What does the future of work look like? In this episode, J.R. Lowry talks to one of the experts. Debbie Lovich is a Managing Director & Senior Partner at the Boston Consulting Group, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious management consulting firms. Debbie shares her story and experiences at BCG, and we hear her views on leadership, work-life balance, and the future of work. Tune in and learn more from a leading voice on these topics and in hear her lessons as you build your career path.
Listen to the podcast here
Debbie Lovich, Managing Director & Senior Partner, Boston Consulting Group
On A Career In Consulting, The Future Of Work, And BCG's Approach To Leadership Coaching
I have the pleasure of welcoming Debbie Lovich to the show. Debbie is a Senior Partner with the Boston Consulting Group, where she has spent the vast majority of her career in a variety of roles spanning consulting work with clients, running BCG's Boston office, and leading several work and leadership-focused initiatives for BCG that we'll cover in our session.
She leads the firm's People Strategy and is focused on the future of work. She is actively speaking and writing on that topic with clients and in the media. She has a TEDx Talk to her credit and writes bi-weekly for Forbes. Debbie did her undergraduate work in Economics at Barnard and also has an MBA from Harvard Business School. She and her family live in the Boston area.
Thanks for having me.
I've been looking forward to having this conversation because I know you've been doing so much on the future of work. It's such a hot topic for everybody. We're figuring our way back into something of a post-pandemic world and realizing that we're not fully through it yet. Normally, I would focus on career and learning. I want to do that, but I also want to spend time talking about the work you've done on the future of work since it is an active conversation. But let's talk about you first. Where did you grow up? What was your first job as a kid?
I grew up in Englewood, New Jersey, which is outside of New York City over the George Washington Bridge. It's so close that when you ask people from Englewood where they're from, they usually say New York. I'm proudly from New Jersey. My first job had to be babysitting. It's either babysitting or snow shoveling. We got a lot of snow. For a lot of people, we'd do their driveways for money and cookies.
How many kids are there in your family?
There are three. I'm the middle child.
Were you all out doing that snow shoveling together?
Yeah. It was teamwork.
I don't think I did a whole lot of snow shoveling for money. I just did snow shoveling on our driveway.
My parents' complaint was we didn't do our house because we preferred to make money. We would go do folks down the block.
You are smarter about it than I was. How did you decide to go to Barnard? Why Economics?
I was in New Jersey High School in the city. I fell in love with Barnard when I visited it. It was like, "This is an oasis in New York City." It's such a great campus focused on women. It's part of Columbia University. I was like, "This is nirvana." I fell in love with it because of the environment. I always knew I wanted to be a businessperson, and Barnard is as liberal arts a college as you could get. That's how I decided to study Economics. That's as close as I could get to business. I studied Economics. If they'd had business, I would have done that.
Remind me. Did you start working in BCG right after college, or did you work someplace else before you went to business school?
I worked at Bain and then a Bain spinoff. I was in consulting and then went to business school. I wanted to get out of consulting and get a real job, so I did an internship for a real company that summer. I wanted to stay a consultant.
What did you do in that summer job?
I worked at Biogen. It's a big biopharmaceutical company. Back then, they were a research house. Anything they discovered, they licensed out to others to sell. They had drugs in the pipeline. They were like, "Why do we have to license it out? Why don't we become a commercial company?" My project for the summer was helping them figure out how to launch a sales force and sell to hospitals and insurance companies, and coming up with a plan to launch their drugs themselves, which was super fun.
You picked up healthcare in your work at BCG too. At what point did you know that you wanted to go to business school?
I knew I wanted to be in business. I studied Economics to get as close as possible. I always thought I needed to do a real business degree at some point. When I got into consulting, it was what people did. You'd work for 2 or 3 years and then go to business school. At that point, it was like a track that I got on, but it wasn't just because it was a track. I knew I wanted more business experience because it turns out studying economics is not the same as business.
It's not the same as business, but it certainly gives you a grounding in certain aspects of how business works.
It's the quantitative skills. Economics assumes people are rational. In the real world and in real business, people aren't as rational.
I remember I took Macro and Micro [Economics] in college. The Microeconomics class was super hard. I remember the professor saying to me, "You got a 64 on the first test. That's a good score." It was a tough class.
