Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Learn What a Recruiter Really Thinks About the Startup Experience

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 3

The choice of company is the biggest single determinant of one’s work experience.  This is particularly true in start up companies.  In this post, I’ll share the “startup experience” from the perspective of “Jillian,” a recruiter for high tech companies.

“People go to work [for a start-up] sold on the idea that is will change the world, to better mankind in some fundamental way.  In return, they give over the vast majority of their waking time. It’s not uncommon to work 60-80 hrs.  It is assumed that on weekends people will be working.  Which means that people are sacrificing a tremendous amount of their personal life in terms of family relationships.  If you’re in that kind of scenario, there isn’t much room to do much except work, sleep, and occasionally eat. 

They often sacrifice compensation, in that they take a pay cut to get into a company where they are given a big equity state.  In my 30 years of recruiting, the companies that have actually gone public where the [workers] actually made any money,  I can count on one hand, probably even less.    

Some of these companies get acquired. [Many] of the people who made the technology attractive to the buyer are let go and laid off.  [The remainder] end up working for the bigger company with none of the sense of being the bigger fish in the little pond.  

[Other] companies don’t wind up being able to make a producible product because the marketing people oversell and the VC people pull the plug.  These people who have gone through this major sacrifice are literally left with nothing, yet I see people doing this over and over again. 

Psychologically speaking, it’s extraordinarily attractive to be a part of this cutting edge technology, [thinking] if you try your hardest, you can make it happen.  It’s communicated and bought into all the way down the line, including the secretaries, the people who clean the office.  Even those people see that it’s extraordinarily rare that the company will succeed and get this big payoff. 

I think many people stay away from startups because they don’t want to make this kind of personal trade off.   What is your experience?  Is Jillian’s perspective representative, and does it have to be that way?

In the next post, we’ll return to the story of Harry T. Lobo, the Wolf CEO from Chapter 4.  What happens when a person of high integrity is confronted by a toxic culture?

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Do You Work In a “Just Make the Date” Culture?

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 2

Last post talked about the impact of corporate culture on my decisions leading a team that launched a product way before it was ready.  We had a “make the date” culture, and there was not much room for dissent. Of course none of this absolves me of responsibility for the choices I made.  I also don’t want to make this seem like a bigger deal than it was.  I don’t think I or anyone else at the company was involved in the types of major ethical lapses that one reads about on Wall Street or in the Enron case.  This was more of the garden variety business as, if not quite usual, certainly not all that unusual.

In this chapter, I will be writing about the influence of corporate culture on a lifestyle of corporate idolatry.  And my decision to give blind obedience to the company certainly fits that definition.  As you may remember from Chapter 3, the major drivers of unethical behavior at work are unethical people, challenging circumstances, and an unethical corporate culture.  And the drivers of corporate idolatry are similar, people (Chapter 4), circumstances (Chapter 5) and corporate culture (here in Chapter 6.)

According to a survey by the American Management Association, 70% of respondents said that “pressure to meet unrealistic business objectives/deadlines” was one of the top three reasons for unethical conduct, which far outpaced the second most common answer, “desire to further one’s career” at 39% and “to protect one’s livelihood” at 34%.[i]   Another survey, meeting deadlines was second to the need to “follow the bosses directive.”

These answers have one thing in common – compliance, either to the peer pressure of culture, or to the manager.

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Why Good People Do Bad Things At Work

Corporate Idolatry Is Not The Same As Business Ethics 


[i] The Ethical Enterprise: A global Study of Business Ethics 2005-2015 (2005) American Management Association. http://www.amanet.org/HREthicsSurvey06.pdf  P 5

Discover Why You Can Never Let the Company Down

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 1

The good news: I got the product out on time after leading the team through twelve months of crisis product development.  The bad news:  it did not perform well in customer hands.  The only surprise for me was how surprised senior management seemed to be. Prior to launch, the executives would stop me in the hall to ask if we were on schedule, and remind me how much revenue was on the line.  I loved the attention, and I was going to make sure we delivered what they were asking for.  They did not say ‘We will support any decision you make,’ or ‘protect the long term relationship with customers.’

After launch, I was too depressed to effectively defend myself from the storm of criticism because I felt that I let the company down.  What a ridiculous thought.  The company isn’t alive, and can’t be let down.

What I understand now, that I didn’t understand then, was that the company had a culture of making the date, and if I hadn’t been leading the team, someone else would have been.  It was expected that vacations would be canceled if need be, and they were.  I even led a conference call for several hours on the Fourth of July to help make the date.  I was at a family reunion at a resort in New Mexico, standing outside in the one patch of ground that had two bars of cell coverage – just enough to be heard.  If I walked more than ten feet in any direction, it dropped off.  It kind of symbolizes the impact of corporate culture on workplace behavior.  In theory I could walk anywhere I wanted to, but if I wanted to be heard, I had limited room to maneuver.

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