Organizational development specialist ditches corporate world and finds her own company and niche
Lisa Bing admits that she was not the best corporate player. The Boston University graduate spent 15 years at Prudential Financial, but never found her niche, bouncing from accounting and underwriting to reinsurance to the international group. “I always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” she says, “which got me in trouble at times. I would get these calls at Prudential—someone saying, ‘There’s a process to follow, a procedure’—but I always go for the straight line, for what makes the most sense.”
Bing ultimately hatched a plan to go into business for herself, and today, as head of Brooklyn-based Bing Consulting, she helps executives find that straight line in their own companies. Her one-woman show, which specializes in organizational development, has clients that include Deutsche Bank, the City University of New York, Proctor and Gamble—and Prudential. Diversity Woman asked the 48-year-old Bing about how she found her calling, the ups and downs of going solo, and the biggest mistakes that her powerful clients make.
Diversity Woman: How did you get the idea for your business?
Lisa Bing: It was during the early ’90s, when diversity was becoming more of an issue, and each department at Prudential had been asked to identify diversity issues and produce an action plan. I was put in charge of that for the international group, and I set up a series of focus groups, each homogeneous by race or gender. I found that among all five groups, the root issues were the same: they weren’t getting enough coaching and feedback. From that I proposed a six-part workshop series for staff and managers. And I said to myself, “Look at this!” I had been trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, too.
DW: You didn’t go solo until 1995. What did you do in the meantime?
LB: I was in a subsidiary, and the parent company had announced a plan to sell it, so I figured it would be a matter of time until downsizing. So I went back to school, at NYU and got certified in training and management development. Later on, I did some graduate work in organizational psychology and took every conceivable workshop. I educated myself any way I could. I had been in human resources and had relationships with a number of senior executives, and they started using me instead of external consultants. Then, two years later, downsizing came. The convergence of situations happened in a nice way.
DW: Was it difficult to go it alone?
LB: It’s one thing to be good at something and love what you do, but it’s another to create a business around it. I had to develop some marketing chops: how do you create a message, what’s your focus, who is your audience? It took me time to figure out how I wanted to focus the business and what markets I wanted to work in.
DW: How did you do that and still keep business coming in?
LB: Clients have come through word of mouth, largely, but I’m also involved in the community. I’m on the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and was intentional about getting involved with that, as well as staying connected to the academic community at NYU. I have also stayed connected to the professional community—I’m a past president of the American Society for Training and Development. I also chair a small grant fund at my church. My target has become Fortune 100s, large midcap companies and large nonprofits. I find that the kind of work I do is best received by those folks.
DW: Why is that?
LB: They’re business people looking to get results. My work is about going in and figuring out what we need to do to remove barriers, having straightforward conversations with executives about how they structure their organizations, and how they can get their management teams to think strategically, not just tactically.
DW: Whatís the main difference?
LB: People can get stuck on how they do something, rather than get clarity about what they need to do—seeing beyond what’s in front of them today. For instance, how can you create a career path to help people be satisfied even if there aren’t promotional opportunities? How do you set yourselves apart from your competition and make sure that you are producing value, especially in a changing world?
DW: What other mistakes do you see your clients making?
LB: I see an overreliance on e-mail. You can’t create relationships through e-mail—it doesn’t capture the human
element. People need to feel that their interests are being served, that they matter, and that doesn’t happen through e-mail. E-mail is the follow-up, not the lead-in.
DW: How much does your race or your gender affect your consulting?
LB: There are times when my direct experience as a woman or a black woman can affect the perspective, but sometimes it doesn’t. Meanwhile, some of my clients really value that I had that first-hand experience at Prudential—I absolutely draw on lessons learned, mistakes made. Race and gender are just tools in terms of understanding—having a broad range of perspectives and not being myopic.
DW: How much does ego come into play? Do high-powered execs get jumpy when you tell them what to do?
LB: They’re businesspeople looking to get results. The key for managers and leaders is recognizing that it’s not about you, that your job as a manager and leader is to find out what is going on, and then clear the path so that your people can get things done. DW
Katrina Brown Hunt is a Diversity Woman contributing writer.