Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world

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I am writing to you as a newly minted rebel.  My main purpose in life is to take your best, your brightest, most creative, hard-working and passionate employees and sneak them out the hallways of your large corporation so that they are free of the yoke of lethargy, oppression and resentment.

It hasn’t always been this way.  I tried for many years as a consultant to YOU to explain the importance of treating your employees with dignity and respect.  I encouraged you to speak clearly and to the point, to avoid endless hours of PowerPoint, buzzwords and meaningless jargon like “our employees are our most valuable asset.”  I was sincere in my efforts as I coached your managers and explained the importance of providing objective, developmental feedback to employees that was based on observable behavior, not personal generalizations.  I encouraged you to be open with your business strategy so that your employees could contribute ideas to grow your company.

After ten years, I give up.  I was banging my head against the wall trying to find ethical, creative ways to train your employees on the merits of your forced ranking compensation plan.  No amount of creativity could overcome the fact that it is a stupid idea and does nothing but create an environment of competition, politics and resentment.  Whoever sold you on that idea was wrong.

So now I want to help your employees leave and start their own business.  Regain control of their life.  Feel blood pumping in their veins and excitement in their chest as they wake up each day.  I honestly wish that it were possible for them to feel that inside your company.  But things have gotten so convoluted that I honestly don’t think it is possible unless you take some drastic steps:

