One-Way Glass


An awful lot has already been written about Greg Smith’s dramatic op-ed resignation letter from Goldman Sachs. For those who haven’t yet read it, he provides a laundry list of the company’s failings, which is is sobering…if not exactly shocking:

1. The corporate culture has shifted. The company no longer focuses on the needs of the customer.

2. There is a complete lack of respect for customers. Employees “callously…talk about ripping their employees off” and refer to them as “Muppets” (we can only assume in not a good way.)

3. Employees lack integrity, although Smith very carefully (and wisely) disclaims knowledge of any illegal behavior.

These are all good reasons to leave a company. And Smith’s parting words of advice are also sound:

If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you.

Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist.

So it’s interesting to me that so much of the response to Smith’s letter has been negative. Parodies have been popping up all over the place, including Darth Vader’s resignation from the Galactic Empire:

How did we get here? The Empire changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and killing your former mentor with a light sabre. Today, if you make enough money you will be promoted into a position of influence, even if you have a disturbing lack of faith.

But many of the responses have been considerably less lighthearted, like the one on The Reformed Broker entitled How to Quit a Job Without Publishing an Op-Ed, which asserts the following:

The “culture” of Goldman Sachs was, is and always will be about making money, often at the expense of a client.

Other critics question Smith’s timing, wondering how many fat, juicy Goldman Sachs paychecks he collected while gradually coming to the realization that he could no longer work for them in good conscience. Still others wonder if he held on long enough to collect his annual bonus before he could no longer stand to work there any more.

Personally, I don’t care for the the Reformed Broker’s cynicism, and I’m perfectly willing to give Smith the benefit of the doubt that he really is concerned about the culture and ethics of Goldman Sachs, that he left the company because of those concerns, and that there is nothing particularly suspect about the timing of his resignation. But having said all that, there is still an important question that remains to be answered. How much of this criticism did Smith offer up before submitting his resignation?

He is right to want Goldman Sachs to be an ethical company that values its customers. When he noticed the company beginning to stray from these core values, he had an obligation to speak up. Did he? If not, if his resignation letter is the first his superiors are hearing about his concerns, then he has been complicit in the change of culture and the management practices he bemoans. And his letter is little better than self-congratulatory grandstanding.

A manager who withholds this kind of feedback and yet who expects honesty and transparency from the top is a hypocrite. Organizational transparency can’t be a sheet of one-way glass. I’m not saying that Smith is such a hypocrite. He may well have gone on the record about these concerns repeatedly over the years before resigning. If so, good for him.

But it is odd (is it not?) that he never mentions that in his letter.


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