Jeffrey Fidelman: “Keep them engaged”

Interestingly enough, Fidelman & Company was built with the intention of creating a fully remote management consulting firm 5 years ago. It was my opinion then, as it remains now, that remote work is absolutely the future of how so many teams in the professional service industry will operate. The COVID-19 pandemic has simply accelerated […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Interestingly enough, Fidelman & Company was built with the intention of creating a fully remote management consulting firm 5 years ago. It was my opinion then, as it remains now, that remote work is absolutely the future of how so many teams in the professional service industry will operate. The COVID-19 pandemic has simply accelerated that adaptation. Since we are not bound by geography, we believe our remote management consulting model allows us to source the best consultants for the job. Our remote model also allows more cost-effective delivery and value for the client.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeffrey Fidelman, CEO & Principal Consultant at Fidelman & Company.

In 2015 Jeffrey founded Fidelman & Company, as a result of his diverse investment and entrepreneurial background. Jeffrey’s investing experience began as a Partner at a VC in NYC and continued through his work with institutions and family offices seeking operational assistance with portfolio companies. His banking experience includes working at Morgan Stanley, running their syndication group for Private Wealth Management, and HSBC, where he collaborated with internal partners to increase revenue within the bank’s Manhattan branches. Jeffrey’s Real Estate experience includes co-founding a commercial/residential brokerage and working with a number of funding sources to provide short and long-term capital for real estate and other hard asset-based financings. His start-up experience includes founding a crowdfunded gift registry, management consulting firm, and co-founding a commercial real estate residual value insurance company, and a start-up conference series.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I have quite an eclectic background which in retrospect I believe is ideal for a consultant. I started out in real estate as a buyer’s broker, working with a founder that was brilliant in marketing. After working together for some time, I left to start my own buyer brokerage firm with a few partners, representing buyers coming from outside of the US to take advantage of the 2008/9 crash. That business grew to include a property management firm. While I enjoyed working in the real-estate world, I realized I was more interested in the financial side of the dealings which led to my departure to banking. I spent the next 5 years between Morgan Stanley and HSBC in a variety of roles responsible for trading, syndication, portfolio management, lending, and people management. While at HSBC, I was recruited to join a Venture Capital firm that had a crowdfunding portal called Onevest. There I headed up investor relations and had the opportunity to work with incredible founders of both the firm and the companies we were funding. It was there that I realized I loved working with the entrepreneurs and really getting down to the nitty-gritty aspects of their businesses. Specifically, I appreciated helping them better understand their business, creating a business plan/model, and helping them grow and implement their business strategies. Applying my expertise in a variety of industries, I began Fidelman & Co., a remote-based management consulting firm that specializes in presentation advisory, growth services, financial modeling, research and analysis, and design. What has followed has been an incredible journey of building a dynamic and growing firm and working alongside some of the smartest and most driven consultants and entrepreneurs I have had the pleasure of meeting.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I will always remember when I first started in Real Estate. Barely out of college, I had spent the weekend updating my wardrobe from my standard jeans and white t-shirts to suits and white button downs. I wanted to give off the right impression and look as professional as I could. I remember looking at the mirror as I passed through the lobby on my way up full of confidence and a sense of premature accomplishment that barely lasted through my first showing. I found myself standing across from my first client, who was probably in her mid-60s. She looked at me inquisitively and asked, “have you even been bar mitzvahed yet?” I flushed red at her lack of confidence at my age. I realized no suit could masquerade my lack of experience at the time. I remember thinking in jest, maybe a beard would help? But in all seriousness, that first experience made me realize how important expertise was. I may not have had the experience initially, but I was sure bent to develop the expertise to back up my position. I think about that story a lot when onboarding and training junior consultants, who may be nervous about giving advice to those more senior and or with greater industry experience. Trust in your expertise and lead with that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I am a firm believer that every mistake leads to growth and change. I learned a lot of lessons when I first started working as a consultant and continue to do so with each project. One funny story in particular comes to mind from when I first started. I was tasked to create an operating model behind an idea that quite frankly was no more than an idea scribbled on a napkin. It was our job to create a business presentation, lay the foundation of the business, and eventually help launch its initiatives. A fellow consultant and I set out on the project early Monday morning. We had an initial brainstorming session after which we decided to “table” some of the more critical aspects of the business and instead focus on some potential names for the company. And well we kept brainstorming names for the next two days, coming up with a potential logo, the whole marketing and design element. Three days in, I remember just laughing. I had fallen into the same entrepreneurial trap I see so many clients fall into. So many clients get caught up in the design aspect of the presentation, marketing, and branding. Those aspects are important of course, but it is so important to have a clear business model, operating plan, and set of policies and procedures laid out first. At the very least, it is critical to align all the main company stakeholders on what the business model is. You would be surprised at how many CEO’s, CFOs, and COOs at Fortune 1000 companies provide radically different answers when asked the simple question of how their business works. Getting everyone on the same page creates an internal process that allows for proper growth and scalability.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Keep them engaged. One of the toughest challenges as a business leader is keeping your team(s) engaged while working on a deliverable or in the downtime between clients. It is understandable that as a business leader, you are constantly thinking about how to drive growth, but keeping the people that are helping you do just that (your whole team) in the loop should be a main priority. This can take the form of weekly/monthly one-on-one calls, monthly/quarterly company-wide updates; anything to let them know that you (the leader) are not off having the time of your life, while your people are anxiously waiting for the next sprint. Assure them that your core focus is business development, growth, and continuously figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Simply stated — let them know that you are in fact part of the same team and that you are holding an oar just like everyone else trying to row in the same direction.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Interestingly enough, Fidelman & Company was built with the intention of creating a fully remote management consulting firm 5 years ago. It was my opinion then, as it remains now, that remote work is absolutely the future of how so many teams in the professional service industry will operate. The COVID-19 pandemic has simply accelerated that adaptation. Since we are not bound by geography, we believe our remote management consulting model allows us to source the best consultants for the job. Our remote model also allows more cost-effective delivery and value for the client.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

