Building reputation on collaboration

January 20, 2014

Building reputation on collaboration

Fortune just released its annual survey on the Best Places to Work. It always seems like a red-letter day when that list comes out because it is so hard to get on. It makes you imagine how special a workplace must be to get named to the list that is conducted by The Great Places to Work Institute. The bulk of the ranking (two-thirds) comes from employee answers to questions about the working environment. It requires courage to survey one’s employees and it takes months of work to get all the materials ready for the additional culture audit. No easy lift. When the list comes out, you can’t help think that this is one of the best reputation-building blocks there is to attract the best and the brightest. 

I decided to read the cover feature this weekend to learn what Fortune thought was worth highlighting this year. Interestingly, Goldman Sachs was the feature story. In fact, the cover says, “Seriously, Why Everyone Still Wants to Work at Goldman Sachs.” The article explained why this is so and how Goldman Sachs’ culture is the reason it moved up in the rankings on the esteemed list. And making it to the list is not some new thing for Goldman Sachs as part of its reputation recovery initiatives which have received a lot of coverage. The venerable institution has been on the list every year since Fortune started the list back in 1998. Goldman came in at #45 this year and its employees bumped it up 48 places from one year ago. No small potatoes.

The article reviews all the amazing perks and programs that employees get at Goldman Sachs — and they are something. However, these perks are not all free gym memberships and great cafeteria food but incredible programs for women returning to work after staying home with children, affinity community groups, in-house physical therapy, corporate citizenship initiatives, back up childcare, training, etc. 

The culture is what seems to stand out loud and clear even though this is an organization of overachievers and ambitious ladder climbers. Here are some quotes from the employees:  “The culture of collaboration is not just a myth”; “It is the flattest organization I have ever belonged to”; “People here act in a spirit of partnership”; “People don’t just pretend to work on a team, but truly embrace it.” One of the partners put it well: “At Goldman Sachs, the type A personality who focuses on ‘I’ gets an ‘F.'” This focus on collaboration reminded me of an article that recently appeared in Harvard Business Review on helping. You know that a culture based on helping cannot be far off the mark in building a great company reputation if it appeared as a main topic in HBR. It is a great read if you want to truly understand what how a culture of helping and collaboration can drive productivity, loyalty, innovation, high performance and just plain greatness. The article in HBR is based on how IDEO, the truly amazing design firm, baked helping into their culture and what that looks like.

Goldman’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in the interview for the Fortune article: “I think of the culture as the operating system. Our culture is what allowed us to reprogram ourselves [after the Great Recession]. The operating system was intact.” I think that this type of collaboration is an example of how companies can win at “outbehaving” the competition and build great reputations.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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