Meet a team of two who provide a service that every organization needs at one time or another. Erin Lubien and her partner, Judith Feinleib, run a consultancy with a mission to improve corporate cultures.
What exactly is it about some corporate cultures that would need your type of improvement?
Erin Lubien: Let’s start with the critical point. Judith and I have found that every organization has problems that are neither written nor spoken about. At Lubien-Feinleib Intelligent Consulting (LFIC), we identify those issues, work with leaders of the organization to solve the problem(s), and assist with implementation. We call our work, “building community in business”.
Who exactly within the organization would identify that they have a problem worthy of addressing?
Erin Lubien: Typically, one or more leaders in an organization (or department) recognize that there are issues with financials, productivity, and/or customer or employee satisfaction. We have worked with CEOs, CFOs, HR leaders, and business development professionals who see that things aren’t running as well as they could.
How do they identify said problems? Is it something they see firsthand? Is it a conclusion that they come to after talking with employees or leadership?
Erin Lubien: There are many ways problems are identified. Organizations could be losing money. They could have experienced (or be about to experience) great change in growth, competitive edge, market leadership. An organization may be experiencing unusual attrition, including, but not limited to, senior leaders or key employees.
Is the concept of bringing in third-party consultants to address these issues a fairly new concept? What do you think makes this a good time to be in this line of work?
Erin Lubien: I want to address the last question first. Now more than ever, corporate America is changing the way it works and treats people. Judith and I both believe that this has connections to the ways in which technology has bridged locations, time zones, and teams around the globe; Judith worked on this issue a number of years ago and called the concept, “The Electronic Umbrella.” Critical to this work was (and is) the knowledge that technology is a tool that is used by people.
It is “people” who need to be engaged when there are changes in work life. We help people around the world lay out the paths used by teams so they can unite, feel respected and valued – while they meld with technology to increase productivity and make better and faster decisions.
Now to your first question. Third-party consultants have been brought in when there are issues, when new tools and processes need to be assessed and recommended. However, we have evidence that few consultants do in-depth work with the people – the staff – without whom the organization cannot succeed. Instead, their people efforts are confined to reorganization, lay-offs, etc. We fill the gap by helping organizations be their best; to do this, we use a lot of micro-research and collaborative problem solving.
Walk us through a case study. What have you been hired to accomplish recently, and how did you go about it?
Erin Lubien: The LFIC website, www.lubienfeinleibconsulting.com, has a number of case studies that lay out some of the issues on which we’ve worked.
At a bank which serviced community banks, HR created, delivered and analyzed an employee survey that identified great distress; people did not think they were paid well, they felt benefits could be better, and they were unhappy with management. Further, it was apparent that the questions could easily allow anyone else to identify the person replying, something supported by rumors about how each employee feared retaliation.
We read the survey and the results. We decided to rewrite the survey so that it captured the essence of the original so as to allow for ways to validate the original sentiment. The survey was delivered to and completed by the same people but only we had access to the answers. We designed this anonymous survey to engage the employees across the company and to identify the underlying problems.
The survey showed that employees at all levels did not feel as if its voices were or could be heard. They didn’t understand what their role was in contributing to the greater good of the company. More – they felt they couldn’t trust their managers all the way up to the CEO.
Upon further analysis, we discovered the reasons why. Meetings were judged to be too long and not interactive. When decisions needed to be made, they were pushed off for periods as long as weeks because the decision maker was not available. Senior management was never present at all-hands meetings. And people believed that everyone else was judging their time and projects under a microscope, pointing to the trust issues mentioned.
While the survey was being completed, we interviewed senior management about their thoughts on company issues. We cut through their defenses in the first ten minutes and were able to have an open and honest conversation that led to findings that further expanded in ways a survey could not.
Once reported, we were asked to correct the problems and help management be more effective with staff. From initial meeting to final result — a satisfied workforce — the company’s executives turned employee sentiment from poor to good, created avenues for employees to actively engage in decisions and problem solving; people in the bank were able to react in real-time to changes in the market (such as interest rate increases and dramatic events around the world) that just three months earlier would have stalled productivity.
Do you focus on companies in greater Boston, or can you serve anyone nation-wide or even internationally?
Erin Lubien: We can (and have) served companies all over the world. While my experience has been with global companies headquartered in the U.S., Judith has worked with companies headquartered all over the world.
Are there instances where corporate events could trigger some massive changes in the corporate culture – or certainly put it to the test? I’m thinking specifically of the recent Phillips announcement to move two thousand employees from Andover to Boston. What do you think when you hear about that plan? Is that an example of a company that could use your type of assistance?
Erin Lubien: In my experience, most corporate events have triggered a sense of uncertainty across an organization. Questions like, “will I lose my job?”, “what will happen if I do or don’t want to move?” occur while employees digest the news. Typically, the details haven’t been finalized – especially with construction still underway – until closer to the move date. Further, such a move that can seem daunting to some can trigger attrition, planned by management or not.
To lessen concerns, executives have to be as clear and transparent as possible. We can help in identifying all the questions key constituents may have – from staff and contractors to vendors, clients and shareholders – and create and help execute a communications plan that addresses their concerns. It is essential that leaders and managers, as well as client-facing employees, are equally equipped with information to help calm the sense of uncertainty. In addition, there should be regularly-scheduled updates to stave off the human reaction to change.
Finally, a transition plan is critical for both those who will stay in Andover and those moving to Kendall Square. Adjustments – much like in our personal lives with moving – can be hard on people and details like consolidating the old office or parking in Cambridge become grave concerns if not planned and communicated ahead of time. We take all of these details into consideration and in the communications plan, plot timing of these details to soothe unease.
Another example is the potential for Amazon to set up one million square feet of space in Boston. What would your potential role be in helping with a major, cross-country move such as this?
Erin Lubien: Our role to support Amazon’s new second headquarters would be very clear – to help its national and local leaders to be the best they can be for their organization. With an approval rating of 4 stars out of 5 on Glassdoor, Amazon’s potential employees will expect and be drawn to the same level of culture found on the west coast. However, Boston, if chosen, is a different place than Seattle.
Regardless of final location, we would focus on three key components of the opening of Amazon’s new HQ: corporate culture, employee communications and community. First we would identify the core pillars of its culture that its employees enjoy – and those they don’t. If necessary, we will tailor those pillars to conform to the new location and its potential employee base. This would feed the general employee communications plan for the new HQ so that employees are kept informed on all national, local and departmental Amazon news. We would also help moving employees adjust to the new location with all the information they need to have to experience an easy personal and professional move – including, most importantly, connecting transplanted people to networks in the region and their chosen neighborhoods.
The community we would help build for Amazon is the most critical factor contributing to success in a new location. People who move into Boston are not generally privy to the personal and professional networks surrounding them. By focusing on building an organizational community, new and transplanted employees will have an easier adjustment to the company and its location.
Finally, what would you like prospective clients to know about what it’s like to work with you?
Erin Lubien: Hmmm. We are two women who speak plainly, create trust and respect early on and enjoy what we’re doing along the way. We have been doing what we are offering businesses for a very long time. Once we worked together and realized that we have this intuition and the skills needed in common, we knew we could hit the mark and — ultimately — help people enjoy their work, feel valued, have mutual respect and trust in their work life. We practice what we preach as well.
InGoodCompany: Thank you for your time Erin, and for sharing this behind the scenes look at your business.