J. M. Robinson Consulting

J. M. Robinson Consulting is dedicated to bringing an organization forward. Specializing in training, communication, leadership, engagement, and problem solving, I can help your organization fulfill its goals and break through the wall.

Joshua Robinson has studied Organizational Development for the past 6 years earning a BS in Psychology and an MS in OD on the way. Currently working on his dissertation studying creative training processes in third-culture children and their ability to problem solve, Joshua has completed his course work and is aiming to finish his Ph.D. in spring or summer of 2012. He has worked with both non and for profit agencies in helping to achieve their goals and improve their processes in the mean time.

Motivating people across cultures: A 2-pronged approach

Main Discussion Post

 

I do not believe that the approach for motivating an employee is universal.  As Adler (2008) mentions there are different cultural values that may dictate motivation.  Most “universal” motivation campaigns have been developed in the United States (2008).  Earley and Erez (1997) mention that each individual has a self-concept that is regulated by enhancement, efficacy, and consistency, which regulate the influence of culture on behavior.  These motives reflect how a person views him or herself in society (1997).  Because we have different personality types and cultural values, whether individualistic or collectivist cultures, there can be no universal truth for motivation.  We can have broad, over-arching principles like the two-factor motivation theory proposed by Herzberg (Adler, 2008).  This principle states that extrinsic and internal factors both equally can be used to motivate employees.  An external factor, like money, might not hold the same motivational value to some as it does to others, whereas performing at high levels and having pride about the company might not be equal as well.  Based on the fact that we are all different and have different cultural backgrounds and values, I do not think it will ever be possible to have a single, narrow approach for motivation.  There are too many factors and variables to consider.

 

References

 

Adler, N. and Gunderson, A. (2008). International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior (5th Ed.). Cincinnati, OH, US: Southwestern.

 

Early, P., and Erez, M. (eds) (1997). New Perspectives on International Industrial /Organizational Psychology. San Francisco, CA, US: Pfeiffer.

Flexibility and Intelligence

The more I write about creativity and its relationship to intelligence, the more I appreciate creative people. This doesn’t necessarily mean someone who is artistic or musically inclined, just someone who can think creatively. Someone who “thinks outside the box” (talk about an overused clichéd term). My dissertation topic is on using creativity to improve problem solving skills in Third Culture Kids (kids who are living in a different culture than where they were born or where their parents are from and don’t know the language/customs/etc.). Obviously these children are at a disadvantage in that they cannot communicate very well, will lose ground in school, and thus the downward spiral begins. So using different means to keep these children from slipping through the cracks needs to be utilized and the learning curve shortened.

 

I have read probably about 200+ articles on this topic now. Creativity. Divergent thinking. Fluency. Originality. Elaboration. Flexibility. These terms come up over and over again in the world of intelligence and creativity. Those who are high in these capabilities are typically both creative and intelligent. I find that flexibility is the one skill that needs to be fostered early and often (not to say the others should be ignored). But as I talk to more and more people on a day to day basis about various topics I realize that flexible thinking is INCREDIBLY important in intelligence.

 

Being flexible is basically being open-minded. Your thought process can bend and be malleable. You do not get into a rigid thought process about concepts or ideas. “This is the way it is and that’s the only way I will allow myself to see it.” You don’t limit yourself or your understanding to a set paradigm. If you see a problem, you can think of many different ways to solve it. There are several keys to open the lock.

 

My favorite example of this is Alton Brown from “Good Eats” on Food Network. He is wont to demonstrate his affinity for “multi-taskers” and his disdain for “uni-taskers.” For instance, his use of a common drill bit for an apple corer, a terra cotta stepping stone from the hardware store have been used as a pizza stone, or a standard zip top bag for a piping bag used to decorate cakes and cookies (Brown, 1998). As Defeyter and German (2003) showed, this is common for many of us to fall into, as children as young as 6 years old show less ability to use an item for anything other than its intended use. However, being able to not be beholden to functional fixedness, and use creative processes will allow you to save money on all of these gadgets, space in your drawers, and also use analyze a problem from a different perspective. This is a result of being able to think about problems in different ways as opposed to one problem=one solution.

