The American workplace is transforming at a rapid pace, upending traditional concepts of working and management. New technological advances and a series of once-in-a-generation market shocks have compounded the chaos. The best way for enterprises to thrive amid the disarray is by creating a strong culture, according to business magnate Evan Rubinson.
As a former Wall Street investment banker, serial entrepreneur, and current CEO of ERA Music Brands, Rubinson’s advice stems from his time as a manager and market observer. He said that companies that build robust cultures with flexibility between management and workers weather problems better.
“As a manager, developing a solid culture means being able to walk into a building where people genuinely like you and appreciate what you’ve done for them, versus walking into a building and looking like a taskmaster,” Rubinson explained. “I hate to use this analogy, but the Elon Musk email to the Twitter employees where he told them, ‘You’re going to be working 80 hours a week. I expect everyone in the office to work harder than you ever have, and if you’re not on board, then get out and click this link right now.’ That’s not the kind of culture I want to foster or think is amenable to success.”
That’s not to say that Evan Rubinson embraces the work-from-home culture inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. His preference, he said, skews toward a more traditional setup. But the best managers are the ones who can compromise their preferences for the betterment of the business.
“I am a fervent believer in the old-school mentality of ‘You’d better be in this office for 50 hours a week, and if you’re not in this office for 50 hours a week and I can’t count it, then you’re not productive,’” he said. “But bottom line, there’s a happy medium between managing workers and getting to know them personally. You need to be able to look through their eyes and see what their struggles are before you create a rigid methodology.”
For example, Rubinson pointed to several occasions when he let employees work remotely.
“I had an employee who had cancer during the COVID pandemic, which was pretty tough because they were in a sensitive place. So I tried to work with and understand what was going on there. We decided to have him work from home while he was going through everything. And to me, that gains productivity because even though I can’t count the hours that guy is in the office, he’s a heck of a lot happier and a heck of a lot more appreciative of me being able to give him that opportunity where he can be around his family and can get his cancer treatments done. And if he’s doing the same work, sometimes I get better work out of people when I extend a little bit more rope.”
Evan Rubinson said that creating a flexible culture that values hard work and dedication also means establishing and enforcing boundaries. Naturally, some employees will test the limits of any manager’s concessions. Instead of capitulating to every request, staying firm and fair helps establish boundaries that engender respect.
“Sometimes, there are the requests of ‘I want to go to a show tonight’ or ‘It’s my cousin’s birthday.’ And in those cases, I think you should be able to plan that ahead of time and ask for a little time off or something,” Rubinson said. “But when things like an emergency pop up, or someone’s kid has an issue, or whatever it is that creates a situation that no one could foresee, that’s a different case. When an employee in that circumstance asks to work from home for a few weeks, those are areas where you can really gain favor and develop deeper relationships with them.”
Evan Rubinson pointed out that demonstrating the ability to meet these needs instills a team attitude, which pays dividends down the road.
“When someone goes through a terrible experience and you can help them keep a job and make a job work for them, you get to know someone on a cerebral and personal level, you build something beyond a typical employer-employee relationship,” he said. “When you help someone in a big way, that person is willing to fight harder for you. When you extend them a little bit of rope and maybe an olive branch, they will fight 10 times harder for you. If you can give them a bit of leeway, it always comes back to you.”