The Schema of HR

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, August 26, 2013

One of my favorite terms in the organizational behavior literature is "schema" - "a person's mental picture or summary of a particular event or type of stimulus (Kreitner & Kinicki)."

When you hear the word "professor," what is the schema that comes to mind?  My guess is that image contains one or more of the following characteristics:

  • male
  • older (45 or older)
  • gray hair
  • tweed jacket with patches on the elbows
  • has facial hair (mustache and/or beard)
  • carries a pipe 
If you do a google image search for "professor" most of the above descriptors are evident.
Today is the first day of classes where I work.  Students will encounter numerous professors that fit the schema.  Fortunately for us, many of my colleagues do not fit that typical image.  This, however, can lead to problems.  Student evaluations of professors have shown that professors who do not fit the schema tend to be rated lower.  

Beautyism biases can also creep in, where hiring and rating decisions can be affected by the physical attractiveness of the applicant.

Research has also found that the evaluation of leader effectiveness can be influence by one's schemata of good and poor leaders.

Perhaps the reason HR is often raked over the coals is simply the result of one's schema of HR.  So, what is your schema of HR?  What are you doing at work to ensure that the schema of HR is a positive one?


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