In the last week two prominent companies, Goldman Sachs and Google, have been very publicly slammed by former employees. James Whittaker, an ex-Google engineer and currently a Microsoft employee, posted on that company’s blog his reasons for recently leaving Google. In his post, he criticizes Google’s change in corporate culture and their lack of innovation.
Last Wednesday, Greg Smith wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled; “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs” where he calls the company’s environment as “toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.” Smith stated his reason for resigning as “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.”
Could these attacks be the rantings of disgruntled former employees who didn’t get the recognition or promotions they thought they deserved? Sure. But even if they are disgruntled, does that mean everything they have to say should be immediately dismissed? Probably not.
Human Resources professionals have long known that there is gold to be mined in the last words of people who are leaving their organization. It’s why many organizations conduct “exit interviews” when an employee resigns. I personally have conducted hundreds and sure, some of the comments seem to be motivated more by sour grapes than altruism, but it is foolish to totally dismiss all the views and opinions of people who are resigning. If you can objectively sift through the exaggerations and unique experiences, you are usually left with a handful of valuable information nuggets that are worthy of further exploration.
Employees who have resigned will often feel more at ease, free from the fear of retaliation, to share the honest day to day reality of employment within your organization. They will tell you if your policies are inadequate, your working environment hostel, or your management team inept. If you make it a practice to speak with everyone who resigns, you can begin to see patterns or trends that would not otherwise appear to you. It will also be clear if you have a leader who manages “up” well but is a terror to those who work for him.
People have criticized Smith and Whittaker for the public way in which they chose to air their feelings about their former employers. Maybe the critics are right, there could have been a better, less PR damaging way for them to share their opinions. I don’t know if they were given a chance to express their opinions directly to the organization or if this was the only way they felt their feelings would be heard. Either way, it’s done; you can’t lock the barn door after the horse has left. But within both Smith’s and Whittaker’s final words, I can see valuable information for their former employers. Shame on Goldman Sachs and Google if they can’t find those nuggets of gold and improve their organizations.
What do you think? Do you care what people who have resigned have to say?