Home Leadership & Development When You Ignore Culture…. there is a social downside

When You Ignore Culture…. there is a social downside

OPINION PIECE: Ron Thomas Strategy Focused Group


“I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.”

I came across this article the other day and it resonated with me. A gentleman by the name of Greg Smith resigned from his role at Goldman Sachs not only with resignation but with an op-ed.

That was the defining statement from Greg Smith, the now-famous departing employee who resigned from Goldman Sachs last week via an article on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.

What would your “movie reviews” look like

As I read the various commentaries about Smith’s article, it seemed like reading the movie reviews before you see the movie. That is, the movie being the actual resignation letter.

I would never get into the cause of this breakup because I have always said, in any situation, there are three sides: My side, your side, and the truth. What intrigued me after I read the resignation was his statement about corporate culture.

I visited a former co-worker a year ago who used to work with me on building an onboarding program. Her statement on my last visit was the same: I can’t stand it here and tell you that this is a great place to work because it is horrible.

Likewise, this past week, I had tea with another senior executive that I used to work with in the past. We reminisced about what started as the greatest place on earth to work but later turned into the place from beyond. And the amazing part of our conversation was that we both could pinpoint the approximate thing that began to send it downhill: a change in senior leadership.

As the Godfather would say, “how did things ever get so far apart?”

The Bait and Switch

What happens when the culture that you bought into changes? Consumer laws protect all of us from bait and switch, but when bait and switch as a concept infects your organization, you are on your own. When we start that new job, you signed on because you have bought into what sounds (and seems) like it is the place for you.

As you begin the journey, we all hope that this remains the case. But what happens if you start to notice that the culture is shifting or is on a slippery slope heading south? Whether we admit it or not, we have all been there — or if you have not gotten there yet, “just keep on living,” as my father would always say.

What usually happens is when we finally come around to admitting it, we realize that the thrill was long gone but, we were in some way hoping for a redux to what we signed on for.

Culture is in the driver’s seat

Culture, in so many companies, has shifted during these COVID times. The stress for survival has caused fault lines to appear in the cultural framework. These fault lines, if not properly examined and repaired, will eventually produce a level of discontent with the talent pool that is a breeding ground for this type of behavior.

One of the most important facts about culture is that organizational value systems impact the way change happens. Some key questions include:

  • What is important to us as an organization?
  • What are our values?
  • What behaviors are rewarded and recognized?
  • How is bad behavior dealt with?
  • Do the values and vision align with our daily decision-making process?
  • Who is really in charge?

These types of questions are extremely critical for leadership to understand because this is what directly influences the way change is accepted or not. Values are the guiding principles that should direct decision-making and the performance of work. This is not only what employees, but customers, expect from the organization.

Culture on display

The cultivation of culture is the same as the principle of cultivation in gardening: weeding, fertilizing, watering, and lots of attention. When you see a culturally driven company, you will see a company that, from the senior executives down to the mailroom, having a thorough understanding of what the company is all about.

I stopped in the new Apple store in Grand Central Station last week and discussed the new iPad with a store associate. The organized chaos from the sales floor showed that it was apparent that each one of these associates knew what their mission was about. The culture of Apple with their associates is a sight to behold.

With the advent of social media, this gentleman Greg Smith chose old media to display his feelings. This is not the last time that this type of display will come forward, but I do feel we should all take a look at the Greg Smiths of our organization, and regardless of your feeling towards how this was handled, recognize that this is your new employee.

When you ignore your culture, this is the by-product — whether it is The New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, or Glassdoor

Author Ron Thomas LinkedIn: @Strategyfocusedgroup


This article is part of the MEA HR Contributor Series. The author is an expert in their field and contributes to MEA HR & Learning. We are honored to feature and promote their contribution on our website. Please note that the author is not employed by MEA HR and the opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect official views or opinions of MEA HR.