  1. Don’t spend millions of dollars to try and change your culture.  Corporate culture is a natural thing that cannot be manufactured.  No amount of posters, incentive programs, PowerPoint presentations or slogans on websites will affect the hearts and minds of your employees.  If you want to see things change immediately, stop acting like an asshole.  If you see one of your senior managers acting like an asshole, ask him to stop.  If he doesn’t stop, fire him.  You will be amazed at how fast the culture shifts.
  2. Stop running your company like the mafia.  By now, we are all aware that no job in any industry is secure.  They can be re-scoped, eliminated or outsourced at any time.  And that is the way it should be – no organization can be static in today’s environment.  But despite this common knowledge, many of your managers act betrayed when their employees tell them they want to leave the company.  This is an absolute double standard and should be stopped immediately.  If you help your employees grow and develop in their career even if they plan to leave the company, you will create an extremely loyal workforce.  You never know where that employee who leaves will go next.  They could become an incredibly valuable strategic partner.  Their golfing buddy could turn out to be your next huge customer.
  3. Spend a moment walking around the halls of your company and look at your employees.  I mean really look at them.  Don’t just pat them on the back and pump their hand while looking over their head at the exit door. Look directly in their eyes.  Imagine what their life is like.  Who is waiting at home for them?  What are the real consequences to their health, marriages and children when they have to work yet another 13 hour day?  What kind of dreams do they have?  What makes them really happy?  What do their eyes tell you?  Do they trust you?  Resent you?  Think you are full of it? I met precious few C-level executives in 10 years consulting that truly “saw” and cared about their employees.  Those that did reaped gigantic mounds of good will and respect.
  4. Teach people how to get rich like you.  I don’t think there is anything inherently evil with money.  It would be kind of fun to have my own jet and be able to pick up and fly to New York to watch the opening of a Broadway play or zip to Mexico for a long weekend.  But the kind of disparity that exists right now between your employees who do the work and you and your senior team who reap the benefits is not only absurd, it is obscene.  I know you work very hard and carry a lot of responsibility for your company.  Instead of hoarding your wealth, teach your employees how to make money. Show them how you negotiate large deals.  Explain investment vehicles. Explain how your business works and why it is so exciting for you to run.  Make them into better businesspeople so that they can grow their opportunities and net worth.  And for God’s sake share the profits.  It is insulting to tell your managers to look a hard-working employee in the eye and say they only get a 3% raise when you take home more in a quarterly bonus than they make in 10 years.
  5. Don’t ask for your employees’ input if you are not going to listen to it.  I have facilitated offsite meetings that lasted for days where well-intentioned managers brainstormed and argued and edited and wrote flip charts until their hands turned blue.  They sweated over creating something that was relevant and for a brief period of time actually were proud of what they accomplished.  Until a month later when I heard that you scrapped the whole thing in favor of a plan cooked up by an outside consulting firm.  This does not only completely waste smart people’s time, it guarantees that you will have hostility and resentment the next time you ask for creative input.
  6. Don’t train people until you know what problem you are solving.  I would be rich if I took up all the offers I got to “design and teach a 5-day course on people skills for all of our managers worldwide.”  Most often, I would get the call from a VP of Human Resources that received the request from their pissed off CEO.  And what were the pressing business problems that caused the request?  Often it was the threat of a lawsuit based on one manager’s egregious behavior.   Take the time to analyze what is causing the problems in your business such as high turnover, plunging sales or a huge increase in employee complaints.  Usually it is something that will not be resolved by training everyone.  Most often it involves firing a person or two who are causing havoc in a department. If you really want your managers to learn how to manage people, put them in tough situations with great mentors near by.  Keep an eye on them.  Provide feedback and coaching exactly at the moment that they need it (like before they have to fire someone for the first time and are scared to death).  There is a time and a place for training, but it should not be your first course of action.
  7. Ditch the PowerPoint when you have town hall meetings.  No one is excited to see another boring graph or 20-part building slide that describes all the components of your new strategy. If they are interested, they can read the slides at their desk.  Your employees want to hear your opinions on things that they think about all the time. Your PR team may have a heart attack, but invite tough questions about the things that you know are really on their mind.  Are you going to take over another company?  Outsource the Help Desk to the Philippines?  Why did you get a huge bonus this quarter when the rest of the employees are on a salary freeze? Did the VP of Sales really get caught with his pants down at the the sales meeting in Vegas?  Just because people ask the questions doesn’t mean you have to answer them all.  Know what you can and can’t talk about and be direct about that (no, you can’t talk about the VP of Sales or you may get sued).  You will do wonders for your credibility and I guarantee no one will be sleeping in the back of the room.
  8. Focus on the work people do, not how or when they do it.  Some positions require people to be at their desk at an appointed hour to answer customer calls or to participate in live meetings.  But others can do their work from home, early in the morning, late in the evening or dialing in from the local Starbucks.  The turnover magnet you have for losing great employees is not the competitor down the street, it is the idea of freedom and flexibility for the self-employed.  Your employees have different biorhythms and working styles and activities going on in their lives.  If you provide flexible work options and don’t make people sit unnecessarily at their desk, you will keep some great employees who would otherwise leave.  A manager who is afraid to offer telecommuting to her employees because she thinks they will slack off is just showing her own weakness. Great managers build accountability into flexible work plans and manage performance aggressively.
  9. Watch the burnout.  Many companies measure an employee’s drive and dedication by the amount of hours they work each day.  I have witnessed people playing video games at their desk until their manager leaves “just so they won’t think that I am slacker.”  Huh?  It is not a badge of honor to work 18 hours a day, it is a sure path to a heart attack or divorce.  There are times when employees have to work around the clock to get critical projects done and that is part of doing business.  But if they are working long hours just because “everyone does,” you are creating a culture of waste, inefficiency and ill health.
  10. Forbid people to work while they are on vacation.  Of all the pet peeves that I have accumulated over the years, this is perhaps the biggest.  Your employees work like pack mules all year long.  They send messages via Blackberry during dinner, take work calls during their kid’s basketball games and forgo rolling in the sheets with their spouse to finish a PowerPoint presentation on Saturday morning.  When they go on vacation, let them relax.  The only way to get the health and stress-relieving benefits of a vacation is to completely unplug from work.  As long as they are checking email each morning from the hotel lobby or fielding “urgent” calls in the evening, they might as well be in the office.  The worst thing is seeing their kid’s eyes as they observe once more that Dad or Mom values work more than family, even on vacation.  Shame on you for making this acceptable behavior.

I won’t entice anyone out your door that does not want to come willingly.  Many people will choose to stay in the comfort of your oppressive predictability.  But if you lose some smart, creative, entrepreneurial and positive minds, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

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163 Responses to “Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world”

  1. Paula says:

    I just stumbled upon your blog and absolutely “get it!” Reading this article caused me to think back to Corinne Maier’s, Bonjour Laziness: Jumping Off The Corporate Ladder (in France). Unfortunately, these issues are global issues. I’m pleased to have these chapters of my life behind me and am also now transitioning away from the cubical world and into a dream job that keeps me closer to home and those who value and appreciate ME!

  2. Britney says:

    National Transportation Safety Board recently divulged they had funded a project with the US auto makers for the past five years. The NTSB covertly funded a project whereby the auto makers were installing black boxes in four wheel drive pickup trucks in an effort to determine, in fatal accidents, the circumstances in the last 15 seconds before the crash.

    They were surprised to find in 49 of the 50 states the last words of drivers in 61.2% of fatal crashes were, “Oh, Shit!”

    Only the state of Texas was different, where 89.3% of the final words were, “Hey Y’all, hold my beer and watch this!”

  3. Mary K. says:

    I found it very useful.

