Greg Smith is a brave man. It is one thing to leave a company and speak to your close circle of friends about your disenchantment. It is quite another to write an op-ed article for the New York Times. I understand the bitter emotions one can feel when the workplace you once loved turns sour, it is a dark cloud that needs to be navigated with care. Smith obviously felt strongly that his point of view needed to be shared with the world, which is understandable, considering the reputation the financial industry has created of itself in the past few years. However, Smith starts and leaves a difficult conversation that existing Goldman Sachs employees will have to continue with their friends, families and clients.
I would do a lot of research inside the company before I addressed any outside conversations about Smith’s essay. I would want to know how leadership, communications, marketing and client relations were handling the situation. They would be developing specific messaging for the public and the media, and if I wanted to keep my job, I would want to adhere closely to their script. That said, I would also do some deep soul searching to get clear on my own feelings about Smith’s essay and about working at Goldman Sachs. I would craft my responses to be both respectful to the company and respectful to my own opinion, and I would review these strategies with my director and communications to ensure I was “on message”. The worst thing to do would be to create more controversy with ill-considered remarks.
I would certainly have different messages and strategies for friends, family and clients. For family and friends, I would want to assure them of my employment satisfaction, and relieve any concern that I would also quit or lose my job. Depending on how close they were to me, I would ask my friends and family to help me sort out my feelings and strategies for client relations. I would want to know their impressions of the essay, so I could help build an appropriate response to clients.
For clients, it would be absolutely essential to assure them that my motivations for working with them were not just to make the most money for Goldman Sachs, and that I had their best interests at heart. This would require a personal email to every client to check in with them, assure them, and to invite a dialogue if they had any doubts with my service. There would be in-person meetings, where individual issues could be addressed and portfolios could be reviewed, again, to assure my clients of my intentions. It would be a lot of work, but I would use it as an opportunity to strengthen my relationships with my clients.
Greg Smith made a bold move when he left Goldman Sachs, and I imagine his essay was an artifact of the influence he attempted to have while working there. I imagine the result was a lot of work on Goldman Sachs’ part in media messaging and client relations to fix a public relations nightmare. However, if what Smith reported was true, they were long due for a deep review of how they do business, and Smith’s essay was the catalyst needed to affect change.