 

So how is this related to intelligence? If you don’t close your mind to an idea, and you are open to new ways of approaching a problem or open to new evidence to alter your perspective on things then you can L E A R N something new all the time! Don’t fall into the pattern that you know all the angles. You don’t. You never will. Otherwise you’ll become one of those people who gets locked into thinking “I know all about that” or being narrow-minded and thinking “all those people are like this.” Nobody likes that person. And nobody has ever accused that person of being intelligent.

 

Brown, A. (Writer, Director). (1998). Good Eats.

Defeyter, M., Avons, S. E., & German, T. C. (2007). Developmental changes in information central to artifact representation: Evidence from “functional fluency” tasks. Developmental Science, 10(5), 538-546.

 

Is losing a customer really worth just $11?

My wife is an avid online shopper. It’s convenient, you can comparison shop, you can do it at 2 in the morning when you can’t sleep,  you can buy stuff you wouldn’t be able to find in a store, etc. etc. She has loaded up an Ikea file drawer with a plethora of nail polish this way. We’re talking lots of polish. 100+. She has even developed a good reputation with several smaller-batch polish and makeup makers because of her loyalty and recognition of good product. Several will send her extras and samples with her orders because they recognize a good customer. However, recently one of these small companies decided that fixing their own mistake and trying to cheat her out of $11 was worth more than getting some more repeat business out of her.

 

She had ordered about $60 or so worth of various products from an online store. She got her confirmation email and we went off to dinner. About 2 hours later she got another confirmation email for the same order. She figured it was a mistake in the system, the email got sent twice. No big deal. About a week later 2 orders of the exact same thing showed up. She contacted the company and they said they wouldn’t take it back because it would cost them money to resell, restock, and they’ve already shelled out $11 to ship these items to her. She explained this was not her fault, it was theirs and she didn’t really care about them being out the money for their own mistake. She wanted her duplicate order money refunded and for them to cover shipping. This doesn’t sound like it should be rocket science, but apparently the decision making process at this online store is lacking.

 

They kept trying to guilt her into this over the course of several emails. Finally, my wife got annoyed stating that she has bought from these people many times before and couldn’t believe the treatment she was receiving. Let me reiterate that UPS basically has a parking spot in front of our apartment from all of the beauty supplies she buys every week being delivered. This was the last straw with them not admitting their mistake or demanding she split the cost of this mistake with them, or any other ridiculous thing. She said she would take her business elsewhere. Their response: “You’re the one who’s willing to cut ties over $11.”

 

Well, no. They’re the ones willing to cut ties over $11. They’re the company looking to sell items and my wife is the one with a gazillion options on places to shop. So, even if this was an honest mistake on their part they handled it poorly. Even if this situation were completely different and it was my wife’s fault, they need to understand that this poor customer service experience has cost them a ready and willing customer who loves to get any new shade of nail polish she can. For $11 they decided they stood on stupid principle. They need to realize that the first 2 rules of customer service are: 1)the customer is always right, and 2)reread rule 1. Rudeness and guilt are poor ways to run a customer service department. It leaves a lasting impression that will leave people not spending money with you and blogging about it on the internet.

How to keep your employees happy and lower your turnover costs

I have explained my job and studies to many people over the last few years. I basically sum it up that I want to help make employees happy at work so they come back the next day. Some people look at me a little cross-eyed like I’m some feelgood hippie that just walks around with sage smoking in an office to ward off evil spirits. Many many many more people’s eyes light up and say something to the effect of “man we could use someone like you.” To the owners and managers out there, listen to your employees that want someone like me to help you help them. It’s not about being a feelgood hippie type. It’s about doing some simple things to set yourself and employees up for success. Just think of all the things you have to do if they get unhappy and leave.

You spend money on the lost productivity of an unsatisfied employee or absent employee. You have to pay to advertise a new position availability if they leave or are fired. You have to train them, which again costs money and lost productivity from your trainer. Background checks and reference checks cost money. The time it takes to recruit and review resumes will have to come from somewhere (another loss in productivity and more money thrown away). Overtime to catch up on all that lost productivity. On top of the unanswered question of how many customers were alienated by an unhappy or overworked employee? These are all costs that can be minimized if you just do things right the first time.

