Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

How To Redefine “What Is Best For The Company.”

“Office Space” Movie Night Party via

Chapter 9: Part 10

Ever hear the phrase “we need to do what is best for the company?”  What was the context?

Was it someone explaining to you your basic job responsibilities, or was it someone justifying an unpalatable decision?

I asked the people I interviewed about the phrase “the good of the company.” Hare are answers from two leaders I respect and introduced to you earlier in the book.

Remember Harry T Lobo, the Wolf CEO from Chapter 4, who struggled in a toxic environment in Chapter 6?  Harry feels that it is his job to do what is best for the company BUT  he focuses on what is best in the long term.

Harry told me that one of the things he found difficult in his time at the toxic culture was the incredible pressure at the end of the quarter, when  “60 percent of revenue came in the last 48 hours.”  The sales team was incentivized to do crazy deals to pull business forward, which in the short run helped maintain the stock price. In Harry’s opinion, this built a “house of cards” because it was that much harder to make the number the following quarter.

Another admirable leader we met was Janet “power mom” Wolf in Chapter 7.  Janet told me of a situation where site closures were explained to the remaining employees as a positive step because they brought various product development teams together in house. Closer coordination would get products to market more quickly, and thus better serve customers.  Janet  had visibility to the decision making process of those senior to her, and thought the layoff was more about cost savings, combined with an arrogance that the other sites, brought in by acquisition, were not as good.  Janet told me that executives made comments like “what do those people do all day?”

Janet did not think the loss of the personnel and expertise would  benefit the company in the long run.  The company did not offer any relocation packages, which in Janet’s opinion “spoke volumes” about what the executives thought of the people.

The lesson here is that even in a toxic culture, there are leaders who define “the good of the company” in terms of the long term interest and who value people.  The trick is to find these leaders, and the pockets of relative calm and sanity they can provide.  For example, Janet  talked about how she tried to shield her team from the buffeting from the top.

When I was caught up in my corporate idolatry, I would never have considered certain positions because the products were not cool or important enough.  But as work because less important to me, I became more open minded, and was delighted to get a job out of the limelight.  There was less stress, and I had the bandwidth to focus on health and family.

Who are the leaders in your company who seem to focus on the long term?  Have you ever considered working for them?  Is there a department that in the past seemed too boring that is work considering?

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When Not To Wait For Your Job To Improve

Over the last month, a spate of companies have announced special or early dividends this year.  For me, dividend stories are usually a yawner, but in this case there is a lesson about values and priorities

As background, on January 1st the tax rate for dividend income will go from 15% to as high as 43%.  For some companies, like Walmart, it is a no brainer to pay its dividend December 27th instead of January 2.  The move saves investors significant money, and it doesn’t impact the overall business. (And if the Walton family, who owns 43% of the company saves $180 million on their tax bill, so much the better for them.)  Check out these articles in the WSJ and Daily Beast for more.

But what about Costco, that is borrowing 3.5 billion dollars to finance a $3 billion dollar dividend payout that wasn’t scheduled to take place? Or Oracle, spending $867.4 million on a dividend that will bring Larry Ellison, the CEO a payment of close to $200 million dollars?  This is about bringing shareholders a short term return, which is ok with me.  Corporations are founded to make money for investors.

From a business standpoint however, I think anything that prioritizes the short term over the long term is poor strategy.  It sends a signal that percolates throughout the organization.  Here is an example of that from my experience a number of years ago at a rapidly growing biotech company.

Late in Q1, the VP of marketing rather sheepishly told everyone to drop what we were doing, and find out what we could do to help make the quarter. And then, development resources were diverted from the new product to slam in a feature to help close a sale. We put together some last minute promotions.  So the company sold the product in Q1 at a discount, instead of later in the year at full price when the customer swould have been ready to use it.   The result: Less total revenue for the year, and long term customer relationships were reduced to transactional interactions.

My product manager buddies and I ragged on management, hoping someday they would get it. But we were the ones who didn’t get it.  The company was telling us what was most important to them, and it wasn’t long term value creation.

Which brings us back to the dividend issue.  Any way you slice it, a company that is pulling dividends forward by multiple quarters to save its investors money is focused on short-term returns and not long term-value creation.  Next quarter, those investors will be looking for something instead of the dividends.  What will management do?

Something to think about if you work for one of those companies.  If the company doesn’t make the long-term value creation a priority, or sacrifices long term customer relationships for short term sales, it is hard to believe that long term employee retention is a priority.

If you have a job you like, with a good manager and a supportive environment, enjoy.

But if you are working like crazy and sacrificing your personal life in the hope that things will be better in the future, you may be waiting a long time.  To quote Guy Kawasaki quoting an ancient chinese proverb “Man who waits for roast duck to fly into mouth must wait very very long time.”*

* APE: How To Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki PDF edition p. 56

Tomorrow: Back to Busting Your Corporate Idol.  If you like this post, you may want to read Chapter 3: The Corporation, The Real American Idol Here