Micro was crazy. There's a lot of calculus in it. I got a C on my first Macro exam. I did the classic pulling all-nighters and drinking caffeine even though I had never drunk coffee before. I was a wreck for that exam, but I ended up pulling it out.
I took that Micro class pass-fail, which was a good move in the scheme of things. It was my last semester. At that point, I was taking it as an extra class to get a grounding.
You went to BCG and mainly focused on life sciences work. Was there any particular factor that drew you to it? Was it the work at Biogen or something else?
It was purposeful. When I was looking to go back to consulting after Biogen for the summer, I knew I wanted to do healthcare. That was the lens I was using. It was because I'd spent three years in consulting before graduate school. I was a real generalist. I did transportation, food, clothing and industrial goods. I never felt very passionate about the industry that I was working in. I stepped back and said, "Where do I feel passionate? Healthcare fixes sick people. It's a good thing." If you've ever had an infection and taken an antibiotic overnight, in hours, you're better.
I felt like doing healthcare was a way to feel a little bit more purpose in what I was doing. It's not to be driven solely by profit but to be driven by how can I help bring to market cures for things we don't have cures for. That's why I ended up going into Biogen for the summer. That's when I realized I have a lot more impact as a consultant than I would as an employee that I said, "I want to go back to consulting so I could have more impact, but I want to do it in the life sciences and healthcare industry."
Did you work on any projects that were particularly memorable?
There were so many. One of them was working at a company that doesn't even exist anymore. You usually don't talk about your clients, but this was back in 1994. I was brand new. It was my first project with Burroughs Wellcome on the next-gen HIV offering. AZT was the only thing out there in '94. It was not a cure for AIDS. They had all these great therapies coming down the pipe. What they wanted to do was think about how they could do more than sell the therapy and help HIV practitioners. I went out and lived in HIV high-volume practices in cities where there was a lot of AIDS, like LA, New York and Chicago.
I got to understand the life, the economics, the workflow of a large-scale HIV practice and what it is that our clients could do to help them manage the disease more broadly than just sell the drugs. That was super fun. That was a client project. The more interesting things came later on in my career when I was approached by a professor from HBS to say, "Can I help work on how to make work-life balance better at BCG?" At that point, I was not a role model of work-life balance. I had four little kids. Our house was a mess. The kids' clothes were always too small because they were growing too fast. They didn't have time to go shopping. My husband [also] worked.
I was like, "If there is a way to fix work-life balance, I'm sure I would have found it, but go ahead. Come on in. I wouldn't mind some free advice." I played that out. Over the years, we came up with an approach to fundamentally change how we work at BCG to make life better but still deliver even higher impact work with clients and learning for our people.
[bctt tweet="Economics assumes people are rational. In the real world and real business, people aren't as rational." via="no"]
That's a client project where the client was my firm. They say, "Doctors make the most terrible patients because they're always questioning what the doctor does." Firms make terrible clients because they're always questioning what you're doing, "Don't try that self-discovery and change-management crap on me." It was super challenging but fun.
I was going to ask you how you got interested in the concept of work itself. It sounds like it came out of that and from this HBS professor, Leslie Perlow. Did she approach you or BCG about that?
She was approaching me as a way into BCG. She was a friend of a friend, Jill Altshuler, who I went to business school with. She also worked at BCG with me. Jill had since left BCG, but when Leslie was telling her how she wanted to research BCG, she gave her my name. She called me and I got her connected with a couple of other people at BCG. I was hardcore doing life sciences, pharma, sales and marketing effectiveness, post-merger integration and medical strategies. I was doing my dream. I wanted to change the face of healthcare and help bring more drugs to the market. This was random, it's a friend of a friend, yet it became a passion. I became the lead of it at BCG.
We got great insight. It's one thing to come up with academic insight. How do you theoretically make work-life balance happen? It's a much bigger thing to then try and change the way of working on culture in a firm, because even if you have the data and the proof, people are like, "That works for you but not for me. Don't try and get me to change how I do my work." That was super fun. I used to think that "people stuff" was all soft and fluffy. I'm hardcore strategy and operations. I realized in doing that effort at BCG that the people stuff is the hardest. Changing how people work and leaders lead is hard.
How did you do that? Consulting firms like BCG have a reputation for working everybody hard. - not just the junior people but everybody. What did you do to help improve work-life balance in the firm while also improving the impact that you were having on your clients? What were some of the specific things that you rolled out that took hold?
