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Did you see the world's most public and nasty resignation letter this week?  It comes from a Goldman Sachs executive who grew tired of the culture of greed (what did he expect on Wall Street?) and topped off his resignation with a column in the New York Times entitled "Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs".

Yes, that New York Times.  Here's a taste:

"TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer Darth intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact."

You should go read the entire letter.  As you might expect with this type of op/ed, it's generating opinion on both sides.  It's also generating some great parodies, like this one from Darth Vader - "Why I am leaving the Empire".  Hilarious.  

Some of you will read the entire letter and have raised eyebrows and maybe even a finger wag at Goldman.  You believe that culture can be preserved, even when hundreds of billions of dollars are on the table.  Some of you will laugh it off, saying that's life in the show.

Me?  Let's assume for a second that Greg Smith (the Goldman exec who wrote the letter) is accurate in his portrayal.  Let's assume the leadership of Goldman doesn't want the behavior that's described in the letter.

How do you prevent that type of culture decay and the behavior that follows?  

Start by repeating after me: "Your corporate/company values that you have on the wall don't mean anything unless they become operational in how performance is measured."

You have company values on the wall.  They're too long, people.  They're full of flowering phrases that employees don't understand.  98% of your employees can't recite what they are.  

If you want to make a value set operational in your company, start by determining "potential factors" that are one word or a phrase.  They can be linked to your values, but it's one word or a three word phrase, not BS language.  Examples:


Figures things out/Smart

Gets things done/Executes


Doesn't Screw People

You get the exercise.  If you want to really drive a culture and not let it slip over time, you've got to identify the DNA it takes for people to be successful in your company.  You''ll use the factors across all employees in your company.

Then you ruthlessly use the potential factors to HIRE, PROMOTE/REWARD and FIRE.

Have good results but terrible linkage to the potential factors?  You're fired.  You didn't get a raise.  We interview for it and you never got hired.  I'm reverse engineering here. If you want to build and preserve a culture, that's what you have to do.  It's hard, so that's why so many companies can't/don't do it.

Which is why most companies have a Greg Smith firing up a letter like the one you saw in the Times.  Most never send it, but a LOT of people write it.  

Check their drafts when you take over their email.



Assuming what he writes is true, this is what balances the employee/employer relationship that so often is perceived to be tilted towards employers. If you don't like the culture/values or how the culture/values have deviated from their original intent due to current leadership, find a better job and tell everyone how you really feel. No need to unionize. It's what makes the world and free markets go round!

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