First off, organization. Both team and individual organization within a company is critical in managing on time delivery. This can be challenging in any setting but particularly when managing remote teams. Remote consulting forces each consultant to really stay on top of their schedule, thoughts, and deliverables. Similarly, communication is a critical aspect that may prove more challenging when managing a remote team. Given that our consultants are situated across the US and Europe, finding a time for a catch up can sometimes prove more difficult than if we were all sharing the same office. Thirdly and relatedly, collaboration is crucial within remote teams. While everyone may be in different locations, it is important to continue to work as a team, communicate with one another, and collaborate on projects. Engagement is another critical challenge that many remote teams face. It is important to keep team members engaged within the company and in sync with company values and beliefs. While team members may not physically share a workspace, it is vital to keep a positive and engaged workplace atmosphere that will help motivate consultants to produce top-notch products for their clients. Lastly, transparency is an important challenge to consider when managing a remote team. Again, transparency can be difficult in a remote setting in which seemingly everyone is hidden behind their own computer screen. However, transparency is so important within a company and helps mitigate misunderstandings or other potential conflicts that may arise from false expectations.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

In terms of organization, it is important to set task reminders for virtually everything, especially those that can be set as recurring such as billing and weekly internal meetings. Set up calendar events, utilize google drive, and make sure everyone has access to the information they need at all times. Organization is all about setting your team up for success. When addressing communication challenges, it is important to set up weekly check-ins with your team. I cannot stress how important it is to touch base with every member of the team on a weekly basis. You would be surprised at how many mishaps or mistakes can be caught before they occur just by having a weekly update and touching base along the way. Communication really goes hand in hand with collaboration. We invite all team members to a project specific slack channel and google share drive so that each team member is fully aware of each aspect of the project. This allows for a frictionless onboarding process from research analyst to designer. We also send out a monthly internal newsletter that outlines current client engagements, last month’s accomplishments, this month’s goals, and next month’s plans to keep everyone engaging as a team. This also falls in line with engagement, our newsletter is just one way in which one can address the challenge of engagement in a remote setting by keeping all consultants aware and vested in our companies growth and goals. In addition, we strive to keep our consultants engaged by exposing them to a wide array of industries and projects that promote individual growth alongside company growth. Lastly, by providing all company members with full exposure to our active engagements, expectations, and objectives we believe we achieve a level of transparency that promotes a mind-share approach to our client’s goals.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

I think the best advice on how to give constructive criticism to a remote employee is to utilize technology. Video technology has grown leaps and bounds and has enabled us to replicate much of the nuance of face to face interaction. Utilize it. Do not hide behind the computer. Beyond that, when giving criticism to an employee, always offer support. Remind them of the structures within the company set in place that can help them going forward. Point them in the right direction of potential tools or team members that can help support them. Always point out what they are doing right within the same conversation. It is a balance of positive reinforcement and negativity.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Echoing what I just said, I would say avoid giving constructive feedback over email. Schedule a video conference to go over feedback and employee reviews on projects and deliverables. Jump on the phone at the very least.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

I would be wary of too much freedom. In my experience, allowing too much autonomy can result in delayed or incorrect delivery. Again, effective communication and collaboration are crucial aspects to working remotely as a team. It is important to set weekly check-ins and keep each team member appraised on what each consultant is working on, deadlines, and expectations. One interesting communication challenge even for those used to working remotely due to the pandemic is the sudden influx of shared space co-workers in the form of loved ones and pets. It is important to carve out some space and time for oneself to communicate with your team and principals effectively over video or phone. Organizing this time for communication and collaboration is critical to success. At the same time, too much micromanagement can drive your employees to feel like they are back in grade school again.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

I think a lot of times people only talk about team camaraderie in terms of team building, which is important of course, but I think empowering each employee with the proper tools and support to enable them to produce tangible client impact is perhaps even more important. I find that providing meaningful work and empowering our consultants with the tools to produce an exceptional product motivates them to continue to work hard and see the results of their efforts in real time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” — Albert Einstein. I always loved this quote and it has definitely guided me throughout my career and working with my clients. I always tell them to get straight to the point. What is your elevator pitch? What is your bottom line? If you can’t explain what it is your company does, what problem does it solve, what does it add in a sentence or less than you probably do not understand it well enough yet. The details add flair and finesse, but people tend to get lost in them. If you find yourself needing to use industry specific wording or profundities, then distill your explanation down further.

Thank you for these great insights!

You might also like...


Tom Wilde On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

by Karen Mangia

Gracey Cantalupo On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

by Karen Mangia

Jason Morwick On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

by Karen Mangia
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.