There's so much there. We could spend the whole show talking about it, which would be fine. The most interesting thing that the team from HBS found was this notion that people came to BCG expecting to work hard and wanting to work hard. Work-hard-play-hard people want to get ahead. They're voracious learners. They expected it and didn't mind it. What they did mind was the lack of control, predictability, and inability to make plans. They'd have to say to friends, "I don't know if I could commit to doing something midweek and even on the weekends because I don't know what might come up at work."
It wasn't the intensity that bothered people. They'd signed up for it. They were well-paid. They were learning and getting ahead. It was the lack of predictability, and what's behind that is a lacking sense of control that we need to have. The insight was, "Let's give people a little bit of predictability like one night off where they turn off and see what happens." Everyone who's reading is probably rolling their eyes and saying, "You go do consulting and maybe you get one night off." That wasn't the point. The point was to say, can you predictably turn off, have a set time to say, "I'm going to turn off and learn the world won't fall apart."
We implemented this. We were working with academics, so there were a lot of metrics, data and surveys. We surveyed people every week and happened to have a survey we were doing in the office to measure how people were feeling about their projects, "How are you feeling? Are you learning? Are you delivering value? Is the work high impact? Is this sustainable? How's the work-life balance?" We used that same survey. It turned out that on teams where people turned off for a night and randomly shut down, not only did their work-life balance get better, but their work got better.
You would expect they'd have a night to do whatever they wanted that they could make plans for. But all of the other scores went up too in learning, delivering value, working efficiently and working effectively. What we realized was it wasn't just the predictability that we were delivering. Predictability is a good thing to deliver but it was getting people every week to talk as a team to say, "Is everyone going to get their time off this week? If not, why not?" That conversation raised all the issues around the work every week. It was not waiting for the end of the project and doing end-of-project feedback or something. Every week, it was saying, "Are you going to get your predictable time off this week? If not, why not?"
The "Why not's" were issues we needed to know about like bad data, low performers and belligerent clients. Rather than have the team's spin [because of these issues], they brought the problems up for the whole team to tackle together. That was one thing. The other thing it did was address the issue of, "I have too much work to do." [It led people to] talk about the work and cut the work. You don't have to do it all. One of the hardest things, especially for people early on in their careers, is prioritizing saying no to something a senior person asks you to do. That process helped us prioritize the work, eliminate things and find different approaches.
If you think about that, when you're solving problems earlier, you're prioritizing the work and teaming more on issues rather than feeling you have to solve it yourself. We began to understand that's why learning, productivity, and client impact went up as well. The key learning was that solving for work-life on its own is not [sufficient]. It's making the work better for everyone, taking that improved efficiency, giving that back to people as work-life balance, teaching people to work smart and build a muscle to say, "I can turn off. I know the world won't fall apart," as opposed to, "I always have to keep going. There's always more to do because there's always more."
There's always more to do, especially in consulting projects, given that you're so time-crunched. Was this before, during, or after the whole dot-com era and war-for-talent period that certainly hit the consulting firms hard when everyone was leaving [to join start-ups]?
It was after. The dot-com stuff was in the early 2000s and late '90s. This was more in 2007 and 2008. We had less of a war for talent going on, but we still had some of our best people leaving. Consulting was a place where people feel like you come, spend a couple of years, learn a lot and then go get a real job because no one could put up with the travel, work-life balance or lack of control.
A couple of years in, we have invested a ton in you. BCG, fortunately, is the fastest growing consulting firm if you look back over the years. We were growing so fast that we needed people to stay, especially our best people. It wasn't that we were bleeding talent but we always had a retention issue.
To some degree, the consulting models are built on a certain level of attrition as part of the up-or-out framework that they use. When it gets too high, it makes it hard to staff projects and bring the right expertise to bear.
You want the up-or-out to be skill-based, not burnout-based. When you're growing fast, you don't want so much up-or-out. You want up-or-out because you want people to perform and grow. We want people who have the ability to grow to the next level because the world is getting more complicated. We want up-or-out but you need less out if you're growing fast.
You led the Boston office for a period. How did you find that experience relative to doing consulting projects for your clients?
