Aviv - A Long-Term Commitment

Aviv, a management-engineering consulting company, was founded in 1988 by two veteran consultants who stressed their ability to implement what they recommended. The company vision is built on the principle that a consulting company must not only advise and recommend, but also manage the actual process of change. Aviv grew throughout the 1990s and by the year 2000 had 80 employees. Since then it has doubled in size and today has 150 staff members in Israel and another 20 in the US and Ireland. The staff is made up of a variety of people: industrial management engineers, financial advisors, strategic advisors, organizational advisors, draftsmen and architects.
In 2008 Aviv started operating as a group of independent companies.
We spoke with Carol Shela, the group's director of human resources, on Aviv's operations and its approach to employee management.

Recently you started operating with a revamped organizational structure. What can you tell me about it?
Carol Shela: Since January 2008 the group started operating with an organizational structure that includes three independent companies - Aviv Management, which provides management consulting services; Aviv Infrastructures, which provides planning and setup services for projects in areas like engineering, infrastructures, urban planning and environmental quality; and Aviv Strategies, which provides strategic consulting services. Each company has a distinct specialty and client base and therefore each of them has functions that support commercial growth (recruitment, sales, administration and billing).
These companies employ most of the group's workers, in areas such as production management, supply chain management, setup and salary management, etc. The group also has a subsidiary in the US and another in Europe, as well as another company involved in investment banking, mergers and acquisitions. Each of these companies is managed as an independent profit center.

What forces guide the company's human resources policy?
The company's main asset is its staff. And that's not just a motto. At the entrance to the company offices it says, "Methodologies can't try harder," but people can. This attitude has been ingrained in the company's organizational culture since its founding.

How does this come across?
I'll give you a few examples that are indicative of the organizational culture:
A central distinguishing feature is extensive information transparency. At Aviv there are very few manifestations of company politics. There are no power struggles. Instead there's a lot of willingness to cooperate and help out. You don't encounter unpleasant surprises. This makes it relatively easy to advance initiatives. There's no need to invest a lot of energy in moving matters forward. You don't have to constantly be worried you might insult or hurt someone. There are none of the intrigues, brimming anger and affronts often found at other organizations. At Aviv we don't get involved in these kinds of things.
The company has an open-door policy, and that's more than just a slogan. An employee who wants to speak with the CEO doesn't have to make an appointment, but simply knocks on the door. If he has a moment, they talk. The company is also exceptional in its humbleness. People are not caught up in outward status signs, but rather the content of the work. Professionalism, diligence and commitment to quality performance are the core values of real importance.

What is the policy regarding employee advancement and development?
The company offers employees a range of opportunities for development and growth. There's a lot of openness to new ideas and a willingness to execute them. There's a sense of constant newness. If a good idea is raised it gets carried out. Recently one of our managers came up with an idea to develop a new field. Her idea was well received, she developed it and now she's managing it.
There's an atmosphere of caring at the company - human warmth and not just commercial considerations. There is competition between the various fields, but the atmosphere is one of encouragement. People don't step on one another. There's a pleasant working atmosphere based on cooperation and personal attention.
On one hand there's a demand for a high level of performance because we constantly stress the importance of providing the customer added value. On the other hand there's an understanding of the employees' needs. We ask the employees to produce results, but we do this pleasantly.

Many consulting companies employee consultants through freelance arrangements as well, in order to maintain employment flexibility. What is Aviv's policy on this matter?
One of the important decisions Aviv heads made when the company was first starting out was to employ all of the workers as salaried employees. It was an unusual decision since, as you stated, many consulting companies base a considerable portion of their work on freelance workers in an effort to save on fixed overhead expenses - which is especially important at companies whose main activity is projects.
The hope was to transform Aviv into a place where employees could develop, both personally and financially. This builds a reputation and a culture of people with company pride. We worked on building value for our company, founded on a fixed staff and
a long-term commitment. This is the only way to lay the groundwork for a collective vision, culture and values that serve to build the value for shareholders. We assess this vision every few years and based on it set a strategic plan and a work plan for the next few years.

