Alumna Julia Needhammer ’14 leverages her psychology education to guide companies and their employees through transformational change
Julia Needhammer ’14 originally chose William Woods University to become a horse trainer. But a persisting interest in people’s behavior – and a faculty mentor who one day introduced her to industrial organizational psychology — changed her career trajectory significantly.
Today, instead of training horses, she works with people and companies on behalf of a multi-billion-dollar consulting firm. And she’s helping them to embrace change.
“I’ve always been interested in what drives human behavior,” says Needhammer, a Flagstaff, Ariz., native who works as a human capital consultant for international consulting powerhouse Deloitte Consulting in the Los Angeles area. “People spend most of their adult lives at work. So, I thought there was a really big opportunity to make an impact on people’s work lives in the way that work gets done. If you can make that a little bit better, right, smooth, enjoyable, or motivating, then you’re actually really impacting people in a big way which they might not even realize.”
Shoring up the Human Side of Change
At the center of Needhammer’s consulting work is change management – helping companies navigate the people-related element of substantial business changes, whether because of acquisitions, downsizing, new technology, evolving industries, or even pandemic-related remote work.
“I work with many different clients – essentially all of the people-related stuff,” she says. “As you can imagine, under all that work, there’s psychology to it. Change is everywhere right now, so I help companies work through change and the change management process, getting them to understand how the change is going to impact their people.”
Needhammer also has worked with companies on their culture, which, she says, is a very human thing as well. “Even when we’re talking about a big technology transformation, which so many companies are going through these days, there are people in the mix. So, it’s important to look at the intersection between people and technology.”
Applying Basic Principles of Psychology to Change Management in Organizations
Change and how people handle change, Needhammer says, “go back to many of the basic principles of psychology” she learned through her Psychology program at William Woods in Missouri and later as she earned her Master of Arts degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Montclair State University.
“Even down to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is a basic principle that we learned about, like Psychology 101,” she says. “If you forget about those basic human things, a person probably is not going to care about the transformation the business is going through if their most simple needs, like making sure they’re still getting their paycheck, aren’t being met. Taking it down to that root is key.”
Such principles, she says, “were really important, setting a foundation” for her to succeed in the field of industrial organizational psychology and how it applies to change management.
Taking a Horse Path
One could say Needhammer originally followed a horse path to college, with childhood dreams of becoming a horse trainer. Older horse trainers she knew had attended William Woods University’s equestrian program, so she followed suit, identifying psychology as a minor. Eventually, though, she leaned more into the school’s psychology degree program.
“I was always interested in psychology,” she says, “but all I really knew was counseling and that kind of psychology. My professor encouraged us to explore different areas. It really was a process of elimination. I found conditions and disorders interesting, but that wasn’t work I was cut out for.”
Then her professor, who also was her mentor, suggested a Human Relations class, which happened to be part of William Woods’ business school. It also introduced her to the field of industrial organizational psychology. Consequently, she found her future.
“Counseling was really about the individual,” Needhammer says of her career decision to veer away from counseling. “[Industrial Organizational Psychology] is very different. With organizational psychology, we ask ‘How can we set up work to work well for people to work well?’ You have to think about all of the stakeholders and what they are trying to accomplish. You need to see the bigger picture.”
Timing and Changing Times
Needhammer acknowledges that the timing couldn’t be better for launching a career in industrial organizational psychology and change management.
“We just went through a global pandemic, which really shook things up a bit,” she says of the significant changes occurring in industry, business priorities, and the way people now have to work. “There’s also a lot of looking at the way work now gets done and the way we’re supporting people to do work. And then there’s the work around diversity and inclusion, which is very important.
“Those that have done well through the pandemic are those that have helped their people adapt well [to change],” she adds. “There’s so much going on in the world that’s impacting people. It’s all very people-centric now.”
And that bodes well for organizational development professionals like Needhammer.
“More and more every day, companies are seeing the value of psychology,” she says. “If you don’t understand people and what drives behavior, it’s impossible to motivate and lead people.”Through William Woods University BA in Psychology program, students gain an understanding of the brain and the science behind why people behave the way that they do. While many of these students choose to go into healthcare and counseling, William Woods University psychology graduates also use their knowledge of human motivation and behavior to excel in business roles like sales and marketing, management, human resources, and more. For Julia Needhammer, combining her psychology background with coursework from William Woods University business programs introduced her to industrial organization psychology, which set her career path in motion. Our students also take advantage of the program’s availability online, which allows them to easily finish their psychology degree on their own time.
5 Skills for Succeeding in Industrial Organizational Psychology
For those considering such a career, Julia Needhammer says the following skills are critical to succeed in the field:
- Relationship building – “Learn how to talk to people. You have to build relationships quickly, understanding the company culture and how work gets done.”
- Critical thinking – “You work with similar issues over and over, but you never want to get complacent. Understand that you’re going to need to learn a lot. So be ready and open to learn.”
- Adaptability –– “People are always changing. Work is changing. You have to be very adaptable. With change, how do we get people from A to B?”
- Articulate – “You have to be able to articulate ideas that are relatable to others, taking out the consulting or psychology jargon. You have to put it in a way that makes sense and also that paints a picture, tells a story.”
Big-picture perspective – “You need to have a bigger picture, understanding where all the pieces fit together, so you’re able to paint that picture in a relatable way.”