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As a consulting and project management company, Byon incorporates analysis of organizational processes and advanced information technologies in its solutions. Founded in 2002 today the company has 45 employees, most of whom have many years of seniority and experience. We spoke with Yair Dembinsky, vice president of projects and a partner in the company, and Meirav Yavneh, personnel manager and a senior knowledge management consultant, about Byon’s uniqueness in the field of consulting and how it operates without a hierarchical structure or bosses, its unconventional method of employment and an approach to management that departs from the norm.
On the company’s founding:
Yair: Byon is a private company founded by Boris Yaniv six years ago. During its first years the company was quite small and without a lot of pretense, having a staff of 3-6 people. I fully joined the company at the beginning of 2006 and since then we’ve decided to expand, growing at a rate of 70%-100% per year. The company currently has 45 employees.
What principles have guided you in expanding the company to its present size?
Yair: The moment we decided to expand the company we wanted to become number one in the area we operate in, so we decided on two principles, to which a third factor was added. The first principle was a decision to bring into the company only top gunners. Unlike a lot of competing consulting company where there are a handful of gurus and the rest of the staff is young people just starting out, we decided to hire only people with a lot of experience. The average experience of Byon workers is 15 years. You could say it’s a company of professionals.
The second principle we decided on was that most of the people at the company would be the kind who spent most of their careers as managers or employees at large organizations, and not as consultants or external providers.
Yair Dembinsky, vice president of projects and a partner in the company (right),
and Meirav Yavneh, personnel manager and senior knowledge
management consultant (left)
Yair: So that we’d know the solutions we’re offering and building for large organizations are real and practical. Consultants who aren’t very familiar with organizations often offer solutions that look good, but their applicability is problematic. As people who were at organizations and employed consultants, we know what works and what doesn’t, so the solutions we offer are very pragmatic. The third factor, which did not stem from a decision in principle but occurred naturally, is that a company formed here where most of the people have known one another well for many years. I brought in a lot of people from the past who I know and like and this has created a company that’s very warm and close-knit, a company made up of people who really like one another.
What are Byon’s areas of operations?
Yair: Byon provides solutions and consulting services in a range of fields – knowledge management, business continuity, risk management, characterization and systems analysis, information systems and website development, analyzing and improving processes and more. What the various projects we’re involved in have in common is that they require three main abilities: first, a very good ability in analyzing processes. That’s one of our core abilities. The second ability: a very profound understanding of technology. We have people who are software personnel, as well as systems analyzers and industrial management engineers with 20-25 years’ experience, so we can cover a whole lot of aspects of technology and analyzing processes. The third and complementary ability is our understanding of corporate behavior regarding delicate issues: assimilation, corporate psychology and managing changes.
What are your added values in areas related to corporate behavior?
Yair: On one hand we have people with relevant educational background, like Meirav, who has a master’s degree in organizational behavior, and other people whose expertise lies in corporate psychology, and on the other hand people like me, who didn’t learn it, but managed and led processes and changes within organizations and became experts on corporate behavior. This broad ability – from psychology to technology – is very unique.
How are your consulting operations carried out?
Yair: In the first stage we try to analyze and gain an in-depth understanding of the organization’s needs. Then we adapt the technology, whether through the use of a shelf product or through development.
Meirav: When we come to a client first we listen to what the client needs. We don’t come to sell a product, so we chose not to represent any specific tool. Every organization needs specific solutions that fit its needs.
Who is the company’s target group?
Yair: We have a whole lot of clients, mostly large organizations. In one channel we have mostly small clients – out website construction channel. In the other areas we work in the clients are mostly large organizations, such as Israel Aerospace Industries, the Electric Corporation, the Airports Authority, Teva, various branches of the IDF, Bank Leumi, the National Roads Company, Israel Police and large high-tech companies like SAP, Ness and ECI.
How are ties formed between you as a provider offering a range of services and potential customers?
Yair: Sometimes organizations contact us, and oftentimes we contact them. Our staff is made up of people with years of experience, people who are well known and have a lot of contacts, so it’s easy for us to contact potential clients, get to conferences and forums and open doors. Today one of our main channels for bringing in projects is expanding projects for existing clients or recommendations by existing clients that bring in additional projects.
Meirav: It makes a big difference who the client is and who the figure at the organization that contacted us is. Recently more customers have been coming to us on their own, looking for consultation services in a certain field.
What is Byon’s organizational structure?
Yair: The company is not built in a hierarchical way, but in a very flat way, so there are no real bosses here.
What is run in an orderly and hierarchical manner at Byon is the projects. Each project has a work team headed by a project manager. A project cannot be run in a flat way.
