Values in action ARE the values. Ask Greg Smith

If you lead anybody or anything, and you think you know Greg Smith’s story, think again.  It’s a story about learning that could be worth $2.2 billion.

Greg Smith is another example of people who are telling leaders that their personal values are not that malleable.  Among the easy scapegoats for this cultural trend is one or another generational demographic:  Gen Y, millennials, whoever’s next.  But that’s too simplistic.  Forty-somethings and fifty-somethings are changing what they want from work, too.

What's that mean, anyway?
What is that value, really?

Smith is the guy who’s leaving your department to go to graduate school in an unrelated field, a high performer whose work has fallen off, the guy who is leaving to each English in China, and the woman who just left to start a bakery.  (Incidentally, the last example? That’s my wife.)  They tried to influence the conditions at work.  But they’re swimming against the tide and they can’t bear the cognitive dissonance any more.

What Smith said was that the Goldman culture he knew and joined had “revolved round teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients.”  He no longer saw those values in evidence.

Few companies can pay their employees enough to take the issue of values off the table.  If any can, it would be an investment bank.  But Smith said he “can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what [the bank] stands for.”  Remember your Maslow: If you can eat and provide for your family, soon after issues of identity become the highest priority.

Leading means examining values that create value

The most important lesson for leaders is that values in practice need to be held up to scrutiny.

  • Are we the organization we say we are?
  • Is our private conversation a reflection of our public proclamations?
  • The last three things we did, how are they examples of who we are?
  • What values did this quarter’s work reflect?

This kind of continuous organizational learning gives everyone the chance to influence and reinforce the values that matter.  Everyone learns what values look like in action, even when they’re not all part of the mission statement, even when the organization falls a little short.  The kind of cognitive dissonance and isolation that Greg Smith felt won’t fester unattended until a departure from your company takes over the national news cycle for a week or so.

If you’re sure you don’t need to worry about Op-Ed pieces appearing in the New York Times, think about the unsolicited, unvarnished reports on Glassdoor.  How much could you save by discussing the values in action where you work or lead?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *