The big idea: Treating your employees well isn’t just a nice thing to do — it can also bolster your top line growth. CityBook, among Israel’s largest outsourcing operations, supports United States-based real estate services companies and takes this premise to the next level. CityBook’s business model, staffing plan and supportive work environment are tailored to the needs of the employee base, primarily composed of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) women.
The scenario: In the typical Haredi family structure, women have an average of seven to eight children, and also support the family financially, while men study Jewish religious teachings full time.
In addition to a need for maternity leave, Haredi women conform to religious customs in public and in the workplace, which make a traditional corporate environment challenging.
CityBook chief executive Eli Kazhdan knew that there was untapped potential in a business that could leverage this highly educated, multilingual, English-speaking, ethical and hardworking employee base. But how could he transform these strengths into profitable growth, while still supporting religious needs, frequent maternity leave and the demands of large families?
The resolution: CityBook’s underlying premise is that it cannot compete with India or China on price; instead, it competes on the quality of its services, which are on par with those of the United States. CityBook flips work around to U.S. business customers overnight, including reading of title commitment, abstracting commercial real estate leases, preparing due-diligence reports and much more. In the age of global outsourcing, large transactions demand speed, quality, professionalism and fluency in English — not simply the lowest price. As such, this was a natural fit with Israel’s higher wages and more educated workforce.
CityBook’s business model requires projects to be as modular as possible. Work that takes four to six hours to finish (e.g., a title insurance commitment) simplifies training and creates a pipeline of projects that do not need to be staffed by the same person for months or years. Switching out employees easily and seamlessly prevents service interruption to the client during a worker’s maternity leave. Ten to 15 percent of CityBook’s workforce is on maternity leave at any given time, at all levels of the organization. Employees also work seven-hour days to accommodate family obligations. The environment is modified to conform to the needs of the workforce.
The lesson: Focus is critical when designing a business model and the operations to support it. Understanding your own capabilities — and those of your workforce — can create this clarity and help you provide unique, sustainable value to your customers. Leveraging a challenging, yet qualified employee base can be critical to the success of your enterprise, while also providing important economic opportunities to those who might not otherwise have acceptable options.
Goldberg and Weiss are the authors of “The Lean Anthology.” Goldberg is a management consultant at Goldberg Productions, and Weiss is a business professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.