An Interview with Noushin Dunkelman on Organizational Consulting
Noushin Dunkelman is an active member of the SDEE Consultants Committee. The committee, started in 2017, was formed to help the biotech community access information and consultants who may be beneficial for their companies. They hold quarterly events to share technical and organizational knowledge. They provide access to specialists through consultant office hours. In addition, the committee organizes workshops to help consultants grow and learn from one another. There are 70 members, and their areas of expertise include corporate business development, clinical development, drug discovery, regulatory, marketing, organizational development, legal matters including contracts and patents, pharmacology, project management, and website design.
What do you do at MaxSynergy Consulting?
I provide organizational consulting for a wide range of companies, including biotech companies. This means I work with organizations to find the root of their internal problems and provide custom solutions that meet each company’s individual needs. All solutions are practical and based on over 25 years of product development and management experience.
What is organizational consulting?
Organizational consulting is really about identifying what is getting in the way of communication and productivity, and developing practical solutions that get to the cause of the problems.
Organizational consulting is also about helping companies break through stagnation and bring out the best in their people by developing practices for clarifying expectations, providing actionable feedback and creating accountability. I help clients improve communication at all levels of their organization. I work with teams to develop and implement new skills and tools to change company culture. I also coach experienced executives to further develop their leadership skills and help new leaders going into a management position for the first time, accelerate their transition and hit the ground running.
Leaders can avoid many problems and ensure long-term success by engaging with an organizational consultant when their company is still early-stage. By creating the right practices early on, leaders can facilitate growth of their organization, and help their teams to become more resilient, more adaptive, and more innovative. This way leaders don’t have to keep coming up with fixes to band-aid organizational problems, which slows down progress at all levels.
Why did you become an organizational consultant?
I built many successful teams throughout my 25-year biotech career, bringing not only technical expertise but also what I call organization intuitiveness to the table. By this I mean the knowledge of how to make teams work better together by harnessing their creativity and accountability.
I wanted a new challenge and debated for several years about how I could best use my skills and knowledge to help our industry progress. I have always enjoyed the technical challenges of working in biotech, but was frustrated seeing teams who couldn’t deliver on their promises. So, 5 years ago I decided to use my problem solving and organizational knowledge to switch from process engineering to organizational engineering . Now I help companies with their team and culture to work to their full potential.
What sort of companies do you work with?
A lot of people are surprised to know that organizational problems are very similar across different industries. Companies making chocolate or installing restaurant equipment have similar fundamental team and cultural problems to biotech companies.
I focus on biotech because that’s where most of my experience is. Biotech companies have unique regulatory and product development challenges that other industries don’t face. I understand, from first-hand experience, how these challenges change at various leadership levels, in different departments, and as an organization grows and pivots.
What are the most common problems you see within life science companies?
Communication is the biggest problem. As life science companies grow, the focus changes. Smaller companies are primarily focused on research and fundraising. Startup companies have only a few employees who all know each other, so communication can be direct from employee to employee. But as companies grow, they expand into areas like product development, quality control, quality assurance, clinical development, and regulatory compliance. Each of these areas has its own language and requirements. There are now more employees and tiers of management. The type and route of communication need to change to make sure that everyone stays aligned and focused on company goals.
Communication doesn’t just happen. It is a leadership responsibility to design and implement an effective communication strategy. Leaders need be open and transparent about changes. They also need to take the time to understand communication barriers, and to create and reinforce everyday practices that improve communication throughout the organization.
The second biggest problem I see is managers hiring the wrong people. A lot of the time hiring managers focus on someone’s talent and pedigree especially when hiring for upper level management, but I have seen people with an excellent pedigree come in and destroy a whole team’s morale, productivity and ultimately success. How a person fits into a team is as important, if not more important, than technical ability. We don’t train our managers on how to ask behavioural and value-based interview questions to ensure culture fit as well as asking about experience and technical ability.
What are some signs that a company has communication problems?
A major sign of communication problems is when the accountability and productivity of a team drops. Another sign is when people are not happy because they are not getting the information they need to do their job. Often when I go in and talk to people at the management level and at the team level, everyone tells me that communication is not happening. Management feel like they are communicating but what they don’t realize is that they have spent weeks coming up with the strategy and only communicated it once or twice, and did not make sure that everyone knew enough to execute.
I always tell executives that repetition is your best friend. The lack of timely and clear communication causes frustration and unproductivity at all levels. Teams become unproductive, and management becomes frustrated because they see people not being accountable for execution of the plan/strategy.
What are 2 to 3 simple things a company can start doing to improve communication?
Good communication needs to start with the leaders. Management must be willing to hear problems and find out what barriers are stopping the flow of necessary information. When searching for these barriers, you need to involve people from grassroot levels. One way of doing this is to create culture ambassadors – a group of people from the grassroots who communicate problems and potential solutions with management. That way it isn’t only one person speaking up but a group of people from all different departments. When the team is directly involved in the process, they have a stake in the outcome. Everyone wants to find solutions to team problems and organizational problems.
Another very important thing is for leaders to be transparent about how decisions are made and how that gets down to each level. Have a clear and consistent practice for sharing information from the C-suite to directors, team leaders and all team members. Keep people accountable for how and when they share key information. Each person should know exactly whom they must tell so that every employee hears the news or information. A CEO should be able to stop anyone in the hallway and ask them about a new project or ask how they are dealing with a recent change to their goals.
Gossip can spread across a company in a second, so the infrastructure to share news is there. Companies just have to exploit it and create a culture of sharing information.
Contact Noushin for a free consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 858-361-9447