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Posted: November 03, 2011

A tale of two cultures: From purgatory to paradise, Part 1

From purgatory to paradise

Lisa Jackson

Jen Luna's life went from miserable to happy almost overnight.

She didn't lose weight, get married, or have a baby.

She quit her job. Or more to the point, she quit a bad boss.

Her story is an eye-opening version of the story supporting Gallup findings that 2 out of 3 employees in every workplace across America are disengaged at work - and is told mostly as an unedited interview of her experience.

I worked over 3 years at a promising B2B company on the east coast. They had an innovative concept that was a real unmet opportunity in the marketplace.

When I was first hired, I was the definition of a go-getter. I was constantly thinking of new ideas and ways to improve and streamline processes in my department. After a couple of years, some of those innovative and ballsy decisions were biting me in the butt. What earned approval and accolades from my superiors, turned into topics for them to disagree about without my knowledge and behind closed curtains.

When I realized this was happening, it discouraged me to take further risks or present ideas to improve things. So I stopped. I became perfectly fine maintaining the status quo. Meanwhile, turnover in the company was through the roof. The person I shared an office with left the company in early 2010 after working there for 11 years. I later found out it was for the same reasons I was experiencing.

This situation damaged my personal confidence. I felt insecure about my job all the time, like I was always walking on eggshells. There was a blanket over issues and problems; nothing was "out in the open." There were constant surprises. Decisions (employee terminations) came out of left field with no forewarning.

The current CEO bought the business from the founder 12 years ago. He placed his trust in someone on the team (let's say Joe) who was divisive and fostered mistrust throughout the whole company. But Joe was smart enough to know how to "gain" the CEO's trust. The CEO puts all his eggs in one basket with Joe. The office mantra became: "If you're following Joe's decisions, you have nothing to worry about." Everyone knew it was smoke and mirrors - the CEO saw what wanted to see.

In the last year, the company experienced a 25-30 percent turnover, which directly translated to client retention.
To this day, clients are jumping ship in droves; simultaneously the company is losing employees in leadership roles. It's no secret things have gone south.

In August of 2010, I saw my own way out. I was presented with an amazing opportunity (by a former coworker) to move to Boulder and work for a creative advertising agency called Moxie Sozo. When I left, I was open about why: "The direction and leadership style aren't working. It's no longer a fun, trusting environment to be in. There's no loyalty here." At the request of the CEO, I gave him an exit interview, information he thanked me for.

Here are a few excerpts:

How would you describe employee morale and motivation in the company?
-Morale seems to be directly correlated with the performance of the sales team. If they were happy with how much money they were bringing in then that would dictate the morale of the rest of the company. When they were not satisfied with how much money they were bringing in, morale plummeted - quickly.
-Incentives (NOT within the sales department) seemed sporadic and inconsistent. It was hard to stay motivated when sales dictated the morale of the company.

Were you given clear goals and did you know what was expected of you in your job?
-Goals were usually not clearly defined. It seemed that goals and expectations changed direction so often that it was hard to clearly understand them.

-It also seemed that goals were only created when something was going wrong, instead of setting long-term, proactive goals.

Did you receive sufficient feedback between performance evaluations?
-Not really. I would receive a lot of feedback during performance evaluations, but decisions were then made that were inconsistent with the feedback - eg, I was removed from my position as Director of Research; days before I received overwhelmingly positive feedback in my performance evaluation.
-There were times when feedback was sufficient, but that was after big decisions were made and not before.
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Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert on assessing, defining, and improving culture's impact on business performance, especially during mergers and strategy shifts. Look for her new book "Fit to Compete: 9 Truths for Transforming Corporate Culture" this fall or visit her on the web at


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