in entrepreneurship

Everybody On Board (Why Culture Matters Most)

“…I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it…”

As a business owner, this is something I never want to hear from anybody on my team…

Perhaps by now you’ve seen this resignation from Greg Smith, Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In it, Smith discusses the deteriorating corporate culture of the firm, and is poignant in saying, “I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work”. 

Culture matters. It matters a lot. It may even matter more than experience. Whether you’re a lean startup or a Fortunate 500 company, the culture of your company, and the makeup of your team, cannot be overlooked.

The life cycle of a business is an interesting one – some to which I can speak from experience having started, ran, and grown a business over the past couple years. And some of which I can clearly see through my conversations with others, and resignations like Greg Smith’s.

When you start a company, there’s a lot of “figuring things out” that has to be done. You learn more about yourself, the people you work with, and the clients you serve, than you could imagine. Culture matters, because more often than not, you’ve started this business because you want your work to feel less like work. You want it to make you happy, to excite you, and inspire you – and you never want to lose sight of that.

But once you get into the woods a bit, you realize that culture isn’t everything, that money does, unfortunately, matter (if you’re not making any money doing what you do, you’ve got yourself a hobby, not a job). Your company grows, you take on more clients, and eventually, maybe without even knowing it, you hit a crossroad.

A crossroad that forces you to rethink why you started the business. One that begs the question, “Does culture really matter”? 

I can answer that, based on my professional experience in both big agency life and now as a startup entrepreneur, with a resounding “Yes”. 

Cultivating a positive culture with your company should be a top priority. That requires bringing the “right” people on board. “Right” may not always mean the most talented. The perfect candidate may not have graduated magna cum laude. They may quite simply be the best to work with. It may be the person you can see yourself grabbing a beer with every Friday afternoon. They may not be the most tenured, but they’re committed to the team’s success, willing to learn, and hungry to grow.

Getting those people on board is the first step. Then it’s up to you, as a business owner, or even as a team member of that company sitting at the bottom of the totem pole, to make sure the culture is nurtured. To never forget the values of your company. It requires effort. It may not always come naturally. But you do it by focusing on the “we”, through your interaction with other team members, the work you do for your clients and customers, the products you create, and your commitment to doing great work.

Greg Smith closes his resignation with these poignant words of advice to his former employer:

“I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm – or the trust of its clients – for very much longer.”

Don’t forget where you came from. Remember the values that you started with. Bring the right people on board. Weed the wrong people, the toxic one’s – or as Smith calls them – the “morally bankrupt people” out.

Everybody needs to be on board. Including you. 

(Photo credit)

Add Your Voice


  1. Fiix “your mission’s culture” and you can effectively execute strategy that is relevant and lasting for your org.   Thought fixing culture can be a strategy….the  CULTURE gatekeepers must buy in first!

  2. This hit home hard for me, Matt!  For so many years, being in a work place because I need a paycheck would become unbalanced with dreading the work environment.  When something starts rubbing my personal integrity the wrong way, I become less and less effective in the work place.  The management styles, or methods to get the money from the customer would begin following me home long after work was done.  Sleep loss, dreading the alarm clock.  And the bottom line of my quality to DO the job would overwhelm me.  100% of my experience is in small business culture.  I was not part of a corporate machine.  Some of the dynamic of working in small business have to do with having been an employee of a FAMILY business.  Other places their processes and convoluted policies would poison their talented workers.  They missed the point and slowed or even lost success growth due to their personal human shortcomings to rule in fear, stress and pass it onto we workers who started out believing in their product, effort and felt a part of doing something people needed.  As a worker, I would become guilty about thinking of quitting – leaving a solid paycheck behind me.  I could not use their business time and my diligence to them to search for securing a new job to segue into.  But I did it a couple times because it became clear that no amount of money was worth having your soul crushed daily.  My talents were rendered useless for the very reason I was hired.  Culture became an impediment to giving my best.  As I have owned & co-owned small business, even a family business … I stopped so many times to check if I was impeding my employees from being their best the way I felt in their shoes.  Okay, as an Owner, you do have to pick up on people who just don’t want to work, and it’s not about creating a culture they can shine within.  They likely have issue where ever they go.  As an owner, we worried about overhead and hard choices that were not going to please some, if any at times.  But to keep OPEN DOOR POLICY was always critical to our philosophy in being the best business we could be.  “The hands that do the work” (Kaizen Institute based jargon) often have better solutions for maximizing product to consumer bottom line before we bosses think of it.  If a worker brought me a great idea, they got thanked financially when possible, but when we could not offer thanks by bonus, we’d gather everyone right away and highlight the worker with a public THANK YOU.  People need that.  Now, working for myself, you made me think of what culture I make for myself each day.  I read your blog and several ideas bubbled up … take my laptop outside in the nice day and run a plug through the screen window.  My whole mind got happier and clearer ideas started writing themselves!  Combined with your piece on branding away from worn out cliche terms such as UNIQUE – your blog today validates that I will get where I need to be with INTEGRITY and HUMILITY to assure others that I’m the one for the job.  My core morals ARE my Brand.  Culture happens if I roll with that!  THANK YOU AGAIN

  3. Matt.
    This post needs to be read by EVERYONE. It is mission critical to any business. There is nothing more important, especially in the services/consulting industry, than your #1 asset; people. I have alsways said happy team = happy client. If your team is unhappy then their focus is elsewhere. There cannot be anything that is more important than that.

    Greg Smith said he had to leave because he couldn’t look someone in the eye. How poignant is that? If you don’t believe then you are doomed.

    Thanks for sharing this.