 

1) Treat your employees like they deserve to be treated or like you would want to be treated. It’s the golden rule. Not hard. Let’s move on.

2) Train effectively. If you are going to take the time to train a new employee do it right the first time. Don’t waste your and their time as well as your money doing an ineffective job. By laying out the rules, regulations, expectations, and tools necessary for the new employee to feel comfortable and confident in their ability to do a good job for you. They will always have questions, that’s normal. But the more you can limit the 2nd guessing of themselves and of your company the better off they’ll be, the more confident in your decisions they’ll feel, and the more productive (ie more money they’ll make for you) they’ll be.

3) Be just and fair. I’ve written about this before (http://bit.ly/xOLIhm) but I can’t stress this enough. Everything else is derivative of this concept. Your training is derivative of justice. Promotions are derivative of justice. Bonuses are derivative of justice. Your feedback and employee reviews are derivative of justice. Etc etc. If you have an employee who feels they were passed over for a promotion because they were unjustly treated, the process for selection was bogus, or they weren’t even considered then guess what: They probably won’t work as hard or as long for you anymore. That isn’t to say you have to pander. People can handle being told “no” if it’s done fairly. If you need to take the time to sit down and discuss the decision process with them then it is well worth your time to do that. Which brings me to my last point…

4) Keep communication lines open. As I’ve told several managers at this point, there is no difference in what you say to your employees and your kids, just how you say it. Don’t condescend to your employee, but make sure they know exactly what it is that you want from them. Then give them the freedom to go do it (http://bit.ly/HOYS9f)

 

How to improve your customer service without spending a dime!

I’m sure if you were to ask 10 people what their biggest pet-peeve about shopping is, 11 would tell you it’s a bad customer service experience. Heck, look at most Yelp reviews with a lackluster rating and what do you see? Bad customer service. Whether it’s rude employees, not getting the value for your buck, or incompetence, there are a bunch of simple ways to improve the experience, stop the bleeding and keep those customers coming back to spend some more. In these times, with so many options for places to spend, and not a lot of people who can afford to do so, it doesn’t take much to implode. I worked in the restaurant industry for over 10 years. I prided myself on making sure people could come out and have a good time while I took care of them. If I was having a bad night, their money is still being spent. But these simple tips became very handy when things went awry. And these tips helped those times where things didn’t go right turn into loyal customers.

 

1) LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN! Oh, and LISTEN! Encourage your employees to listen to the grievance and help solve the problem. One of the things I hear people complain about most is dealing with a “know-nothing” employee. This, in my view, comes from employees not being empowered to do anything. If you give the authority to your employees to solve the problem as opposed to running to get a manager the customer will feel as if they are dealing with a competent, ie: smart and helpful, person. This doesn’t mean there are things that can’t go over their head or pay-grade. But encourage the employee to listen on how to solve the problem effectively. When a customer has a problem, they don’t want to explain it to someone who is just looking to run and hide so you can deal with it. It also makes the customer have to explain their issue more than once. I don’t know about you, but when I have to call my cell phone company and explain my issue repeatedly because I keep getting transferred from one person to another I get very annoyed. Typically solutions are simple, whether you just need to comp a meal, or they just need someone to listen to a grievance (sometimes that’s all they want) it doesn’t always need to escalate to the next level. But listen carefully so you can come to a fair resolution together. You can’t solve the problem if you don’t understand what the complaint is. LISTEN!

 

2) Seek out a problem. Yes you heard me (read me?) correctly. If you notice someone who is not happy then ask what you can do to resolve the issue. If a customer is picking through the clothes racks and just not finding anything, ask if there was something online they saw that maybe you can order from another store. If a customer leaves half their food and doesn’t want to box it up, ask if you can get them something else instead (or even just have the chef whip up something and surprise them). You’d be surprised how something like this will win over a customer for life who may not have come back because of a “meh” experience.

