Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane on Being a Business Resiliency Counselor

In our frustrating and never-ending quest to explain what I-O psychology is, we could always say, at least, “No, we don’t do counseling.” Today’s guest is taking that away from us, too. Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane joins us from the frontier of I-O psychology as she shares her experience as a business resiliency counselor. Along the way, we learn why mediators don’t have mantras, how consultants are responding to the pandemic, why entrepreneurs can’t count on Google for good business advice, and the best-kept secret in small business.

(And don’t worry, we didn’t actually meet in a restaurant. I just wanted to feel like I was out of the house.)



This transcript is AI-generated and may not be completely accurate. Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  00:00

Welcome, everyone to the Department 12 Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Ben Butina. In our never ending quest to explain what the hell IO psych is, there is one hook, we could always hang our hats on. And that is that no, we don’t do counseling. But today’s guest, Dr. Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane is taking that away from us too. In this episode, we’re going to learn about her role as a business resiliency counselor. Welcome, Cynthia.

Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane, Ph.D.  00:28

Hi, Ben. Thanks for having me.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  00:30

All right. So I am very curious to know what a business resiliency counselor does. But before we get into that, I wondered if you could just share a little bit about your background, your education, what your career has been like to this point.

Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane, Ph.D.  00:43

Um, okay, I have a very diverse background. I started my undergrad degrees in sociology from Pepperdine University. And I went to a program that was hosted by the Pepperdine law school kind of thinking, I might want to pursue law school, and got certified as a mediator through that program. And then I moved back to the east coast where I’m from, and decided, I thought I might want to hang out my shingle and be a mediator. Only when I moved back here in the sort of mid 90s, no one really knew what mediation was, in fact, they thought I was saying meditate. And they wanted to know what mantra I chanted, like it was just the understanding just was not there. So along with some others, I started a nonprofit mediation Center, the ADR center that’s still running here in Wellington, many, many years later. So I’m very proud of that. But I was 23, and young and dumb, and I had no idea what I was doing starting a nonprofit. And through that, but but through the process of learning, kind of flying by the seat of my pants, I, I learned how to start a business. And though we were a nonprofit, there were a lot of organizational dynamics and OB or essential behavior kinds of, I was able to learn those processes kind of on the fly. And it kind of launched me into a consulting career for nonprofits first, and then I kind of got because of my mediation background got roped into consulting, in high impact settings, particularly healthcare. So I did that for about a decade working mostly in optimizing team dynamics, particularly in with surgeons and surgical support staff and in those kinds of settings. And so then I was recruited by a nuclear power nuclear utility consulting firm, to do a similar similar kind of work in nuclear power utilities, nationally, internationally. And I, I was working for that firm when I went back to get my Master’s and PhD from Walden University. And I ended up developing a selection process for nuclear power plants who were experiencing a kind of a rebirth, we’re going to call it the nuclear Renaissance for a while the new new plants are being built and, and they were hot rehiring. So they have some real problems with the shifting talent pool quite a bit of failure in their selection process in terms of failing out of the program. It’s a very challenging process to get licensed to be a licensed operator through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And so I helped to develop a new strategy process of using assessments not just for screening out for psychopathology, but to to actually select in based on an updated knowledge, skills, abilities, and other qualities. And so, the cool thing about that was that I, it provided a lot of resources for me during that dozen years. And so I also started a few other businesses. On the side. For some partners, I’ve owned a franchise nutrition company, I’ve owned a bloody studio, I owned a business brokerage for a while, which was a part of that with a partner, which was a family member. So I’ve had a lot of additional experience starting up and operating small businesses, what I left nuclear power consulting a couple of years ago, I ended up going back to my private practice as a as an organization development, organizational behavior consultant, and doing a lot more coaching of startups and leadership coaching, that kind of work in my consulting practice. So last spring, as many of us who have consulting companies, I think experienced the first thing to go are consulting dollars and coaching dollars, I was at a kind of decision point, in terms of well, do I continue to try to squeeze money out of my clients to try to get them to be, you know, to keep my coaching contracts in place? Or do I look kind of other options. So in the process of weighing those options when I was recruited by another member of the local SBDC, who let me know that this was a perfect fit for my background, and they really wanted me to consider joining the team. So I had I had heard of SBDC, because which is the Small Business Technology Development Center because I had done some work developing a mentor group at a local startup accelerator is adjacent to and a part of a extension of the University of North Carolina Wilmington where I taught at the time in the Cameron School of Business. So management and leadership and organizational behavior. I was familiar with him, but I had no idea the breadth and depth of the kind of work that they did. So as soon as I interviewed kind of did my homework before the interview, I was completely sold that this could be a really cool way for me to pivot and be able to offer similar kinds of services to clients in my hometown area and be able to do it at no cost. No, no, no cost to the client. So yes,

