Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Understanding the Impact of a Hockey Stick Culture

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 5

In the last post, Harry T. Wolf explained why he could not change the culture of Goldman Sachs if he became CEO.  And, we saw how Harry went about changing a “negative, finger pointing, aggressive culture.” It took Harry years to make changes, and he had the support of the board to make it happen.

Prior to his current (and second) stint as CEO, Harry was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a technology company in Silicon Valley I’ll call “ScorpCo*”.  During Harry’s first year, the company launched a complete upgrade to its platform – software, hardware, peripherals and third party components.  “I am intensely proud of what the organization achieved during that year.  [We delivered] it all, and had successful sales.  In most companies, you get paid it big bonus for that.  It didn’t work that way at Scorpco.”  Wall Street rewarded the company for making its numbers.  Harry was demoted.

The year was difficult – Harry had to defend many decisions publically that he did not agree with.  “I’m a firm believer that if you’re part of a management team that by whatever mechanism decides on a course of action, it’s your duty to carry it out with absolutely the best grace you can. I have always tried to take ownership of that decision, rather than place it as a third party decision.”  Harry had a philosophy of long term objectives, but the company was perpetually focused on the short term – “60% of revenue came in last 48 hrs [of the quarter.]**  It’s a crazy way to run a business.”   According to Harry “burnout was high” among employees, and he felt “sheer exhaustion, both physical and emotional.”

It doesn’t have to be that way, and Harry’s life got much better after he left the company.  The reason why he left surprised me.

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*ScorpCo is a fictitious name I picked because the CEO is a Scorpion.  This post from Chapter 4 gives an example of working for a Scorpion

** A hockey stick culture like this will eventually exhaust everyone both in and out of sales.

What If Successfully Managing Workplace Politics Doesn’t Bring Balance?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 18 (Conclusion)

This chapter I’ve shared stories that illustrate how the people at work can contribution to corporate idolatry.  But as the following story illustrates, even the best of people, working for the most admirable of Wolves, are subject to strong influence from both circumstances and the workplace culture.

One senior product manager we’ll call “Jill” had a Fox manager who pushed and pushed in private to get the product out, and then publically pointed the finger at her when disaster struck.  According to Jill, after leading the team for a year “it felt crappy to sit in the room, and watch everyone look to my boss to find a solution.  They acted like I wasn’t there.  But later in the meeting there came this moment when my manager gave me a look that seemed to say ‘what do I do next?’  I looked him in the eye, and although I knew exactly what needed to be done, I said nothing.” And the outcome?  The Fox manager was soon moved to a backwater of the company, while Jill delivered a solution and recovered her reputation.

After that time, Jill was able to manage the politics much more effectively, and while the environment wasn’t exactly supportive, it wasn’t hostile either.  But the story does not end there, because Jill was still in a very poor situation.

Jill’s competition released a product that the customers liked better, and her marketing programs and sales pep talks were not going to change that.  Circumstances were beyond Jill’s control, but she pushed herself to the edge of ruin in a futile effort to regain market leadership.

Jill believed that her heroic efforts could result in a major change in the marketplace.  Psychologists call this the “Illusion of Control.”  I call it another face of idolatry.

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