  4. shopping says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. These things you’re listing are PRECISELY the reasons that I have trouble working for people and why I’ve been working so hard at building my own freelance business. And I’m only 22. I graduated the top of my university class at the age of 20 and am already highly sought after in my field. And yet, I HATE every company that I even consider working for. I left one job because I was the work horse while other people did whatever they wanted–the day I was out with food poisoning the people I was working with as well as the boss called me a total of 47 times starting at 8am. The got angry with me because I didn’t answer the phone on the first ring and all I could think was “Well I’m sorry…next time I need to throw up I’ll tell my body to hold it in.” The same work kept forcing me to cancel my vacation because someone else in the office had requested a day off in the middle of my vacation and they couldn’t have that. My boss never listened to me and was constantly telling me that he knew more than I did. Another office promised me a raise and promotion after my 90 day training period and then restructured the company and said there was no reason to offer that anymore. My job can be done from anywhere and I work better from a comfortable, quiet location than a loud, disruptive office. I dream of the day when I’m working for myself full time and can give my employees the kind of workplace I always wanted to have.

  5. fundiblog says:

    Open letter to the top executives

    Although I don´t agree with all the issues raised in the post (or more precisely, I would have included other issues and dropped some of the mentioned), it is a good reading. However, topic number one I fully support: Don’t spend millions of dollars to…

  6. Into hot air

    On second thought, perhaps there is something to that litle joke: based on the overwhelming responses to such blogfamous posts as Pamela Slim’s Open Letter to CxOs and Bob Sutton’s upcoming book, The No Asshole Rule, I have to wonder if perhaps we can …

  7. Into hot air

    When I hear an executive say that she’s looking at something from the 30,000-foot level, my first thought is, “So you’re saying that your brain is currently functioning at the level of the average toddler?”

  8. Z Lasker says:

    Thank you so much Pam, for this beautiful and pointed summary of what is so wrong with the corporate system.

    It is so gratifying to feel that we are not alone. Any number of the comments could of been written by me during my time behind the high dark walls of corprate America.

    I have been running my own shop for 3 years (today!). I had a few false starts; the first company I started failed, a painful but very valuable lesson. But I never gave up. Thats the key, just have faith and keep pushing. The failures teach you as much as success, and all the suffering we endure as maltreated employees are lessons for us when we run our own shows.

    To all of you out there stuck in a cubicle, you can break out, you can live the life you want. It wont be easy, but nothing worthy is. Certainly not surviving life in a cubicle under the whip of some asshole manager.

    To all of us who do start out on our own, let us never forget why we left, and never recreate the prisons we escaped. This can be a Brave New World, but only if it is for others too, not just ourselves.

  9. Jerome Alexander says:

    A key to understanding corporate culture….Employees come to work with an implicit trust that the managers are acting in the best interest of the company and its employees. That trust should not and CANNOT ever be taken for granted…. Read more in my book “160 Degrees of Deviation”,
    Jeerome Alexander

  10. I love your first point. As somebody that works in knowledge management (which I still think is such an unfortunate turn of phrase), I find that corporations are always trying to solve problems by changing the culture. Cultural change is more of an effect of change rather than a cause from my point of view. Saying ‘we’re going to change our culture’ doesn’t solve anything and is, 99% of the time, completely unrealistic.

  11. Kevin says:

    I think this is such a great blog entry that for the first time Im going to write a comment. It must ring true for so many people. I love the comments on lifeboating!!

    Keep up the great posts

  12. Emily Curtis says:

    I love this. My god, I just love this.

    I was forced into entrepreneurship by the dotcom crash. I went back to cube-land last year, and didn’t really last a year. As of December 1, I’m an entrepreneur again – I’m spending my time and my savings on creating an idea that has been burning in my brain.

    It’s a risk, yes. I’m trying to take steps to mitigate that risk. But, I am so looking forward to getting back to my own business! I’m glad to have stumbled across this blog – they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears… I’ll be checking in for inspiration!

  13. John says:

    Very entertaining issue. It will be necessary to visit you on a thicket!

  14. Cristina says:

    Absolutely great article. I spent many years wondering why I just couldn’t “fit in” to the corporate culture anymore. I have worked for the ultimate pigs of the world over and over again, and just couldn’t do it anymore. I was even told when I fell pregnant that I was a “selfish girl” (at age 31) – at the top of his lungs mind you. My tolerance level hit rock bottom as did feelings of depression. I resigned a few months ago because I knew I wasn’t performing well anymore and felt I was letting them down. The problem is I developed an inferiority complex because I wondered what on earth in my personality made me hate the corporate grind, and why others seemed to just live Groundhog Day happily every single day. After reading your article I realise I’m normal. I have a drive and ambition to rid myself of all the assholes and break out of the mold and actually be creative and in control. Thank you Pam. Step 1 is knowing there’s nothing wrong with me. I feel so much better.

