“If you care about your people, they’ll care about you – and the vision you’ve set forth.” — Misti Burmeister

During lunch with Seth, a new friend and talented salesman, I was captivated by the story of how he went from breaking company records to looking for a new opportunity. So, I asked Seth to write about the experience. Here’s his story:

A few years out of college, I was working in sales for a young, fast-growing software company. The culture was pretty stereotypical of the dot-com startup (foosball tables, refrigerators stocked with beer, Friday happy hours, casual work attire, etc.). It was the perfect job for a single person in his mid-20s.

Personally, I was doing great. I had leaders who not only listened to my ideas, but also implemented them, and who regularly told me, “Someday I’ll be working for you.”

I enjoyed my work so much that I spent all my free time thinking about how to contribute to the company, beyond just hitting sales numbers. I prided myself on being more than a quota, but a thought leader and an innovator. And for the first few years, I was treated as such.

As the business continued to grow, the natural progression was to take the company public. None of our executives had done this before, so they added some “seasoned” veterans to the management team.

To make the company seem like a legitimate, publically-traded company, these new managers implemented some dramatic changes – including overly-corrective policies and general bureaucracy that would make government employees scratch their heads.

While the “seasoned” managers had good intentions, they didn’t realize that the culture and employees are what made the company successful. The shift in culture resulted in unhappy employees, and most of our high-achievers simply left.

Over the next few years, as the company added more levels of management, the disconnect between corporate culture and employee morale grew. The tipping point came when a large private-equity firm acquired the company, radically altering it from a high-growth, top-line-focused business to one where only the bottom line mattered.

Now, our corporate culture is marked by a sense of hopelessness, instead of the optimism and innovation that once fueled its growth. And I, like many of my remaining colleagues, am actively looking for another job. I’m simply wasting my brain power here.

I don’t believe the problem lies in what or how this happened. After all, many companies go public and/or get acquired without changing the culture or employee morale.

Things go south when companies forget to focus on the why (the vision) and the who (the people who made the company successful).

Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across GenerationsHidden Heroes and Power Suck.

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