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. […] then are you surprised CEO’s position is eroded when you have middle managers complaining about the lack of […]

  2. […] blog in May 2006. He was extremely influential in my target market. When he featured my post An Open Letter to CEOs Across the Corporate World on his blog, traffic and subscribers exploded. After that exposure, my growth was quicker and […]

  3. […] You might realize that your company’s “people first” motto is complete B.S. (see Pam Slim’s excellent letter for more on this). You can bet if you work for a public company that shareholders (and thus […]

  4. Hi Pam, I just read this post for the first time. My first thought after reading it was, OMG, did Pam secretly work at the same company I worked for 10 years? There must be a contagious virus spreading among corporate companies!

    For 6 years, I tried so hard to let upper management understand all the things you listed, I also provided results from the teams I management to prove that if the company would adopt these techniques to lead employees, the results in productivity, efficiency, absenteeism, revenue…would improve dramatically. Well, as you put it, after 10 years, I gave up! Now, I am pursuing my passion and inspiring others to do the same. Sorry about the long comment, but, I am so passionate about this, Pam, I really wanted to add to your list based on my experience:)

    I totally agree with the “Ranking” to evaluate employee’s performance. It is not only stupid, but, it creates a blood bath between employees. If senior management preaches about sharing best practices among employees, HELLO…this is going completely against that vision! It is not rocket science, no one will share their techniques with a colleague if they are being ranked, they will not risk falling behind! Furthermore, YOU NEED to review the objectives that are set to evaluate employees. They make absolutely NO SENSE!!! How can you set an objective for the average talk time per call when the tools the employees are using are sooooo out dated! It is impossible to take care of all the customer’s needs in a limited amount of time when the tool they are using requires for an employee to click on 7 different screens just to answer a customer’s question….The employees who are meeting this objective, are finding ways to let go of the call just to meet their objective….This is why you have repeat calls!!!!
    I would add a very important one!!! Take responsibility for your actions! A senior manager who looks for who he can point the finger ( on his own team), when a decision that was taken failed, should NOT be in that position! I have seen this many times over….A true leader will always stand by his team, he will give credit to his team for all accomplishments and will take full responsibility for any failed decision. Besides, it should never be about pointing fingers and finding someone to take the blame, that is not what team spirit is about….There will always be mistakes, mistakes should be viewed as a growing experience, we learn from them and move forward as a team!
    80% of coaching should be focused on bringing out employees’ strengths! It is true that we all have weaknesses and need to improve our weaknesses, however, I have seen extraordinary results when focusing and working on each individual’s strength. In doing so, in almost all cases, their weaknesses strengthen automatically! The employee felt valued, he was contributing to successful projects based on his own personal abilities! If you are able to bring out the best in someone and get everyone on a team to put their individual strengths together, it is amazing on how productivity, revenue, efficiency will rise dramatically. Upper management needs to accept that their front line employees can tell them exactly what all the problems are AND the solutions, it is ok that they know more than you….HELLO you are not the one talking to the customers everyday! As a leader, this is extremely vital to put into practice. You are there to lead your people, bring out their strengths, involve them in the decision making, guide them, provide them with all the information. Listen to them, face the brutal facts of what needs to be done. You do not have to be the one to make a decision on how to solve a problem seated behind your desk, answering emails and attending endless meetings…Your front liners know!!!! It takes a big person to be able to go down the latter and tell their employees, “ Hey, you know this better than me, you are the experts, let’s do it together!” Any company who is able to do this, has achieved true success, look at Apple!

  5. Siddharth says:

    I like your rebel attitude but from my little knowledge and few internship experiences I can tell you that not every boss is same. I have worked for people who were extremly kind to me, helped & guided in my struggling times and also for those who would not even consider me a human being.

    We can’t generalize the whole world, their are all kinds of people in the world both angels and demons. It’s just a matter of chance who we run into.

  6. Steve Rice says:

    What great insight, Pam. I especially love your direct advice. It is so helpful if only our managers and executives could “hear” it. For those of us leading in our own lives and businesses, it is great reminder of the fundamental law of life and business: “Do to others as you wish they would do to you!”

  7. […] Open letter to CXOs across the corporate world This is certainly my most well-known post. It was written as I was pushing my son Josh around the neighborhood in a stroller, and I was reflecting on the ten years I had spent as a consultant to large corporations. I imagined what I would say to a large group of  executives in a keynote speech, if I did not worry about editing my feelings. I sent it to Guy Kawasaki, he posted about it on his blog, and the floodgates to my blog readership were opened. To this day, I refer to Guy as my “link sugar daddy.” […]

  8. Robert Bruce says:

    It was four years ago that I first read Pam’s open letter.

    At the time of reading this seminal piece I recall it was akin to being involved in a car crash and walking away from the incident with a contented smile across your face and a delightful case of whiplash from wrenching one’s neck left then right then left then right and left again and back to the right again so many times and so fast just to devour each word Pam had left on those pages. I recall thinking “who on earth has the absolute audacity and utter nerve to commit to paper what we cubicle dwellers all think but never dare to murmur out loud”.