We have a layer of vice presidents, heads of fields of operations and project managers, and the distribution of responsibility among the vice presidents is not really clear.
Doesn’t the lack of clarity regarding the vice presidents’ areas of responsibility create a mess?
Yair: It’s clear to each of us who’s responsible for what, but it’s hard to lay down distinctions and delineate borders of responsibility. Still, it works out well in all of our operations.
Meirav: There is clarity, but it’s not written down anywhere and it’s hard to explain it in regular terms.
Every staff member knows exactly who to turn to regarding any matter, and if he doesn’t know he can ask.
Yair: The staff knows this without having to be told. Beneath the layer of vice presidents are the heads of fields, whose tasks are clearly defined. There are projects that definitely belong to a certain field, there are projects that have crossover and there are also cases where I work on a certain project that has a manager and serve as a resource for that project, despite the fact I’m a vice president.
Because of the way the company is managed employees don’t have a direct supervisor?
Yair: Strictly speaking they don’t. However, to keep people from feeling like orphans with nobody to turn to, every single person has chosen a mentor to serve as a substitute for a direct supervisor. The mentor is the person to go to with any and every matter, from personal issues to professional issues and building a development track.
I meet with people who I mentor once every two or three weeks.
Does this create a conflict in cases where you mentor people who are subordinate to somebody else in a given project?
Yair: I work in full coordination with the project managers, and in all matters specifically related to the project the one who directs the consultant and manages him is the project manager. If I make a mistake, and that does happen, I expect to be called on it and then I accept the correction, internalize it and rectify the matter. Sometimes a person works on several projects with various project managers and I have to coordinate with more than one manager. That demands sensitivity. This structure is really interesting, but you have to know how to work within it.
Tell us about the way workers are employed at the company?
Yair: The way workers are employed here is very unconventional. The vast majority of people at the company are paid by the hour. This stems both from the kind of people here and a decision we made. Very few people here work fulltime.
Does that mean most of your staff is employed as freelancers?
Yair: The method of employment has nothing to do with the number of hours worked. We have people who submit invoices and others who prefer receiving a regular salary. The payment method is based on every staff member’s personal preference.
What are the advantages to this method of employment from the workers’ perspective?
Yair: On the surface this type of employment involves a risk due to the lack of job security, but the flexibility is a big advantage. Everyone can work wherever and whenever he wants, as long as the finished product comes on time and is of good quality. Most of our staff members work out of their homes. Because we have a lot of working mothers and a lot of people working on their doctorates, part-time work is very convenient for them. We try hard to accommodate people and take their personal schedules into account.
How do you avoid creating a situation in which the lines between personal life and work hours are blurred?
Yair: The key is mutual respect. I respect every individual’s preferences and limitations. I know who I can contact during late-night hours and who you can’t talk to from the moment they leave the office. The moment you allow people this flexibility, they are less bothered by the lack of job security and the varying workload.
Does the lack of job security affect your employee turnover rate?
Yair: We have almost no turnover at the company. People hardly ever leave, even those who work few hours.
Only a handful have left us over the years, in most cases because they were looking for a regular fulltime job, and even they left on friendly terms and have kept in touch.
Meirav: One of the reasons why people stay at the company despite the lack of job security is because of the way we treat people.
How would you characterize the atmosphere at the company?
Yair: I think the most important thing about working with people is that they sense their importance as people takes priority over the job. That’s the kind of atmosphere that pervades at the company and everybody’s attitude toward everybody else. It comes from the top and trickles down throughout the company.
Meirav: This is a company that’s really fun to belong to and very pleasant to be at. All of us could have chosen to take senior positions at large organizations, working fulltime with guaranteed income, but nothing can replace your feeling of personal responsibility in addition to the individual freedom you have and the professional backing you get here.
What is the composition of the staff at Byon?
Meirav: The makeup of the staff here is really varied. We have people with PhDs and master’s degrees, a lot of people with extensive experience and background, and there are others who haven’t encountered the field of knowledge management at all, but we recognized potential in them and trained them.
Yair: There’s a rabbi here who met me in a knowledge management course I taught and at the end of the course he asked me to recommend a place of work for him, and because I spotted his potential during the course I invited him to come here. We trained him as a knowledge management consultant and today he is a knowledge-management project worker here.
What recruitment activities do you conduct?
Meirav: Our main recruitment activities are for our clients. To accomplish this I rely largely on Jobnet. Many of the organizations we work with are pleased with us, with our vision and our professional abilities and want knowledge-management personnel who work at the organization itself.
