Volume 56     Number 4 

Spring 2019       

Editor: Tara Behrend

Meredith Turner
/ Categories: TIP, 562

The Innovation & Learning Speaker Series:

Nabila Sheikh, PepsiCo; Anton Botha and Leila Regina El-Hage, United Nations; and Aimee Lace, Columbia University

A Partnership Between the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) and the United Nations Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM)

In September of 2015, the United Nations of the world adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the aim “to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet” by 2030 (United Nations General Assembly, 2015, p. 1). Last and far from least, the 17th Sustainable Development Goal is labeled “Partnerships for the Goals.” It emphasizes the critical need for strategic alliances, which was underscored in a synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda, titled “The Road to Dignity by 2030,” where the UN Secretary-General stated:

In an irreversibly interconnected world, the challenges faced by any become the challenges faced by each of us—sometimes gradually but often suddenly.  However, facing these vexed challenges is not only a burden; it is far more an opportunity to forge new partnerships and alliances that can work together to advance the human condition. (United Nations, 2014, p. 5)

In the spirit of forging the kinds of productive and transformative partnerships envisioned above, the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology (SIOP) and the United Nations Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) have embarked on a new collaboration: The Innovation & Learning Speaker Series. Launched in December 2017 at the United Nations Secretariat in New York, the Innovation & Learning Speaker Series brings experts in industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology to the United Nations to share research, theory, and evidence-based best practices with the UN human resources professionals. Through SIOP speakers’ practical examples and case studies from outside the UN context, OHRM staff gain insight into what other large international organizations are doing to tackle pressing industry challenges. This aligns with the OHRM team’s overarching objectives, which include: 

  • Encourage UN learning from industry; 
  • Find out what best practice trends dominate and why;
  • Create a forum for discussion, deeper understanding and collective problem solving; 
  • Drive innovation, science, and data-led decision making; and 
  • Develop a safe space and platform for sharing information to help the United Nations deliver on its mandate.

The Innovation & Learning Speaker Series sessions are held live at the United Nations Secretariat building in New York City and also broadcast via Webex to various United Nations offices and duty stations around the world, including those in Geneva, Nairobi, and Bangkok, to mention a few. Altogether, approximately 200 United Nations staff members have joined each of the sessions from as far as China. The speaker series has thus far featured five I-O psychology academics and practitioners who are experts in their respective fields. Each session is briefly described next.


  • The inaugural Innovation & Learning Series speaker was Christopher Rotolo, vice president of Global Talent Management and Organization Development at PepsiCo. Dr. Rotolo kicked off the series on December 4, 2017 by speaking on the topic of “Survey Design: Best Practices and Experiences in Survey Design, Analysis, Feedback, and Action-Planning.” His practical and insightful seminar focused on best practices and considerations for large organizations in designing an engagement survey. The OHRM team was keen to learn about these considerations as they embarked upon the planning of their own organization-wide survey. The specialist-level knowledge that Dr. Rotolo shared was opportune and well-received by the maiden audience. Given the resounding positive feedback on this first session, the SIOP-UN committee began planning for subsequent sessions in the series and inviting additional I-O psychology experts.


  • The second session was held on February 12, 2018, featuring speaker Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup and an international authority in psychological profiling, consumer analytics, and talent management. His presentation, titled the “Talent Delusion: Why Data—Not Intuition—Is Key to Unlocking Human Potential,” described the challenges organizations currently face to best measure, predict, and manage talent given the changing nature of work and traits of the workforce. He purported that an organization’s problems can best be solved by closely examining and understanding its people. In turn, organizational leaders can best understand their reputation through considering feedback, ideally crowdsourced. The UN OHRM team was particularly interested in insights Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic shared as they yielded novel considerations for their leadership and multirater programs.


