Why Your Employees Want Partnership, Not Ownership

The interwebs lit up yesterday when the now-famous Greg Smith blasted his soon-to-be-former employer, Goldman Sachs, for losing its culture and turning into something “toxic and destructive.”

Most of the chatter has been about the negative state of the financial securities industry and whether or not the guy will ever work in this town again. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan, felt so bad for Goldman that he issued a memo telling his bankers not to attack Goldman while it was taking it on the chin.

But under this news lies a bigger story. And it may not be one that many calcified American companies are ready for…your employees have a voice. And if provoked, they will use it.

So what’s changed? The quid pro quo. While companies are still selling the ridiculous notion of job security, the best talent has gotten a clue and are now actively managing their careers. Your people don’t care about lifetime employment — it doesn’t exist — and they know that in exchange for pretend loyalty all they’ll get are empty promises, the wrong training, and a dwindling upside. The jig is up.

There’s been some talk about how that op-ed was career suicide, but I guarantee that Mr. Smith knows what’s coming next for his career. He has a Plan B. Your best people do, too.

While companies have been squeezing extreme productivity out of their organizations throughout this recession, your A-players have been planning their next moves. They’ve been building their personal brands, amassing new skills and subject-matter expertise. It’s starting to seem as if companies are no longer the glue — connections, facilitated through LinkedIn and Facebook, are. Your best people have raised their industry clout and developed connections on their own. This is their new safety net. The smart companies have supported training and development in these areas and have even built their own alumni networks, and the ones who haven’t are in for a rude awakening.

This change isn’t abrupt, it’s been happening for more than a decade. It started around 2000 during the dotcom meltdown, when talent threw pink-slip parties and had each other’s backs instead of just slinking away when they got laid off. They found their voices online and connected at meetups; they built their own networking groups. And they evolved. Social media has only helped to amplify their voices.

That’s why lots of people, not just Greg Smith, are ready to stand up today and challenge the establishment — they may not all be able to get in The New York Times, but they know that they can be heard. The timing is right because the technology is right. And courage has grown among your people because they’ve taken the management of their careers into their own hands.

Institutional apathy should be every company’s greatest fear right now. Your talent wants partnership, not ownership. And an esprit de corps that they can believe in. Give it to them, and they’ll reward you with their ideas, great work, and a lifetime relationship. Doing nothing will lead to a brain drain of epic proportions that will make you feel like Kodak or Yahoo! on a good day — having to sell or sue over old patents because no one is creating new intellectual property for you. Your future depends on this. And the last thing you need as a leader is a bunch of angry birds revealing your organizational flaws and breaking things.

You haven’t lost control. The power and potential of your people is enormous. In a connected world, you can’t afford to waste it. So act.

Last week I was a presenter at SXSW where I gave a talk entitled Manage With Care: Employees are your New Clients. It offers a prescription to leaders on how to manage employee relationships at a time when tenures are fleeting but reputations (yours) need to be enduring. Check it out.

About this Gun

Allison Hemming

Allison Hemming

is Top Gun at The Hired Guns and the founder of The Hired Guns Academy. A noted career authority, Allison has helped thousands of individuals assume leadership roles in organizations through effective career and personal brand management. Follow @TheHiredGuns.