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Which professional should I call upon? The MBA or the I/O?

Organizations of all shapes and sizes often need to seek assistance from subject matter experts. The type of assistance needed can vary widely depending on the industry and specific support required. Trying to determine which consultant will actually deliver results can be tricky at best and nearly impossible at worst. Most leaders will rely on a consultant with a trusty MBA degree to provide relevant advice and present much-needed solutions. However, it is critically important to understand that there is another professional who may actually be a better fit, depending on what is needed. That person is the Industrial-Organizational Psychologist – or “I/O.”

As the title indicates, professionals with a Master of Business Administration have very specific expertise relating to business administration. MBA fundamentals include accounting, corporate finance, international finance, economics, manufacturing supply chains, sales and marketing, mergers and acquisitions, data modeling and business analytics, taxation, statistics, corporate valuation, and bond markets. In some cases, MBAs may have additional specialties such as healthcare administration, international business, investment banking, private equity and venture capital, portfolio analysis and trading, and asset management.

I/O psychologists on the other hand, are professionals that have a much different area of expertise relating to the inner workings of organizations. I/Os enhance productivity and efficiency in the workplace while also optimizing the well-being of the workforce. They advise policy planners and executives regarding ways to enhance employee engagement and resolve conflicts. In essence, they integrate strategy with psychology by bridging research, theory, and practice.

I/O psychologists are educated and trained in a wide variety of topics and sub-specialties aimed at aiding employees, employers, and organizations. I/O foundational areas include organizational behavior, change management, cultural change, and organization theory. Their core competencies include strategic human resource planning, strategic management concepts, organizational development, training, leadership coaching, and organizational design. Additional areas of study often include communication, strategy alignment, organizational change, job/task analysis, job design and optimization, and competency building, in addition to modern group processes and team topics such as virtual teams, cross-cultural teams, and multi-team systems. Essentially, MBAs and I/Os are different types of experts with different focus areas.

Before you bring a specialist on board, think carefully about the need and the fit. Does your organization need help to navigate cross-cultural issues in the workplace or develop a program for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion? If so, an I/O professional would most likely be the better fit. What if your organization needs an expert in workplace culture and climate, or a leadership coach for a cohort of middle managers? An MBA with expertise in finance, accounting, economics, statistics, and bond markets would probably not get you as far as an I/O, who would be the more closely aligned expert.

Both MBAs and I/Os can contribute to the betterment of organizations. However, I/Os are rarely considered simply because they are not as well-known as MBAs. Each has their place in developing and enhancing organizations. Knowing the difference between them and understanding how each can help is crucial to solving your organizational challenges cost-efficiently. Yes, MBAs have been around for a long time. But don’t discount the I/Os. You may be surprised at just how much they can really help you and your organization.


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