  • The third session in the series took place on April 6, 2018, featuring Douglas Reynolds, who is executive vice president at Development Dimensions International (DDI), where he directs product development and technology functions. His presentation, “Human Resources Management in the Digital Era: Addressing the Leadership Challenges of Digital Transformation in Today’s Organizations,” focused on the dependence of organizations’ business models and processes on technology, and the challenges this brings. He shared how leaders in organizations have a critical role for managing these “digital transformations” and examined the skills and mindset required of leaders and particularly, leaders and partners in human resources, who must guide others through these dramatic shifts in culture and work process. Through reviewing common issues organizations face as they undertake these changes, Dr. Reynolds left the UN OHRM team with a set of valuable consideration points as they look to best utilize HR technology to improve processes and the overall employee experience.


  • The fourth session was held on June 8, 2018, featuring Gary Latham, who is Secretary of State professor of Organizational Effectiveness at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, as well as president of Work and Organizational Psychology at the International Association of Applied Psychology. Dr. Latham spoke about “Performance Management: Conquering Performance in the Public Sector.” His talk centered around a three-step coaching process, including how to build resiliency in staff through goal setting, outcome expectancy, and the concept of self-efficacy. The information and knowledge shared will help the United Nations improve its performance management practices.


  • The fifth session took place on August 3, 2018 and featured Lori Foster, professor of Industrial-Organizational psychology at North Carolina State University (USA) and the University of Cape Town (South Africa), and a member of the SIOP UN Committee.  Dr. Foster spoke about “Applying Behavioral Insights to HR: Maximize HR “Policy Outcomes by Leveraging Insights From the Behavioral Sciences.” Her presentation focused on defining important concepts within the field of behavioral science, as well as trends in applying behavioral insights to organizations. A key takeaway of the session was understanding the “architecture of choice” and how this understanding is used by many organizations, including governments, to design and test behaviorally informed interventions. The session was interactive, lively, and impactful. The information and knowledge shared will help the United Nations follow a more rigorous, scientific approach when developing programs and policies.

To enhance the reach of this speaker series beyond the UN and engage local I-O students, the SIOP UN Committee has begun to extend invitations to select graduate students with a special interest in humanitarian work psychology from I-O psychology programs. The engaging experience of attending a session at the UN provides I-O graduate students a valuable opportunity to network with UN OHRM staff and a special chance to hear first-hand from esteemed experts on I-O psychology topics they may be currently studying in their program. To date, graduate students from Baruch College, Columbia University, and North Carolina State University have had the opportunity to attend, thus raising awareness of the SIOP UN Committee and its objectives, which include identifying and relaying job and internship opportunities available at the UN for I-O students.

The Innovation & Learning Speaker Series has earned a positive reputation at the UN, including among key leaders, who have attended the sessions to listen, learn, contribute, and support this partnership. Ms. Martha Helena Lopez, assistant secretary general for the United Nations Office of Human Resources Management introduced several sessions. As she stated,

I think this is an excellent idea... We thank the collaboration between the UN and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology… I want to thank everyone who is supporting us in novel ways of approaching and challenging our innovation in the UN. We also want to encourage all our colleagues around the world to know what is outside in the industry and to keep up to date on those ideas. We want to have a forum for exchange and drive the HR agenda not only in the UN system and the international community.

Ms. Lopez later addressed the Innovation & Learning Speaker Series organizers in her remarks, noting: “The Sustainable Development Goals has as one of its goals partnership, and I think this is something you are supporting: Partnership across the world.”

The SIOP-UN Committee and UN OHRM team will continue to build this partnership and the Innovation & Learning Speaker Series in the days to come by featuring additional academics and practitioners from SIOP with expertise in topic areas of timely relevance to the UN OHRM team’s initiatives.


United Nations (2014). The road to dignity by 2030: Ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet. Synthesis report of the secretary-general on the post-2015 agenda. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/reports/SG_Synthesis_Report_Road_to_Dignity_by_2030.pdf

United Nations General Assembly (2015). Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development, A/RES/70/1. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E

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