I loved it. What happened was I had four little kids. My husband was also working full-time. I wasn't making things work at home. My husband was like, "You have to quit your job." At a very young tenure, I was made a partner and asked to join our executive committee, which is the top ten people who run the firm. Here I am, this bright-eyed, junior, second woman on BCGs executive committee ever. Now it's 40% or 50% women. Back in 2005, I was the second. Sandy Moose was on it years before. To my husband, I was like, "How could I pass that up?"
Being on the executive committee involved another six weeks of travel a year globally. My husband was a doctor in training. He said, "They asked me to be chief resident. It's a big honor. I said no because I have four little kids and a wife who works. You could say no to these things." I needed a way to break from the treadmill. When we were in business school, you remember we did the Myers-Briggs test. My answer was, "You should be an army general." I like being in control, managing everything and being at the center.
I always thought, "When I'm done with consulting, I want to take the internal role leading the office, managing all the staff, programs, the P&L and everything because I like to be in charge." I remember Mark, my husband, was at a point where he was like, "You've got to quit." I'm like, "I'm not ready to. I just joined the executive committee. I got to stay on for at least two years. That would be bad for them if I left the executive committee after getting this honor." People usually stay in that role for ten years because it's such a great role.
[The woman who was in the role at the time] came to me and said, "I'm quitting." I'm like, "Please stay for one more year. That's perfect. I need to ratchet down but I need one more year." She's like, "I'm not delaying my quitting for you. I'm sorry." I watched it go and I was kicking myself. Another woman came and took the role. We became good friends. One day a year in, she came to my office and said, "I can't take it. I'm quitting." I said, "That's great. I'll take your job." That's how I ended up in the head of the office role.
I loved it because it was so operational. As a consultant, you're always giving advice but you don't own the P&L and the attraction and retention of employees. You're giving advice. I owned it. It's an [operational role]. It's different. It was awesome and fun to do but it was very different. I had to build so many new muscles. You're managing teams of consulting staff. These people need no management. They're type-A, driven, and insecure overachievers, "Go, go, go." When you're managing the entire office, you have people whose value equations are different. What they're solving for is different.
[bctt tweet="One of the hardest things, especially for people early on in their careers, is prioritizing saying no to something a senior person asks them to do. That process helps us prioritize the work, eliminate things and find different approaches." via="no"]
They don't get jazzed about working all the time and don't get paid for that either. What is it that glues them to the company? How do you engage? How do you motivate? It was super fun. I had a great team. To be honest, I learned more than I gave in that role because I had such a great head of HR, head of IT, head of operations and head of career management. What I was able to do, because I had such a great team, was let them run, help when needed, and learn.
I said, "I have all this time and energy. Why don't I take on BCG as a client and find things to change at BCG to make BCG better?" One was this program with the professor at HBS, which we'd been doing before, but we hadn't scaled it yet. Most of the scaling I did was when I was in that role. I found other things about how we work in our region. I was like, "This is broken. Can I fix it? Who's going to say no?" It was super fun. I was in an operator role for half of my time. For half of my time, BCG became my client.
You did leave at a point in time and then came back. What precipitated the decision to go out, albeit that you remained in an advisory role? What led the decision to go out and come back in?
I was in what we call the OC. It's the office lead role. It was about five years. Every 4 or 5 years, you start to get bored and think about what's next. At the same time, my kids were not ready for me to go back on the road all the time. Back then, consulting meant being on the road all the time. Now it doesn't. For one, it's because we've got many more local clients. More than half of our office [business] is with local clients, but also with COVID, you don't have to travel to work necessarily. I was starting to get bored.
Leslie, the professor I was working with, had written a book about our work together. I helped her write the book. I was the person responsible at BCG to edit it to make sure we were comfortable. Once you write a book, what the professors do is start a company. She's like, "It's time to start the company to bring this to other firms. I need you to come and be my CEO." I helped her start it. Somewhere in my mind, I always wanted to try a startup. I was starting to get a little bored.
I would never have thought of it if she hadn't asked me. I was like, "Why not? Life is short. Go try it." I left her after two years. I realized I'm a better consultant than an entrepreneur. I also missed the community of people at BCG. You don't realize how special your colleagues are, especially because I'd been there for eighteen years at that point. You don't realize how special they are until you leave. And I was even in a high-performance environment at Harvard Business School.
That's where I was hanging out as we were working. It's different. Academia is very competitive. At BCG, maybe it's because we grew so fast, that we were all in it together. We're all teaming. It's 1 plus 1 is 7. I missed the people and the culture. The other thing that happened is both my girls left the house. One daughter went to college over those two years and one decided to go to boarding school. I had my two little boys at home but I was like, "Boys are easy."