  15. Nominations for Hot Summer Carnival

    Here are the most recent nominations for the Hot Summer Carnival:Recognizing Grace – from As I See It NowOpen Letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs, and CFOs across the corporate world – from Escape from Cubicle NationThere’s still time to enter to win, so send i…

  16. Notice to Corporate Bosses

    At last all my rants at our bosses are consolidated into Pam Slims rant at senior management.
    This is a serioulsy great list of 10 things the bosses need to do or watch out we workers will hold a revolution! Viva Revolution!
    She starts off like …

  17. Allan Kelly says:

    Good post, a lot I could have said myself. Good to know I’m not the only one who sees and feels these things.

    One of my pet theories is that companies start off small, and all is good. As they grow the people at the top loose contact with those at the code face. They start viewing strategy and day-to-day ops as different things, not just ends of a continuum.

  18. Jim White says:

    What you are describing sounds like the difference between motivation and inspiration. Corporations spend too much time trying to motivate (or manipulate) their employees, when all people want is to know that the work they do is appreciated and makes a difference.

  19. Talentism says:

    Recommended Reading: Escpae from Cubcile Nation

    Check out this blog: Escpae from Cubicle Nation This post is especially great. (Thanks Colin for pointing it out to me!) I believe that most of Pamela’s excellent points are symptoms, not causes, of corporate stupidity. When people are rewarded

  20. Loans, debt consolidation, health care

    I found your entry interesting so I have added a TrackBack to it on my weblog

  21. Kong says:

    Take note-Over the past 35 years I finally realized you will never be truly satisfied if you work for someone else. Having your own company/business is the only way to truly get paid what you are worth-PERIOD!

  22. colaspot says:

    Guest Startup Junkie: Pam Slim

    Pam, I wish Id discovered you months ago. Pamela Slim, life coach and former consultant to management, opens up on the boneheaded things companies do to kill corporate culture. She also notes that youre much more likely to…

  23. Meshio.Com says:

    Escape from Cubicle Nation

    If you are part of the corporate slave union, you are going to love what Pamela Stewart has got to say to your honchos back in the office.
    Pam on Escape from Cubicle Nation
    It hasnt always been this way. I tried for many years as a consul…

  24. Escaping the Cubicle

    I’m late to the party with this piece, but it’s something you all should read. If you are in management of any kind, and you are offended by anything that is said in this piece, it’s time to take a…

  25. Max Leibman says:

    Wow! Phenomenal post. I especially like #2 and #8.

    The double-standard thing drives me insane. I was in a company that was relocating our office–a move that would double my commute–and merging my department with a bigger one. The new manager was completely inflexible–all our procedures were going to get scrapped and theirs be adopted; my flexible work schedule was gone; rather than specializing (as we had done for years), we were all asked to do every job. Add to that a loss of seniority and we were to get smaller desks and monitors than we had been using at the old digs. But when I gave notice a month before the move, the manager from the new department was aghast–how could I walk out, and leave them hanging? I was “selfish” and not a “team player.” (Which, granted, I wasn’t, but vastly increased work hassle for the same money didn’t make me feel like a valued member of the team, either…)

  26. Jack says:

    The picture makes the entire rest of the post worthless, however much energy and time went into it. Why use an image for which you don’t know the story? If you did, you wouldn’t use it.

  27. Management, software development, and closing knowledge gaps

    You know it’s bad when the a consultant chucks in the towel. Pamela Slim, a consultant to enterprise-level management of 10 years’ standing, is giving up because she’s tired of banging her head against the wall trying to creatively present stupid…

  28. what’s wrong with corporate culture?

    In the past I’ve been treated inhumanely by corporates, and “side-lined” for my reaction; here’s an open letter offering advice to executives on how to keep good staff

  29. Anecdote says:

    Open letter to CXO’s

    Pam Slim writes a refreshingand forthright post slamming common management practice. I particularly like her take on culture: Corporate culture is a natural thing that cannot be manufactured. No amount of posters, incentive programs, PowerP…

  30. Bob from Seattle says:

    Good post. I thought you might like the post ‘Dilbertville for Dummies’ by Karen De Coster:

  31. Right on! People must follow thier bliss. If we all did nirvana would be just around the corner for all. I’m a little concerned over your use of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s photo with your post. Che Guevara gave his life to free Latin America from the oppression of corporate USA. I just don’t like seeing his image associated with wealthy americans (and I’m fairly certain most of your readship live like royalty compared to 90% of the planet) giving corporate USA the bird. If you dedicated your life to ending poverty and freeing 3rd world countries from the cycle of oppression then I think it would be ok to use Che’s image. You may want toa ske his daughter what she thinks. Be well, otherwise I love your message!