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  05:43

it sounds like it was a whole lot of things that came together for you. I mean, there was your education and background. But But obviously, your experience as a business owner, and entrepreneur, nonprofit founder, all of that sort of converged. I imagine a light went on, as you saw this, this job listing for something called a business resiliency counselor, could you just share with us? And I know he only really started a couple of weeks ago, but could you share with us what you do?

Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane, Ph.D.  06:12

Right? So I it’s funny, because I first thought, Oh, no, this is just business coaching. It’s the same thing I’ve done. But but it’s more than that. And I think that that has been part of my learning over the past few weeks, it’s had such a warm welcome from the team. It’s been so exciting. they’ve invited me to co counsel with clients they currently have. And then of course, I’ve been able to bring in quite a few clients that were my my clients in my private practice. In the process of doing that, I’ve realized that it’s not just business coaching, which is I kind of come at coaching with a skilled helper perspective, I spend a lot more time with my business coaching clients like questioning and going through the process of using tools and techniques that are unique to coaching. But there’s a business advisor process that I would say is equally important and probably even more stressed in business counseling, the director of the center that I work for here in Wilmington, Heather McWhorter would say, I think she’s been kind of advocating for a while to call us business advisors. But business counselors is kind of the standard title across the US because we are the North Carolina version of small business development centers, we have the tech designation, that’s sort of an additional credential for us. But these centers exist, they’re kind of the best kept secret across the nation as an extension of universities in partnership with the US Small Business Administration. There’s that advisor aspect that I didn’t pivot to as frequently as I am now I’m serving more in an advisory role. I’m giving advice based on my experience, and also connecting business owners and founders to advice with you. We have such a diverse team, we can connect co counsel and connect business founders and business owners to just a wealth of resources. So the advisor part I think, is what’s really what makes us more like counselors.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  08:09

Yeah. So I think that, you know, a comment that you made a minute ago, this is one of the best kept secrets across the country is was very apt, because I suspect that a lot of my listeners are kind of hearing about this model for the first time. I think another question they might have is this advisor piece of it, at least is it seems to be people asking, okay, well, how do I do this? And how do I do that? And if I wanted to know that, I’d go online and look it up. So I guess what I’m wondering is with, presumably, all of the world’s information available online, what does an advisor offer to a client that they couldn’t find on their own?

Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane, Ph.D.  08:43

Yeah, that’s a great question, Ben. And I think the big difference that I’ve noticed, again, I’ve only been here a few weeks, but the big difference that I’ve noticed is that if you can look up something on it, you know, Google it, or you you’re inundated with a lot of information, and some of that information has been sifted through you already, just by nature of the way search engines work. Instead of you’re relying being overwhelmed by that or relying on, you know, a search engine to point you in the right direction. Everyone who has is hired as a business counselor for this btdc has, that we already have a lot of those experiences, we’ve already kind of gone through this process ourselves, for the most part. And so we can shorten some of the decision making time for a lot of businesses, business owners. And in fact, we have some statistics just pointing to the fact that our business the businesses that avail themselves of services through their local SBDC or SBDC. like ours, they achieve their objectives they outgrow and they outperform their peers. And I have to say that that’s probably due to the business advice that they’re receiving. Just high quality advice from people who have been in similar situations have struggled in, you know, through similar decision making processes and can shortcut some of those business owners don’t have to reinvent We’ll, they can take advantage of things already in place. And also, we’re focused on midsize small to midsize businesses. So I guess that’s probably another thing that I should make clear as we are one of the very few business support services that focus on that start those startups 10 employee to 500 employees sort of range of business size, when you get over, you know, 300 400 employees, then you have to have a lot more resources to sift through some of that material, that information that’s available to you, and you can pay for the expertise that you don’t have, whereas smaller businesses don’t have that luxury. And so we kind of fit in that in that place where we can help connect people to what the knowledge that they need. The example that had in mind is a midsize business, it’s about 100, I think about 100 employees, and it’s growing in spite of probably maybe, because of the pandemic, which is really interesting. That’s an interesting dynamic that I’ve noticed is we’re helping a lot of businesses to pivot and to take advantage of actually this unique, strange, weird time that we’re all experiencing and leverage that for growth opportunities. And so this business, though, has needs to hire people very quickly for one for a subsidiary that they have spinning off, and their HR department is limited, I was able to connect them to some web based tools and apps that they were unaware of that they wouldn’t have even probably thought about their rule very hands on kind of organization. And not that they’re not sophisticated, they actually aren’t quite sophisticated. And they have a lot of technology that they’re already leveraging to manage their business. But this, they hadn’t considered recruiting, onboarding, doing those kinds of things through an app, I’ve, I’ve had that experience, I was able to pivot them really quickly. And they’ll be they found we found a low cost solution that’ll be able to meet their need and attract people, not necessarily just right in their community to their business. So just things like that, like we provide just really high value consulting and advising for our clients that are not used to getting help. Also, because we’re it’s a confidential process. I think a lot of small business owners and founders and startup founders always think that they’re, you know, they’re always watching their bottom line, they’re always watching what they spend on everything. And so they don’t necessarily have the resources, the capitalization to be able to, you know, engage with their attorney or their CPA, daily or weekly basis. Whereas for no cost to them, they can reach out and get an SBDC counselor who can do a lot of those similar things, you know, for free. And we have a very high touch kind of interaction. We’re very diligent in our, you know, we see, you know, upcoming webinars, we do a lot of education as well. So like this week, I attended what’s called an investor ready entrepreneur webinar with one of my startup founding clients, in which the panelists are all angel investors, or they work with managed venture capital funds, and they were able to glean some tremendous feedback on their pitch. Also, they were able to understand more fully the the investing landscape in our state, it was tremendous. And we sponsor that as regularly as a part of the mission of our statewide SBDC. So those are some of the things that are unique, I think, and something that as small business owner, even though they could find information online, they may not be able to sift through it and really decide what’s most valuable and most applicable to their organization’s mission, vision and strategic goals. And in fact, it’s funny because a lot of people who start businesses aren’t necessarily like they didn’t they don’t have a degree in business. I mean, they just have an idea. So sometimes we’re introducing them to some tools and techniques and ideas like strategy that they really haven’t, you know, they may be living week to week, month to month, year to year on their business. And they’re not thinking in terms of those long term kinds of plants, so we can help them with that as well.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  13:57

It sounds like the teams are multidisciplinary. So there’s people with many different kinds of backgrounds, and I’m assuming that many of them have you do experience starting running your own businesses, entrepreneurs, franchisees, that kind of thing. What do you think IO psychology could bring into this? endeavor?

Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane, Ph.D.  14:17

Yeah, so there? That’s a great question, because there’s in the latest wave of hiring, which is funded by the care of Zach I and one other IO psychologist, were hired in for the North Carolina team statewide team. And we had this conversation recently, I was like, Well, what do we what do you think we bring, he agreed that we bring the concepts that we would bring, you know, application of psychological principles to workplace problems, or challenges that are particularly focused on people issues. For instance, one of the one of the founders I’m working with has a software integration with a large CRM used, you know, all over the globe and his software integration makes it easy You’re for sales managers to encourage correct behavior or desirable behavior with the sales their salespeople, but he’s a little frustrated because he can’t meet everyone’s needs. And every organization he’s been sort of pitching this to and getting in his early customers have asked for a lot of adaptations, that he doesn’t think you’re necessarily it’s not how he would do things. And so one of the things I’ve been able to bring to him is behavioral insights, walk him through how what we know about for instance, social social pressure and happen the value of social pressure on on encouraging desired behavior. One of the things for instance, we added to the dashboard on this app that he has is a de identified graph showing the other salespeople and whether and, and their progress towards monthly goals, you know, so instead of like people, he sees little dots that there’s, you know, 50 dots, and he can see his dot enter her.in comparison to the other dots on the sales team. And that’s, that’s a way of you of incorporating, you know, social pressure, which is behavioral insight that we know is very effective. We know from research. So that evidence based practice, I was able to bring, instead of sort of a mile wide and an inch deep kind of application of using tools that are already in place, we can help individuals customize, and, and really improve based on research their business, not just using widely available, but really specialized expertise like that. He’s finding his customers love it, and just using the term behavioral insights in his marketing has increased his uptake on companies who want him to pitch to them now. So that’s really kind of a exciting thing to see. Very cool.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  16:40

So I think we’ve kind of heard what what you would perceive to be the best part of your job, which is helping you know, these business owners, especially those that you know, from these small and medium sized businesses that would otherwise go without the kind of expert advice that your team provides. What’s been the most surprising thing about this job for you in your first couple of weeks

Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane, Ph.D.  17:00

having a PhD is, as my wonderful committee chair, my dissertation committee chair, Dr. James Herndon, who I will forever be grateful for his phenomenal expertise. One time he told me, Cynthia getting your PhD is about learning more and more and more about less and less and less, that’s that narrow, narrowing of focus is necessary when you write a dissertation what’s been exciting for me and very surprising is that that that depth of understanding is valued here, but they immediately the my upline immediately approached me about learning the other things that I don’t know, I’m not a financial planner, I don’t have a background in finance, I, I’ve never worked for a bank, but many of my colleagues have. And so I’m required to have 40 hours every year of continuing professional education within three weeks of starting Well, first of all, they’ve really collapsed our because of the nature of our our process, those of us who are cares act funded resiliency counselors, we’ve been compressed our timeframe of learning from a six month sort of onboarding process to is like six or eight weeks. So we are really coming on board quick. So they signed me up for a academic economic development, financial planner certification process of how for instance, of government, we have a p tech person, which is expertise in government procurement, that I lb, sort of learning alongside his job is to also teach us how government counter contracting works and how our clients can do business with the US government, which is, you know, the largest provider of they, they buy everything. So, it’s it, that’s a whole realm that I’ll be learning more about as I progress through this next year. I think that’s the most surprising thing that they aren’t just pulling me in for my expertise, which they definitely did, but but I know, they’re like, okay, you know, all of these things, that’s great. But now we’re gonna teach you all of this. And that’s exciting. For me, I’m a continuous learning and I just believe in continuous learning. And that’s, that’s something that is well aligned with the mission of the SBDC.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  19:12

Very cool. Well, I want to wish you the best of luck as you gain all that new knowledge and skills that’s definitely exciting and very much up my alley as well. And I want to thank you also for being on the show. I’ll share your contact information in the show notes for anyone who’s wants to reach out to you and learn a little more, and thanks for being here.

Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane, Ph.D.  19:30

Thanks so much for having me, Ben. It was a real pleasure.