That is the defining statement from Greg Smith, the now famous departing employee who resigned from Goldman Sachs last week via an article on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.
As I read the various commentaries about Smith’s article, it seemed like reading the movie reviews before you see the film. That is, the movie being the actual resignation letter.
I would never get into the cause of this breakup because I have always said, in any situation, there are three sides: My side, your side and the truth. What intrigued me after I read the resignation was his statement about corporate culture.
I visited a former co-worker a year ago, who used to work with me on building an onboarding program. Her statement on last my visit was the same: I can’t stand it here and tell you that this is a great place to work because it is horrible.
Just this past week, I had tea with another senior executive that I worked with in the past. We reminisced about what started out as the greatest place on earth to work but turned into the place from beyond. And the amazing part of our conversation was that we both could basically pin-point the approximate thing that it began to send it downhill: a change in senior leadership.
As the Godfather would say, “how did things ever get so far apart?”
The Bait and Switch
What happens when the culture that you bought into changes? Consumer laws protect all of us from bait and switch, but when bait and switch as a concept infects your organization, you are on your own. When we start that new job, you are signing on because you have bought into what sounds (and seems) like it is the place for you.
As you begin the journey, we all hope that this remains the case. But what happens if you begin to notice that the culture is shifting or is on a slippery slope heading south? Whether we admit it or not, we have all been there — or if you have not gotten there yet, “just keep on living,” as my father would always say.
What normally happens is when we finally come around to admitting it, we realize that the thrill was long gone but we were in some way hoping for a redux to what we signed on for.
Culture is in the driver’s seat
Culture, in so many companies, has shifted during these tough economic times, and the stress for survival has caused fault lines to appear in the cultural framework. These fault lines, if not examined and repaired, will eventually produce a level of discontent with the talent pool that is a breeding ground for this type of behavior.
One of the most important facts about culture is that organizational value systems impact the way change happens. Some key questions include:
- What is important to us as an organization?
- What are our values?
- What behaviors are rewarded and recognized?
- How is bad behavior dealt with?
- Do the values and vision align with our daily decision making process?
- Who is really in charge?