  32. Intrepid says:

    Great letter, Pam! This has excellent lessons I need to apply to my own firm, right now. Even though we’re a 15 people venture, we need to get this right, right now!

  33. legal sanity says:

    wake up calls for lawyers and law firms

    For some time now, Ive been reading Pamela Stillsterrific blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation. Two of her newer posts sound candid wake up calls for all of us considering the cause and effect of the rampant disengagement and attrition …

  34. Pamela Slim says:

    Hi Ben:

    I sure feel your pain! I am so sorry that things are so miserable where you are.

    I wish there was a magic bullet for guaranteeing that things will be better at the next place of employment. But of course, you can’t guarantee that.

    The best advice I can give is to become an expert interviewer of employers, which is pretty much the same skill set of an excellent recruiter of employees.

    -get crystal clear about what you are looking for in your work, environment, management, co-workers, etc.
    -get good at asking questions that will peel back the sales pitch and get at the truth

    You could also explore a way to partner with an entrepreneur who could take on the business side of things while you focused on development.

    No short answer, but a start!

    This is a shameless plug, but I do have a free workbook to help you figure out your ideal work situation at

    Let us know how it goes!


  35. Little bit o’ advice

    Pamela Slim’s open letter to CXO’s highlights what is wrong with corporate life. Then she tells us what we can do about it.

    I believe this U.S. work-at-all-costs corporate mentality could be killing you. So make sure you take vacations to try and…

  36. Ben says:

    Help me then 🙂 The place I’m at has turned over more than 70 people (out of 180) in the last year. The position and company I was sold in the interview has turned out to be a soulless place of pain and depression. I’m interviewing next week for a new role with a different company but how can I know that things will be different next time? It would be a dream come true to work for myself but I’m a developer, not an entrepreneur, suggestions?

  37. Mary Beth says:

    Your comments gave me faith that there is hope for a humane working place. A place where having two days off in a row or getting regularly scheduled hours isn’t a “favor”.

    And while I’m here, I HATE the current Microsoft TV ads that proclaim us workers (yeah I know – employees) as “assets”. I don’t want to be anyone’s asset, let alone a company asset. How dare they consider that to be great marketing for their vague product.

  38. Rebecca Cichetti says:

    Excellent and that’s all I’ve got to say ’bout that.

  39. Links and Minifeatures 05 11 Thursday

    Carnival of The Vanities Recommended: Escape From Cubicle Nation

  40. Nick Hodges says:

    Pamela —

    Great article, but just one thing: What’s up with the picture of a vicious murderer on the post?

    Nick Hodges

  41. Bruce Lewin says:

    Perhaps there is too much fear amongst these people at the moment such that the problems you describe are the symptoms?



  42. The Entropy Tango

    Picked up a post Open Letter to CxOs across the corporate world by Pamela Sim on her blog Escape From Cubicle Nation from Guy Kawasaki (as many other people seem to have done).
    In case you have not come across the post it explains why Pamela stopped …

  43. Mukul Kumar says:

    WOW. Excellent. Great. Amazing. So true. On the dot. Ditto. Must read. WOW.

  44. Daryl says:

    One of THE best posts of read in long time. Thanks and viva la revolution!

  45. Rod Pena says:

    Ms. Slim,

    Thank you so very much for saying what needed to be said a long time ago…

  46. Jake says:

    Pam – As a newly-minted entrepreneur (fulfilling my dreams of freedom from Dilbert, Office Space and the testosterone-laden cubicle hell) I want to applaud your candor. You can’t put a price tag on the freedom (and guts it takes) to do what you like in life. Keep it up!

  47. Joe Buhler says:

    Pamela, Congratulations! You just hit the nail on the head with these comments as completely as I’ve seen in quite some time. Just reading about one more severance package for an incompetent CEO makes me want to puke. It is truly obscene what is going on in corporate America, especially the top organizations. Let’s just hope that more start ups will make their lifes miserable by stealing away not only their customers but their best and most productive employees. More power to the individual pioneers, freed from cubicle hell.

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