Career Advice Mar 14 2012

Goldman's Smith Offers Lesson in Poor Quitting Etiquette

By lesli kwoh

Unless Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith is shopping a book proposal, the scathing opinion piece he wrote announcing his resignation in Wednesday's New York Times is a lesson in how not to quit, career experts say.

The piece, titled "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs," accused the banking behemoth of fostering a toxic culture where profits come before client interests. In the piece, Smith criticized senior management and aspiring leaders for hewing primarily to the goal of making money.

The right way to quit is to "just resign and move on, and keep it quiet," says Laura Hill, president of Careers in Motion LLC, a career-coaching firm in New York City.

Smith may have sought sympathy or catharsis, but airing grievances about superiors in a letter, whether private or public, is unlikely to amount to much, she adds. "It's not going to change the organization," she says.

Still, Smith's piece dominated chatter among Wall Street workers on Wednesday and set off a social-media firestorm. Online commenters' views ran the gamut of emotion, from disgust to wistful admiration for Smith. On one point, however, nearly all agreed: Smith is unlikely to find work in finance.

Hill concurs: "What he did generally renders you unemployable in your industry" and makes him unlikely to be seen as trustworthy by many other firms.

Smith didn't respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday.

However harmful Smith's letter may be for his future prospects, crisis-management experts say the episode should spur Goldman to think deeply about how and why one employee's discontent could fester and spill over so publicly.

Employees generally become disgruntled when they feel like they aren't being heard by management, says Davia Temin, chief executive of Temin and Company, a New York crisis- and reputation-management firm. Frustrations can grow when employees escalate concerns to higher and higher levels and still feel ignored.

While Temin says she doesn't have firsthand knowledge of the situation within Goldman, she notes that it's possible that writing an op-ed may have been a last resort for Smith. "If he felt like he was being heard, it probably would not have gotten to this point," she says.

In a statement, Goldman rebutted Smith's account of the company's culture. "We disagree with the views expressed, which we don't think reflect the way we run our business," a spokeswoman wrote. "In our view, we will only be successful if our clients are successful. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of how we conduct ourselves."

Hill of Careers in Motion notes that while it may be difficult to lead cultural change at a company as large as Goldman, disgruntled employees should handle their frustrations by first "setting an example" for their colleagues. If they're still dissatisfied with the response, then it may be time to leave the company—gracefully. That includes refraining from bashing an employer in later job interviews.

Someone in Smith's position, for example, might describe their previous employer in more diplomatic terms, she says: "Over time, I felt their commitment to customers was not as strong."




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