Anil Thakraney: Are you cultured?

16 Mar,2012

By Anil Thakraney


A senior executive quit Goldman Sachs, and his resignation letter has gone viral. In fact, it’s a hot topic of discussion on Wall Street even as you read this. Full marks to the man for standing up for what he believes in. For sure the officer will be black-listed in the corporate world (as most whistle blowers are) but he will walk with his head held high for the rest of his life. Here’s the full text of his resignation letter, in case you haven’t read it.



What got me interested in this issue is the said executive’s reason for quitting: the organization’s culture had eroded and that was unacceptable to him. Haven’t many of us experienced this situation in our careers? Most of us don’t chuck our jobs because of this, but it’s a fact that an organization’s culture is important to its success. And yet, in the chase for profitability, this truth is often ignored. The result is loss of focus and staff friction across all levels.


The best definition of an organization’s culture is the one I learnt in management school and it’s stuck into my head. It’s about ‘How the employees behave when no one is looking’. If there is a culture existent in an organization, then all employees would behave identically in a given situation. For example, at the Taj, if a piece of paper is found lying in the lobby area, chances are any staffer would quickly pick it up, right from the general manager to the waiter. That’s culture.


I have noticed that organizations do start out with a clear, identifiable culture. But as the leadership changes, or as more money comes in, it’s quickly forgotten. I’ll give you another example. I once worked in a large ad agency and it used to be entirely client-led. Pleasing the client at all costs was the culture. The sort of people who were hired believed in that. And this percolated down the line. Even the peon treated the visiting client as god. Later when the top leadership changed, the agency’s culture changed to creativity. I don’t work there any more but I suspect every employee, perhaps even their admin staff, thinks of different ways to do routine things.


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Shut your eyes and ask yourself a question: What culture does my organization have? If the answer is a blank or if it’s something that goes against your core values, it’s best to move on. Like the gentleman from Goldman Sachs.




PS: Johnson’s captures the mother/child relationship wonderfully. A simple idea. Instead of a regular voice-over, they have imagined what a child might think of his/her mum. And that makes the emotions flow.


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