Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Not Ready to Pull a Greg Smith? Three Quiet Ways To Take a Moral Stand.

Anonymous Employee Review of Goldman Sachs from the website Glassdoor.com

Last week, I wrote Goldman Sachs Is Busted in response to Greg Smith’s public resignation from Goldman Sachs.  Smith declared in a very public way that  he could no longer identify with the company value system.  A reader commented after my post:

“Most people are afraid to speak up even when their lives are not in danger.”

The reader raises an interesting point.  There are over 30,000 employees at Goldman Sachs, but only one Op-Ed resignation.  Assuming Smith is making a legitimate point, why was he the only one to speak up?    Part of it is cultural – Goldman Sachs attracts and promotes people who share the company values.  Smith is at the other end of the spectrum.  And everyone else sits in between, including  the people quietly looking for a new career, and people who are afraid to speak up.

Needless to say, Greg Smith’s solution is not for everyone.  In my opinion, it would be unrealistic to expect that anyone who has doubts about his or her company’s values to immediately resign, and many people don’t speak out as much as they would like too.  In my opinion, one reason for silence is stress. According to the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, one third of US employees are chronically overworked and 41% say they they feel stressed during the workday.  When life is really overwhelming, taking a public stand against the company culture is a lot to ask.  At the same time, I think there is a price to pay for acting counter to one’s values.  George is in the financial services industry.  He saw practices that went against his values, and  spoke out “enough to be a little disliked but not absolutely fired.”  George shared the following

“I told myself this was a soul killing experience.  It messed with who I was fundamentally.  It did not make me happy.”

There is no substitute for leaving the company, which is what George eventually did.  But for people who aren’t ready or feel they can’t leave…

What to do?

I am a big fan of guerrilla marketing, that uses unconventional means to get a message across.  Speaking out against company culture is a situation where guerilla marketing can have a big impact. A frontal assault, the method chosen by Greg Smith, takes courage and a lot of resources.  It is also dangerous.  The objective here is not dramatic change, but rather a way to ease the conscience, and to nudge change in a slow incremental way.  The following “guerilla morality” tactics also help other people by providing the truth about the company, and the knowledge that they are not alone in their doubts about the company values.

Three Quiet Ways To Take A Moral Stand 

1. Speak Anonymously using social media to help get the truth out. Glassdoor.com describes itself as a career website that provides “an inside look at jobs and companies.”   Glassdoor.com allows its members to rate companies on a scale of 1-5 in 8 different categories, such as compensation, communication, and work/life balance.  In addition, there are open fields where each reviewer gives the pro’s and con’s of working at the company.  For example, there are 684 reviews of Goldman Sachs, one of which is shown above.  Glassdoor.com uses a “give-to-get” model, meaning that users can gain unlimited access to reviews, salaries and interviewing tips only after they share information anonymously about a current or past company.  A member of Glassdoor.com doesn’t need to make a big public statement to get the information about a company into the public view.  In my opinion, companies who treat their employees badly or that practice suspect values will be at a competitive disadvantage.

If you want to be a bit more aggressive, print a summary of the Glassdoor reviews and leave it on the printer.  (I always peaked at documents left on the printer.)  If I worked for Life Technologies, this document would get my attention.  If I worked at Hewlett Packard and felt demoralized, I might get a boost if I found this document and saw that other people felt as I do.

2. Withhold your public support by not attending company meetings.  In many companies, the quarterly company meeting is a “rah rah” event where senior management reviews development milestones and financial performance.  I have worked at companies where it was expected that everyone attend the meeting, and it was noticed is someone was absent. If you are concerned about getting in trouble, find a defensible excuse, like a doctor’s visit, or a call with a customer.

3. Try to influence the company using a Business Case For Good,  which is a financial forecast or other business case to support “the right thing to do.”  Often, a company needs to choose between two courses of action, where one course clearly seems to be the right thing to do according to personal values.  In my experience, advocating a business decision based on “the right thing to do” is an uphill battle and usually loses to an argument based on “the best thing for the company.”

Business Case For Good Template

Business Case For Good Forecast Template

The key to a Business Case For Good is a financial forecast like the example to the right, that compares two alternate scenarios.  In this example,  the right thing to do corresponds to Scenario 1 that brings in $123 million dollars additional revenue over five years.

Here is the secret to effective forecasting – make a picture, with red bad and blue good.  The numbers can tell any story, depending on the assumptions.*   (One more suggestion: never say that Scenario 1 is “the right thing to do.”  It will undermine the financial argument.  If someone brings it up, look confused and move on without comment.)

There are a lot of places to get data to support a Business Case For Good, such as a customer complaints database, performance data from product development, or cost-related data from manufacturing .  Things get changed by coalitions of people, and the data may open a door to win over someone in finance or marketing.

Could this hurt my career?

The short answer is yes, following the tactics above might slow down your career in the short run.  The sad reality is that on average, people who are more closely aligned with the company values (whatever they may be at your company,) will advance more quickly than those who are not.   This is a post with advice on how to quietly take a moral stand, not a post on how to get promoted more quickly. There can only be one top priority, and it is a personal choice whether values or career comes first.

It is impossible to predict the future, and a quiet moral stand might help your career in the short run.  I am convinced that a strong moral compass will help both career and company in the long run.  I think Greg Smith would agree.  His resignation letter ended with the following:

“Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm… People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.”

 

Comments

  1. gmarcus2 says

    * For the forecast junkies out there, here are my assumptions. Scenario 2 leads to 30% lower sales in the first year, and 20% lower growth in each following year. I can behind this 100% based on “the best information available today,” which is jargon sure to get this proposal funded. What is scenario 2? Anything you want it to be. For Goldman Sachs, I would say it would be the status quo, where employees sell complex products the customer doesn’t really understand. In the post Greg Smith world, customers no longer trust the company, and sales fall. In Scenario 1, people sell easy-to-understand transactions, trust is rebuilt and higher growth results. PS Change the Y axis to be billions instead of millions.

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