Did you hear the one about the exiting employee who took shots at his former employer? Yeah, it happens all the time. But what makes this particular situation interesting is that the employee doing the bad-mouthing wasn’t an hourly employee at the bottom of the corporate ladder, a place where disengagement seems most likely. No, this employee, Greg Smith, served as executive director at Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. Click here to see the full article.
So what does Smith blame at the heart of the issue? Here’s the short version: Culture.
Greg Smith called the culture at Goldman Sachs “toxic and destructive” in a recent Op Ed piece in the New York Times, and he named names, blaming CEO Lloyd Blankfein and President Gary Cohn. This comes at a bad time for Goldman Sachs, who’s received criticism from protestors and politicians alike for the role the company played in triggering the US financial crisis, and then profiting at the expense of their clients. You might recall that Goldman Sachs was the subject of congressional hearings, and in 2010, they paid $550 million in a legal settlement for allegedly misleading investors.
“Culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success,” Smith wrote. “It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients,” he said. “It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm.”
In his final assessment, Smith lamented the loss of the former culture of trust and integrity, saying that kind of culture was “the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years.”
But is there really a link between culture and profits? According to a February 2012 statement from market research firm Harris Interactive, Inc., Goldman Sachs’s corporate reputation hovers at the very bottom. As a consumer, is that the kind of company you would trust to manage your investment portfolio?
The culture of your organization and the integrity of your corporation’s leaders link directly to the reputation and financial success of your company.
Imagine that one of your disengaged employees leaves your company and gets interviewed on the local news. What would he or she say?
- Tell me about the culture that your boss promoted. How did that help or hurt you in your job? How did it help or hurt your customers?
- Tell me about the culture promoted at that company. How did they view customers?
- Would you encourage a loved one to work for your boss? That company? Why or why not?
It doesn’t matter if your employee is being accurate and objective, or if he or she has an axe to grind. Nor does it matter if Greg Smith had any ulterior motives. The reality is that Smith’s Op Ed piece hurt Goldman Sachs. And the reality is that any of your employees has the ability to elevate or destroy the reputation of your company or brand.
Want to know about your culture? Ask your current employees these questions:
- If you worked in our marketing department, what would you say are the selling points of our business and brand that potential customers would absolutely love to know?
- If you worked for the competition, what blind spots could you exploit that make us vulnerable to bad press, damaged customer relationships, or law suits?
And one more step: be prepared to act on what you hear before you find yourself answering to the press, a congressional hearing, or an angry public.