Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

How To Reconnect With Values and Regain Control Of Your Life

Change Thoughts by MMcDonough via Flickr CC

Introduction to Part III – From Worship to Work

I am really excited to be starting Part III of Busting Your Corporate Idol.  It’s time to write about solutions.  As a quick review

Part I: Corporate Idolatry Busted is about definitions.  I discovered my own corporate idolatry on Yom Kippur when I realized that the company and not my family was the most important thing in my life.  There can be only one top priority, and for me the company became my top priority.  It became my idol.

Part II: The Corporate Ladder Revisited examines the three factors that contribute to a lifestyle of idolatry: people, circumstances, and the overall company culture.  I’ve shared the stories of people like Mary, Pat, and Harry to illustrate these dynamics in action.

Part III draws on one of my favorite books, Switch: How To Change When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.  In one sense, change is always hard.  Newton’s First Law says “an object in motion will stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon an unbalanced force.”  So any change is going to require some work.  But “hard” is relative.  As Malcolm Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point, sometimes very small changes can have very large impacts.

Planets move according to laws of the universe, but people have free will.  We can choose our own path.  If you’ve gotten this far in the book, you are looking to make a change.  And if you are still reading, I’d like to think that you’ve started to see the world in a new way.

I went from working 90 hours a week to 60 hours a week in less than a year, without changing jobs and with no discernable impact on my career.  But my life got soooo much better, and it has continued to get better every year since.

Yours will too.

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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 Happens When High Integrity CEO Meets Toxic Culture?

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 4

If you take a high integrity  person and put them in a toxic and/or unethical culture, which would win?  In other words, to what degree can an individual influence and change corporate culture?  It’s a question we’ll come back to multiple times in this chapter.

Lets start with an extreme example: What if Harry T Lobo, a highly respected and effective CEO we met in Chapter 4, were made the CEO of Goldman Sachs, a company thought by many to have an unethical culture. (Greg Smith’s very public resignation made public the callus and thoughtless way Goldman treated their clients. See this post on the subject for more.)  Harry, who is not known for his modesty, didn’t think he could change the company value system.  Harry told me “[It would] depend on the company, and how long the value system existed.  Goldman Sachs [is very big and is] proud of the way it operates.”  Harry explained to me that everyone working there shared those values, and the organization is too big to change by the CEO alone.

It took Harry five years to change the culture of the mid-sized organization he is currently running.  When he arrived, the company was full of “empire builders,”  with a “negative, finger pointing, aggressive culture.”  People who were resistant to the values he was instilling are “no longer around.”  Harry said that he let this happen over time, as people realized they no longer fit in they left, and people who espoused the values he was looking for were promoted.  (And see this post to see a case where Harry dismissed someone for being manipulative.)

This is a common theme I heard throughout the interviews I conducted, and is well described in the literature: People who fit best with the company values, whatever they may be, will tend to be promoted more quickly.

So how did Harry respond when he was working as a Senior VP in a toxic culture?  Did he change the culture, or was he changed by it?

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