I came back. I was always an advisor to BCG. It's because I wasn't planning to leave that there was no infrastructure built to support the PTO program or the work-life balance program that I had built. I helped support it but importantly, it was good for BCG that I left because I was the Founder-Owner [for that work]. I left and they had to say, "Let's professionalize it. Let's own this and get a team in place." I was able to consult and help build that infrastructure from the outside. I then came back to client work.
What was it during that time you were away, apart from being an entrepreneur, that wasn't a good fit for you? You say you were a better consultant than you were an entrepreneur. Did you love consulting more? Was there something about being an entrepreneur that didn't end up being right for you?
What I missed was the vast access to smart people and resources that you have in a large organization. When you're an entrepreneur, you're a team of 3 or 2 1/4 [in our case]. We had 1/4 of the professor's time and 1 employee [apart from me]. If you needed other people's help and thought partnership, you had to go find it and convince someone or have an arrangement. At BCG, you just walked down the hall. If you go to the bathroom, you’ll find smart people with ideas who want to help you.
That pool of talent on tap wanting to help and see you succeed is hard to re-create as an entrepreneur. What I realized was I wanted to be an entrepreneur within BCG the same way I built this program. That program didn't exist. It's now a global part of why BCG is one of the best places to work, in the top 5 for eight years and top 10 for a couple of years. We dropped out of the top 5 because they couldn't keep giving us numbers 1, 2 and 3.
I realized I liked being an entrepreneur with the resources of the firm and the ability to have an impact. When I came back to the consulting side, it was to conceive and build new offerings. It wasn't to do the same thing over and over again. I came back to invent in the leadership, culture and people space. It's a space I got to know doing this program. The way I think about it is I've got the best of both worlds. I'm an entrepreneur but I got talent and resources on tap. You can't beat that.
You got involved with BCG's Leadership and Talent Enablement Center. Were you involved in the founding of that or was BCG in that space before you got involved?
The guy who founded that was in Asia and was in the process of standing it up in Asia when I came in. The Head of the People and Organization Practice, Grant Freeland, is a good friend of mine. He was my partner in developing the PTO program with Leslie. The way we describe it is I'm the mother and he's the grandfather. He's older than me. He brought me in to say, "Debbie, can you build our leadership offering out?" I was like, "What is our leadership offering? What do we have? What are we trying to build?" He said, "That's exactly what I need you to figure out."
The first thing I did was get the lay of the land of who was doing what. There was this amazing partner, Vikram Bhalla, in India who was building out this Leadership and Talent Enablement Center there and doing fantastic work with clients. What we did was take him, someone in Europe and myself. Together, we brought that global and built out our product offering around leadership and talent enablement. It was conceived locally. We grew it, birthed it globally and scaled it.
Do you feel like BCG had a unique spin on that space? It's something that the search firms have all gotten into. It's an obvious extension to what they do and what a consulting firm does. What was BCG's unique spin on helping these executive-level leaders whose companies were paying BCG a decent amount of money to help make them better leaders?
I wrote about this early on in the role back before I wrote a lot. If you look at what gets spent on building leadership capabilities out there, it's like $100 billion. The amount of money is crazy. If you add up all the leadership in development programs for leaders across the globe, it is, in my mind, 90% wasted. I used to do this little exercise with leaders where I would say, "I want you to all think of something you're good at that you weren't naturally good at. It could be anything, at work or at home. Think about why did you decide to get good at it, how did you get good at it and how do you stay good at it."
People would say things like, "I had to learn to play golf because, for people in my industry, that's where the networking happens. In sales, that's how you get customers. I was bad at it. I got a coach. He practiced with me every weekend. Finally, I'm decent enough to play a game. They would videotape me and show me what I'm doing wrong. I learned the feel of it." "How do you stay good at it?" "I play all the time." You didn't watch the video from your couch, go to golf camp for a week and then do nothing else, but that's what [most leadership] training is.
There are eLearning modules that you can check off. Go to an offsite. Those are very good for introducing you to a concept. Offsites are good to expand your mind and get you to reflect, network, and meet other people. Does it get you good at something? No. The problem is if I said, "I'm going to get good at golf by playing golf every day at lunch," it would never happen because a meeting would land in my calendar, and I'd never get away. You have to fit it into your routines and rhythms. That's the best way. If I want to get in shape, I'm not going to go to the gym every day. I'm going to walk to work, take the stairs and do walking meetings.
