From Promoter to Detractor, Why Greg Smith left Goldman Sachs

Greg Smith, an executive director at Goldman Sachs, resigned this month in dramatic fashion. It was well covered in national and even international news. His reasons for leaving were crystal clear. In a New York Times op-ed piece published the same day he quit Goldman Sachs, Smith wrote: “I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”
Greg wrote that he was drawn to Goldman Sachs because of its vital culture founded on principles of teamwork, integrity, humility and client focus. Now after 12 years with the firm, he said he witnessed the devolution of the culture into one where profits were put before people (clients and employees). According to Smith, in previous years, employees had a deep sense of pride and connection to the organization and believed in the mission. Because of this change, Greg wrote, he lost pride in his company and the belief in the firm’s message of what it is trying to achieve.
Before losing his pride and belief, Greg could have been considered a strong internal promoter. Internal promoters are often the most engaged employees in an organization, and have a significant influence on those they work with. The attitude of a strong internal promoter is one of connection with the organization, pride in their work, and a desire to share their enthusiasm with others. During the majority of his tenure at Goldman Sachs, Greg Smith actively promoted the positive aspects of the company’s culture. He dedicated a portion of his time visiting college campuses to recruit prospective graduates- he was even chosen to be featured on the firm’s recruiting video.
The transition from an internal promoter to an active detractor begins with a negative experience which changes one’s beliefs and attitudes, which then changes behaviors. In the case of Greg Smith, not only did his attitudes change towards the firm, those new perceptions also led to him resigning and publicly sharing his frustrations with others regarding the organization’s culture. Like internal promoters, detractors are actively vocal in sharing their opinion. Moreover, both attitudes are contagious and have the ability to spread.
Mr. Smith’s story illustrates the imperative to keep a close pulse on the culture within an organization and to take steps to create an environment where the ratio of promoters to detractors is significant. Assessing employee attitudes through employee engagement surveys, focus groups, and other feedback mechanisms, and then taking action on engagement findings, are the best way to prevent the “Greg Smiths” from becoming detractors in the first place.
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