From the editor: Goldman Sachs shows culture trumps policies

When the boss of Goldman Sachs wrote off home working as an ‘aberration’ this week he showed that company culture matters more than mere policies

 

The head of Goldman Sachs has dismissed working from home as an ‘aberration’. Unfortunately his comments don’t mark him out as an aberration.

It’s his own employees I feel sorry for. Particularly those in HR and D&I trying to turn the company’s reputation around. Only for the boss to undercut those efforts. That doesn’t feel like a very efficient way to run a business. Employing folk to put in the hours and the effort only for a few choice words from the man in charge to render their toil pointless and their salaries money down the drain.

Goldman Sachs remains synonymous with high finance. Traditionally it might be expected to employ so many wannabe Gordon Gekko’s. ‘Greed is good’ may have been the mantra in the 1980s but it looked stupid come 2008. In fact the firm was fined billions by US authorities for their role in the financial crash.

Millennial talent

No surprise then that the firm has since smartened up its act. For example they recently hiked their paternity leave offer. No doubt such policies were designed to attract millennial talent that insists they value quality of life as much if not more than mere money.

But David Solomon’s comments yesterday suggest any change in company culture is purely cosmetic. He told a conference yesterday, “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”

That sounds like a man out of touch with workplace reality. The idea that remote working prevents innovation or collaboration is short sighted at best, downright stupid at worst.

It’s reminiscent of KPMG boss Bill Michael’s recent message to his staff to ‘stop moaning’ about Covid and its implications. Michael was forced to quit. Solomon seems to have learned little from that story.

Profits

Of course his defenders would say Solomon is successful by the only metric that counts – cash. Goldman Sachs remains wildly profitable. But cash only speaks to the here and now. Successful firms look to the future.

Solomon says he’s not keen on homeworking because he doesn’t want to take on another cohort of new starts remotely. But many of those joining the firm will hanker for a more flexible way of working. Hence why other mega corporations like Microsoft and Google have embraced new ways of working. Both have made remote work permanent options for their employees. Maybe men looking to go into tech have a more gender equal, family friendly outlook than those keen on a career in banking. Probably not. As discussed in Martin Robinson’s new book on masculinity, men are to some extent shaped by the same surroundings.

Even if those thrusting graduates joining Goldman Sachs have not thought of parenthood it’s likely they’ll see work as part of their life to be fitted in alongside relationships or to pay for the sort of glamorous travel they’ve been denied during the pandemic.

Culture trumps policy

The biggest concern is that Goldman Sachs are not alone. Other firms, particularly in finance, have hinted that they hope for a return to office life. While simultaneously speaking to equality and jazzing up their family friendly policies.

But what this latest incident shows is that culture trumps policy. Goldman Sachs has a 16 week paternity leave policy available. Which new dad at the firm would feel comfortable taking that length of leave when the boss has made it plain that he wants people in the office?

The firm is wasting its time and money on a family friendly veneer if the boss doesn’t buy into it.

And it shows how fragile culture change can be if a company’s leadership can so carelessly bring it crashing down.

So there’s lessons in here for employers and working dads. Top employers will commit to better work life balance from top to bottom of the company. Everyone has to buy in.

And working dads, or men who expect to be working dads one day, must look beyond a company’s paternity policies. Look for evidence of uptake and a more holistic approach. Those firms exist. We feature many of them on this site.





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