Paul Sackett seeks fair and effective performance predictors
FOR GENERATIONS, INDUSTRIAL and organizational psychologists have grappled with a fundamental question: What are the best measures to predict job and academic performance? Paul Sackett has taken this question a step further: Are these tests fair?
Sackett's research focuses on the challenge of designing measurements that screen for performance while also maximizing gender, ethnic, and racial diversity. His work has taken on particular importance amid the current debates over affirmative action.
"Employers want the best possible work force, and universities want a talented and high-caliber student body," Sackett says. "Sometimes there's tension between pursuing the first goal of high performance and questions of access."
Sackett's own performance has put him in the vanguard of his field. Last fall, he became the first Beverly and Richard Fink Distinguished Professor in the Liberal Arts.
"I hope this permits me to do more and better work," says Sackett, who has been at the University since 1988. "To me, the best way to do that is to support students."
Sackett is using the funds provided by the professorship endowment to hire three graduate research assistants. One of the projects they'll work on, funded by the College Board, examines how coaching can affect the scores of various selection tests. Another project examines counterproductive behavior in the workplace.
Sackett's work promises to help organizations better predict workplace productivity and also enhance employee, employer, and even client and customer satisfaction. "Why is it that in any given job there are people who do it well and others who do it not so well?" asks Sackett. "Anybody who's ever stood in a supermarket checkout line has had the experience of saying, 'The line next to me is moving twice as fast. That cashier over there is quick and the one I've got isn't.'" How, he asks, do we best measure and address these differences?
Such questions, he says, have fundamental and far-reaching implications for the happiness of workers, the performance of organizations, and global competitiveness. And the answers just might keep those lines moving more swiftly.