 

3). Follow up with them. If you have the opportunity, either get a contact number or email address to make sure there isn’t anything more you can do to get that customer back in the building. If you win them over, just think how many friends they will tell because of their experiences. Conversely, if you don’t win them over, just think how many friends they’ll tell about that. Also think about how many bad experiences from friends you hear about rather than the good ones.

 

4) Get as much feedback as you can from your customers. See where there are weaknesses. See where you missed those opportunities. And this also provides the opportunity to follow up with them to see if you have resolved whatever issues they had. It also gives them the opportunity to tell you what went right! As a manager, I never tired of those customer service experiences. When I got to hear praise about my employees and how wonderful they are.

 

These 4 little things are just the tip of the iceberg in ways to get your customers coming back. But you need to start from here. If things still need some sprucing up, my phone number and email are easy to find…

Have you ever seen a championship team without chemistry?

Continuing the theme of Peyton Manning talk, we’re shifting to chemistry now. As any sports fan knows, the chemistry of a team is very important. It’s one of those buzzwords you hear on ESPN all the time whenever some sort of team controversy pops up, which is all the time. When some player chimes in with some disparaging words for his fellow teammates or coach, “chemistry” is the new word of the day. The thing is, we rarely ever see the ESPN analysts discussing this issue with championship teams do we? And a lot of those championship teams have a core group of players that have been wearing that same uniform for quite a while. Coincidence? I think not. Look at the Patriots run of championships and success. The Colts had a lot of success. The Lakers. The Yankees. The Twins and the A’s in the early part of the decade. It’s not all about money and buying talent. It’s about keeping the same working pieces who can coexist and work well together and functioning like a well-oiled machine.

 

With the Peyton Manning news finally coming to an end (at least until training camp starts) we saw another player who was entangled in his decision end up going back to his old team. Alex Smith. Alex Smith is the starting QB for a team with a core group of players that have been there for quite a while now. They may add a piece or two here and there, but for the most part they have stayed the same. There is a lot to be said for that. When players have played together for a long time, they don’t have to think. They just react. They trust each other to do the right thing, to be where they are supposed to be. They develop a bond and understand how they will react and what can press their respective buttons. Smith’s returning to SF is, I believe, a very important element to the chemistry continuing to build towards a championship.

 

I read an article a few years ago about this same issue with doctors and hospital personnel. This is an area where the entire community where that hospital is benefits from how well they do their job. Do you want a surgeon performing anything risky on you if his or her mind is half-concentrating on whether or not the new nurse knows what they’re doing? No. Of course not. The article essentially stated that hospitals run much more smoothly the longer the employees have worked together. Why should that change for any other industry? Sure you want some fresh ideas every once in a while. But keeping that core chemistry thriving towards the “well-oiled machine” goal of every good company is very important. And, hopefully, for my hometown 49ers, that core chemistry will produce big time next year.

Pressing the reset button: Getting a new fresh face to your business. What Peyton Manning and the Colts have in common with you.

I am a big advocate of promoting from within. The people you have hired and employed deserve the first shot at any promotion. They know the business, the culture, the mission of what you are trying to do, the politics of the office, etc. Not only that, they will probably resent being passed over for some “outsider” to the position they “deserve.” It goes hand in hand of procedural justice. If someone feels like they didn’t get treated fairly for this promotion then their work product will probably suffer.

 

However, in honor of my favorite football player, Peyton Manning, getting released from the Colts today, I want to explore the other side of that coin. Manning has been the face of the Colts for about 13 years or so. He has been the most important player they’ve ever had. Just as Babe Ruth built the old Yankee Stadium, Manning is responsible for the state of the art, billion dollar Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy. Letting him go is definitely a signal that change is imminent. Bringing in that new face, whether Andrew Luck to play QB, or a new employee to your business at home gives that air of freshness, a new start, and a different perspective to usher in that new era.

 

It isn’t always a good thing to continue having the same people working for you. Sometimes shaking up the perspective and bringing in a new dynamic and method is just what the doctor ordered. While I am sad about Manning going elsewhere, the excitement of the “new” will get people re-energized. When you have the opportunity present itself, look to see whether a fresh face to lead is what you need.