Here’s my my realistic slash pessimistic view in the near term, nothing because I’m not hearing anything from my clients that suggest there’s any radical shift coming in the way that they do talent management work.

And part of that might be, I do beat the drum of fundamentalism, meaning until you are flawlessly executing the basics of talent. Don’t try new stuff. And in most organizations they aren’t setting goals properly. They aren’t coaching, they aren’t developing people well. And so I think people even, you know, my clients were all big successful companies, even big successful companies are struggling with a fundamental execution of basic talent management practices.

Well, I’m unfortunately seeing as more focusing on getting that right. I think once they get that, right, then they’ll start to explore new and different things.

[00:20:24] Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I’d like to encourage everyone listening to check out the show notes for Marc’s bio, a transcript of today’s show and links to Marc’s books and his company.

Marc. I want to thank you very much for being on the show. I found this hugely informative and it really appreciate your feedback for the.

[00:20:40] Marc Effron: My pleasure, Ben, thanks for all of your listeners for all the great work they do and keep it coming.