16:28 PM

Did your business survive COVID chaos? I/O psychology students can help

As businesses struggle to recover from the downsizing and other drastic changes forced upon them by the COVID-19 pandemic, they now have a perfect opportunity, as well as a critical need, to reset their organizations toward economic prosperity.

That "reset" is where Univ ersity of Houston-Clear Lake's Center for Workplace Consulting, staffed by 10 graduate-level industrial/organizational psychology students and three faculty supervisors, can step in and offer the kind of guidance and expertise that could save a once-solid business from closing its doors for good.

A vital step toward navigating back to pre-COVID stability is to regain control of the change process by putting a plan in place. But figuring out a plan like this isn't like other change plans — such as simply outgrowing your office space.

"Change management is a critical issue in industry, especially now," said Daryl Thong, who is working toward his Master of Science in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and is interning at the CWC.

"In a business landscape that has had either to adapt to a virtual platform in some way, or go out of business, we can help with that change," he said. "As businesses start to go back to normal, it's not a simple equation: just hire people back and go back to business as it was. COVID has irretrievably changed business, and some weaknesses can't be recovered."

The way business owners handle the transition to a post-COVID economy will ultimately write our community's economic future. Thong said this is an opportune moment for business leaders to reassess many of their tactics.

"At this time, it might be necessary to review your employee selection process. As you replace your headcount, this is a good time to look at recruitment mechanics because you might be needing to redevelop your organization as a whole," he said. "When you start from scratch, you can build a new organizational culture, and reshape it to be more vibrant. The CWC can help with this process as well."

Industrial/organizational psychology encompasses a wide range of topics, Thong said, but change management is one of the main elements.

"We transitioned to virtual work, then we worked from home. Now we're transitioning back again. These phases are often filled with disruption and uncertainty," he said.

Some elements of that disruption that the I/O psychology students can help mitigate include organizational development, performance reviews of internal processes, and employee selection methodology.

"We have been guided very well by our faculty, who have decades of combined I/O experience," Thong said. "Underlying factors that further complicate major changes may be deeper than a business owner might think. We can go in, find the problem, and help the business owner see factors that might not be visible to him."

Associate Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology Alex Milam said that UH-Clear Lake's I/O program has a competitive advantage because it is one of the few programs of its kind that specifically includes a course in change management.

"It's a bit of a niche," he said. "We can handle training development and help organizations in other areas, like bringing people back to work after layoffs, helping design selection systems, developing structured interviews, show business leaders how to ask prospective employees the right questions consistently, and how to score these interviews."

Now that the pandemic is reaching its end, Milam explained, these are the things that companies have a chance to reset with new employees. "Things are different now than before, and we can help with that," he said. "A lot of what change management is about is assessing readiness for change. You have to see if your employees are prepared for change, and people tend to resist change."

Milam said that the CWC's wheelhouse is medium to large businesses with more than 200 employees. "We have found that companies of this size often have so much going on, they end up with persistent problems they can't get around to addressing," he said.

"It's important to note, this is a student-focused center. They're not helping faculty consult; they're only being supervised by faculty. We have capable students who are able to help make needed revisions, assess needs and objectives, and make a difference in things like job performance appraisal systems," Milam continued. "Most companies don't think about it except once a year, and they don't have the time to make improvements."

Another major change facing businesses, he said, is creating more initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion. "We will be concentrating more on this particular change in our program. Many of our students are gravitating toward this, and many organizations in the community need help in this area."

Thong said it is expensive for mid-sized companies to review these kinds of issues with a big consulting company. "Some projects are just too small for a consulting company to look at, and so organizations never get around to addressing them," he said. "We could put 8-10 people on a project. There are certain sized projects that would be perfect for us that the 'big guys' don't want to take. We are great at collecting data, breaking it down, analyzing it, and coming up with recommendations."

Additionally, Thong said that the CWC is able to offer its services to businesses anywhere in the world for a fraction of the cost for the same services from a consulting company. "Students are receiving course practicum credit, but all revenue goes back into the Center to fund conference travel and assistantships and scholarships in the future," he said.

"I like that things are so different now than they were before," Thong said. "We can help with that."

For more information about UHCL's Center for Workplace Consulting, go online.