The spin we bring to it is you have to find the natural but stretch opportunities during your day to practice again and again and get feedback. There's this concept in behavioral science. Anders Ericsson came out in a book called Peak about deliberate practice. It's like, "You need 10,000 hours to get good at something." You need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice means you have a mental model for what you're going to try. You try it, reflect on what worked and what didn't and then re-conceive the mental model of what you're going to try next.
[bctt tweet="Networks are important. Exciting speakers open your mind but do not build the muscle you need to turn around your business." via="no"]
If you keep playing the piano randomly, you're not going to learn. You need to get deliberate practice into your day-to-day routines. We, as BCG, know a couple of things that people don't know. One is we know the skills you need because we have developed the strategy and know uniquely what are pieces you need to close the gap. It's not a theoretical textbook thing that every leader has to be good at. We know for your business, starting point, and strategy because we're so deep. Second, we know how to get behavioral science to work and where to hang it into your day.
It becomes a habit. You do the deliberate practice of where to tweak the rhythms and routines to get that to hang in. Third, it's how to get the coaching in place from people who know what good looks like. It's not just what "good leaders" have from research but what looks like in your context. Executive search firms do great business in this area but how many of their coaches were C-Suite executives in their lives? We have about 50 coaches that we deploy, all are former, quasi-retired C-Suite executives who have become BCG senior advisors, not to coach, but because of the content knowledge they have. We train them to become coaches.
They could go toe-to-toe with a client on helping advise on an issue or helping to coach to self-discovery. They understand the context in a much more advanced way than even I as a consultant do because I wasn't an executive. We have this woman, Vicki Escarra, who was Head of Operations at Delta Airlines. She turned them around during bankruptcy. She was CEO of Feeding America, a large nonprofit. She's now a BCG coach. She could tap into such a wealth of a career of experience and do the coaching thing because she's a wonderful coach too.
There are a few key points. One is the point of experiential learning. It's the most powerful way you learn. It's building in that deliberate practice. What's funny is people will go out and do that for fitness or a hobby like golf in your example. They approach what they do at work a bit more haphazardly from a leadership perspective and how they develop their skills as a leader. It's a paradox when you think about it.
Our consulting competitors have leadership institutes. They're networking boondoggles with exciting speakers. That has value. It's with other good people. Networks are important. Exciting speakers open your mind but do not build the muscle you need to turn around your business.
I want to make sure we have enough time to talk about the future of work. You've been focusing a lot on this. Where do you think we're heading?
Everyone can watch my TEDx Talk. What you will see is I'm super passionate about this topic. The way we work is completely broken. I talked about how we had to work one way in factories. You had to go in a fixed time and place, with Frederick Taylor-esque narrow job descriptions for repetition and perfection. Why did we translate that to "knowledge work" and translate that to everything we do? Why do you need to be in-person to collaborate?
No one has ever stepped back to say, "What should work be? It's not like a micro-change from where we are now. Let's do a little bit more by video. Let's have some people and let them work flexibly. Let's work on this document asynchronously instead of trying to book a meeting between crazy calendars. Let's work in agile ways." Those are all tiny steps. All of a sudden, with the tragedy of COVID, we have a clean sheet of paper.
I use this analogy, not in my talk. My kids are Harry Potter fans. You go in the Sorting Hat and it tells you're a Hufflepuff or a Gryffindor. No one has taken the Sorting Hat to work and said, "This requires a live meeting. This could be asynchronous. You could do this remote on a Miro board. This requires quiet time in whatever environment you work your best in." Everything is done with a recurring meeting. This is our chance to be smart, intentional and design-thinking [oriented] given the task at hand and people's needs in life. People are all different. How do we construct work that is more humane and productive? That's why I get so passionate about it.
The muscle memory is strong. It will pull the most senior leaders back to the way they used to work if we don't create a pause, think about it, and build it. I'll tell you one story. I've been writing so much about it and preaching so much about it. I get newspapers that want to interview me for some article. The Boston Globe reached out. A woman was writing an article on what it has been like for new hires to onboard during COVID. I talked to her by video. I'm saying, "The worst thing you could do is take your old onboarding programs and do it remotely. It won't work. You have to redesign."