Yair: Most of the people who work here came through personal acquaintances, but when we don’t have the right person available in our circle of acquaintances, we turn to Meirav for targeted recruitment.
Meirav: Recently we recruited through Jobnet people for very focused jobs for our needs, people with very substantial experience.
Why do clients make use of your mediation rather than recruiting directly?
Meirav: Because I come from the world of knowledge management I have an advantage in my ability to locate, which allows greater success. In knowledge-management recruitment the success rate is 100%. All of the clients that contacted me with requests to locate a knowledge management worker hired the candidate I suggested to them. I locate most of the employees through the Jobnet site.
Do you recruit for clients for other positions as well, besides knowledge management?
Meirav: Since we’re known as a multi-disciplinary and professional company in many fields, we’re asked to locate employees for other jobs as well, such as software development. The advantage I offer is that I’m experienced at locating high-tech personnel and in conducting interviews based on my service in the IDF Intelligence Corps, where I headed the Technology Unit’s human resources department. Although I’m not experienced in high-tech I understand the field and know how to interview people correctly for these positions. I’m not a fan of passing on faxed resumes. I scrutinize them and if something looks unclear to me, I ask one of our high-tech people to explain it to me. I send only 5-10 resumes per job, but each of the candidates is generally called in for an interview at the company.
Doesn’t the fact the company operates without a human resources department compromise company events?
Meirav: We have human resources processes at the company, but it happens through a different channel and is not placed under a single person.
The matter of training courses, for instance, is handled by Yair, responsibility for locating and recruiting personnel is in my hands entirely and individual and professional development is handled by the CEO and the VPs. Responsibility for company events is rotated. Once a year we hold a large company event to foster unity.
Yair: Because of the nature of the company and the fact we don’t meet together much altogether, the emphasis at these events is on internal unity. At the last of these events the goal was achieved very nicely. People got to know one another better.
With your company’s unique format, how do you manage to preserve a sense of coherence?
Yair: Every project has a different composition of employees and during the course of working on the project people meet with one another. We also hold company-wide social events and of course make a toast before holidays. Last year, when we finished the year with a net profit, we decided 10% of company profits would be distributed among the employees. The staff was very surprised by the move. We felt it was important to give concrete form to our message that the staff members are real partners in the company.
What kinds of training programs does the company offer?
Yair: We have a lot of internal training courses that we invest a lot of thought and resources in. Most of our instructors come from inside the company, but for specific fields we bring in external instructors. We hold monthly workshops designed for all staff members. The areas of instruction are selected by identifying which areas we want to strengthen among company employees. We also hold external courses on knowledge management, inviting people from within the company to take part as well.
What opportunities for advancement and personal development do you offer company employees?
Meirav: The company is expanding, sending out branches in various fields, so opportunities are growing too. Every consultant who succeeds and impresses us with his managerial, organizational and professional capabilities can develop toward a job heading a certain field or as a project manager. Informal promotion comes across in the form of professional development, which the company makes available abundantly to all employees.
Yair: I serve as a mentor to several people at the company and in mentoring meetings one of the things we address is the promotion track, whether within the employee’s area of expertise or as a manager. We discuss it together and assess which directions the employee wants to develop in, what areas interest him and what he wants to advance in.
As a manager without a formal background in management, but with a lot of experience, what managerial insights have you acquired over the years?
Yair: One of the things I understood over the years is that people learn very differently, and this has to be taken into account and respected. There are people who need to listen first and gain confidence before they dive in and there are those who have to try it out, make mistakes and get a few slaps in the face in order to learn. If you try to impose a uniform method it won’t work. I might have actually gained by not having studied management formally, but tried it out through hands-on experience. When you experience something you find out where you make mistakes and learn from them. Another thing I learned over the years is that positive feedback is a lot better than negative feedback. People want to receive positive feedback and have you direct their work in such a way that it will be accepted, so positive feedback is a lot more effective. I use negative feedback very little, so that when I do use it, it’s meaningful. This dosage level creates an atmosphere of wanting to be better.
Another very important thing is knowing to give credit where credit is due. In the end that’s what builds desire and motivation, and your job as a manager is to create motivation and give people direction and professional abilities.
In conclusion, what is the Byon vision?
Yair: Our vision is to be the leading Israeli company in all fields of consulting that we decide to engage in. The playing field includes handling processes, technology and organizational culture, and not just in their entirety, but each of them separately. The vision is to continue growing without losing the pleasant, close-knit atmosphere we have at the company. We don’t hold meetings to discuss the company vision because we believe in making the future happen rather than dreaming about it.
For the Hebrew Article