How do you assess employees' satisfaction with the company?
At Aviv two main opinion surveys are conducted: a customer survey held once a year and an employee survey held every other year. The customer survey is distributed to hundreds of customers that received services from Aviv over the years. It assesses customer satisfaction, placing an emphasis on "commitment to results." The results are sent out to all company employees and the managers meet to discuss the findings and draw up conclusions.
The other survey assesses employees' opinions regarding the Aviv Group, particularly company management. Some of the questions relate to the entire group, e.g. "To what extent do you perceive Aviv to be a company with high professional capabilities?" or "Would you like to continue advancing within Aviv?" Other questions relate to the level of management, e.g. "To what extent does your direct supervisor set a good example?" or "To what extent is your direct supervisor open to criticism?"

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What is Aviv's compensation policy?
Starting salaries levels are set according to two main components: standard wages in the relevant job market (according to professional wage surveys in which we take part) and a compensation framework suited to the position. Every job at the company has a set salary range, meaning as long as the employee is in a certain position his salary cannot rise beyond a ceiling level set for that job. The ceiling level is eliminated the moment the employee gets promoted.
The company policy and data (except for personal information, of course) is visible to all, as part of the company's transparency policy. Along with the base pay we also run an incentive program. The group's managers also stand to gain from the profits their business units generate in accordance with the results.
The company runs a special apparatus called Policy Deployment Matrix (PDM), which sets monthly goals of personal growth for each manager based on various parameters: sales volume, profit level, billing level, etc. At the end of the quarter performances and targets are laid side by side and the results are analyzed. Managers receive incentives directly related to their achievements.

Are there nonmaterial forms of recognition too?
Definitely. Salary is important to us, but it's not the main thing. Sometimes we get a job candidate who got a better salary offer elsewhere, but nevertheless prefers to join Aviv. The company has a good reputation in the job market among industrial management engineers.
In the group recognition is given to employees whose performance is exceptional. An employee who achieves impressive results takes part in a ceremony where his achievements are presented and he is given a special gift, like a weekend hotel getaway. Every year recognition is also given for the department that excelled in its achievements, based on parameters such as customer satisfaction, professionalism, monetary performance and innovativeness. Recognition for employees in that department is expressed by announcing their excellence and granting them funding to hold
a get-together.
In 2007, for instance, Functional Planning and its staff enjoyed an evening
get-together - dinner and a performance by a guest artist.

A company that stresses its constant contacts with the employees has to engage in training its future cadre of managers, too. How is this accomplished at Aviv?
The managerial reserve training program is a central program in the group and handles all aspects of developing managers. This training program is designed to create a managerial infrastructures base for the future of the company. The program includes 15 classes held once every three weeks, with 14 employees from the company's various departments. Those who complete the program successfully can be appointed to the first level of management at the company - project manager. The direct supervisor is the one in charge of the employee's promotion and development, which includes placing him in this program.
During the course of the program these "reserve managers" take part in workshops that provide them essential skills, as they acquire professional know-how and execute joint tasks.
The crowning achievement during the course is an activity called CEO Day. Every participant joins the CEO for a few hours and accompanies him wherever he goes. It's an excellent opportunity to learn to understand how the top manager thinks and gives the CEO a chance to get to know his staff members better. During their studies the "reserve managers" form a homogenous group in company-wide activity.

What kind of people are you recruiting? What distinguishes them?
When the company first got started the founding managers said they looked for job candidates who had served as combat soldiers, people who know how to charge a hill, not "flight controllers," as they put it. When they would interview a job candidate they would try to put a scare into him, saying he'd have to get up at 5:00 am, work 12 hours a day, travel long distances and that his advancement would be slow. Only those who agreed to work under such conditions were hired.
Today we evaluate whether the candidate is suited to the organizational culture. This factor is importance, but it's not always the main factor in the screening process. In this matter we make a distinction between a low-level worker and a senior-level post. Being suited to the organizational culture at the entry level is less critical, because we assume the culture is contagious and will soon have its effect on the new worker. On the other hand, in the case of recruiting a new manager, this suitability is much more important, although it's not enough to prevent him from getting hired if he meets the other requirements. In a borderline case it can swing the scales.
There are four main attributes and qualifications that we look for in new workers:
1. An ability to analyze information and go into detail. These abilities are important in every consultant.
2. An ability to sell ideas, to present an issue and persuade high-level managers to do things they didn't do before forging ties with the consultant. Therefore it's not enough to show professionalism; an ability to convey messages is needed too.
3. An ability to make things move with energy and enthusiasm.
4. An ability to show tolerance, attentiveness and understanding. People with a short fuse can't deal with customers. The employee doesn't have the luxury of getting angry with the customer, so you need to have a certain type of character. He can't just say,
"I don't feel like it."

 

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