I have a guy on the BCG team who made videos of himself, "This is my journey at BCG. My kid bombed it. Meet my kid." He sent it to people as onboarding. It's so much better than a coffee chat and the stiff 1x1. You have to reinvent it. [The reporter] said, "I've been talking to a couple of new hires." I said, "I have a new hire right downstairs. Do you want to talk to her?" My daughter graduated college, moved back home, and was working in her first job downstairs from me in her bedroom.
I texted her, "Are you free? Do you want to come up and talk to The Boston Globe?" She runs upstairs and says something super interesting. She said to the reporter, "What you adults don't realize is I spent 1/3 of my college career remote. I know how to socialize remotely, have fun, build connections, scroll through all the pictures during a lecture, introduce myself to someone or start a game of Zoom Bingo. My mom has 30 years of working one way."
She's at her new company. She quit and is now on her second job after six months. She said, "My executive team should be asking me for advice on what to work on because I'm a Zoom native." It's at this point to recognize we have so much muscle memory that's comfortable and pulling us back. If we can reverse mentor with our new talent, not only do we have a clean sheet of paper, but we have a Zoom native, digital native, asynchronous collaboration, and remotely native talent that can help us learn. We've got only an intuition. You ignore-at-your-peril. Good luck getting your talent.
My message internally at work has been, "Move past how many days a week you're supposed to be in the office. Take ownership for what you do with that time." We're in the middle of doing this survey with a detailed list of topics of activities that people do in their day-to-day work, "How effective are you doing these things at home and in the office? How strong is your preference for one or the other?" I'm dying to see the data. It's going to end up showing that people generally, at this point, are pretty comfortable being able to get most things done at home.
It's the silliness of having people in the office sitting on Zoom calls all day. I personally draw a certain amount of energy from being in the office when there are a lot of people. There's a buzz to it. It's got that vibe, but there are things that you're better off doing at home because it's quiet, and you don't get interrupted as much. Each one of us is all different. We've got to figure out how to make that work.
There's so much in what you said. People are so different. What we're seeing at BCG is our young talents are dying to be in the office because they're in small apartments. Our mid-level talent all have little kids and there's no way they could give up the savings of time and productivity commuting. You have people like me. I'm almost an empty nester. I'm happy to go in but sit on Zoom all day.
I need to schedule blocks of time to walk the hallways, pop into offices ,and say hi because I'm a senior old fart at BCG. I have an Ask Me Anything session with anyone who wants to come. Again, it's the Sorting Hat. I've got to rethink. This back-to-back Zoom stuff is crazy because we haven't rethought it. I'm doing an experiment with a company. We're about to write up about it. It's about helping people learn to do work asynchronously. What do you think? Do we need a meeting for that?
It's all-new muscle. It's a super exciting time, what a time to live and consult.
It's unsettling in a way, but at the same time, we're going to look back on this 5, 10 or 20 years from now and say, "That was a pivotal moment in the history of work and how we all spent our daytime as professionals doing whatever we do." We will have to pick this up again in a few months when it's a little bit further into the return to the office that's going on in the US. We have been back a little bit more over here in London than the US has. It will be interesting to see how the next few months unfold so we can do this again, Debbie.
I would love it. Keep me posted when you get your survey data. Thanks for having me.
I will. Thanks for doing this. Have a good rest of your day.
- Boston Consulting Group
- TEDx Talk - 3 tips for leaders to get the future of work right
- Leslie Perlow - LinkedIn
- Jill Altshuler - LinkedIn
- Sandy Moose - LinkedIn
- Leadership and Talent Enablement Center
- Grant Freeland
- Vikram Bhalla
- Vicki Escarra - LinkedIn
- Pathwise.io podcasts
About Debbie Lovich
Debbie Lovich is a senior partner with the Boston Consulting Group, where she has spent the vast majority of her career in a variety of roles, spanning consulting work with clients, running BCG’s Boston Office, and leading several work- and leadership-focused initiatives for BCG. She leads the firm’s people strategy and is currently focused on the future of work. She’s actively speaking and writing on that topic with clients and in the media. She has a TEDx Talk to her credit and writes bi-weekly for Forbes.
Debbie did her undergraduate work in Economics at Barnard and also has an MBA from Harvard Business School. She and her family live in the Boston area.