    In terms of where business bosses were ‘at’ when this open letter was written, what Pam says was so jaw-droppingly provocative, so true, so gloriously brave and so needed.

    Reading the letter again tonight, I’ve got to say the letter will never date itself. It is as relevent, true, necessary and fresh today as it was that day when the ink from Pam’s pen dried on the pages back in 2006.

    Thanks Pam.

  9. Recently Liberated says:

    First off I need to express my great appreciation for this post. For the last 5 years I have been a part of a toxic environment. It did not start out this way.

    When I first joined this company like any new employee I was filled with hope. I thought based off of the interview and the initial relationships I had built with the executive team, I would make a difference. I did, but was never recognized for the great work and time spent accomplishing the tasks meant for the “big wigs”.

    It amazed me that when I had surgery I was given grief and told that I couldn’t take the necessary time completely off, so I answered emails and calls from the hospital. on vacations, I was required to make sure all of operations were running smoothly . This meant of course, NO VACATION. I was more stressed coming back to work for fear of the wrath that was imminent.

    When you mentioned that a great Executive will take the time to learn about the employees and learn their stories, I couldn’t agree more. In fact it was because of that extra time and care that I earned the respect of the entire company. This was not the case for our chief operating officer. He was so busy chasing skirts that he only came in to belittle me in front of the staff and then leave.

    Executives have a habit of wearing down their most trusted and valued employees, they take the ones for granted that build the companies from the ground up. It took 3 years of fighting to keep those employees from quitting and fighting to allow them to telecommute.

    I am not a fan of micro-managing. If you are a good manager on any level, you can monitor your team in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they are constantly under the strongest microscope and make them feel like they are no longer human. Great management is flexible and trusts their employees. You should allow a little time to go online, take a walk, go for the occasional long lunch, early day off, etc. Believe me when I tell you that those little things mean the world to employees and will make them work that much harder for you.

    18 hour work days are not a great achievement. Creating the right environment will allow your staff to cut their day down to 8 or 9 hours a day by having a clear head and being happy about coming to work for you. They are trying to survive too.

    Remember that no job is insignificant. Believe me when I say working in a production or shipping job can be just as stressful as being a top Executive member, for different reasons. Each job has it’s own stresses and you should never look down on your staff for holding those positions. Nothing frustrates me more than bosses coming in and talking down or snubbing those who work the “less important” jobs.Most of the time those “grunts” are working 2 or 3 jobs just to feed their families, did you ever think about that? Most of us are not born with a silver spoon in our mouths and not all of us are destined for greatness. Be kind to those around you, they are just as much of a human being as you are.

    Pamela Slim, you are awesome. Thank you very much for saying what is on the mind of so many out there.

  10. […] across the corporate world have read Pamela Slim’s open letter to CxOs. In her letter she is telling those of us in the executive wings how we SHOULD treat our […]

  11. […] and easy to relate to and this book is one of the best I’ve read about careers.  This letter is one of the most powerful that I have read (it is also included in the book) and it gave me the […]

  12. […] Manifestos, read @pamslim – Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across corporate world… >an insightful […]

  13. Adarsh says:

    You really said it when you mentioned people playing video games. Haha, I have seen the same happening in the company I worked as well.

    Most people try to impress their boss by working long hours and end up being workaholics.

  14. […] Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world […]

  15. […] Now remember, this is a lady who helps people escape from their corporate jobs, and yet Google asked her to come and do an employee presentation for them. Wouldn’t it be neat if all of our corporations would do this kind of stuff? Instead, it seems that if employers aren’t in the process of laying everyone off, they are desperately trying to keep their remaining employees chained to their desks and running their companies like the mafia. […]

  16. Leslie says:

    Pam, I love your Open letter and I am currently reading your book. However, I do have a question. Why put a picture of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a symbol of revolution when he slaughtered, terrorized innocent people and raped many women during the Cuban Revolution not to mention, what he did in South America, too? Perhaps, Gandhi or MLK, Jr. or someone else would be a better choice. Just a thought.
    ~Prosperity to all.

  17. janet says:

    Feel like I just read Jerry Maguire’s manifesto. You have so got the “quan.” I’m not sure why I never heard of this before today, but I think maybe today was the day I was supposed to hear it…if that makes sense. Thanks for being kickass. You are about to become my “deviant of the day” on .

  18. […] Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world Der Lesebefehl für November. (tags: HR culture) […]

  19. […] while out for a walk with her baby and bolted home to write this post on her then unknown-blog – Open letter to CEOs COOs CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world.  It became an internet sensation and launched her career as an author and small business coach.  […]

  20. […] Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world […]

  21. […] Escape from Cubicle Nation – Pam Slim is genuine after hearing her voice you feel as though you’ve known her for years.  It’s not surprise then that after years in the consulting business she took up small business coaching on the web.  A definite must-visit for any budding entrepreneur. […]

  22. […] was kinda inspired by this and as soon as it was written and sent, I knew that it was what had to be said for the greater […]

  23. Pukeko says:

    This, to me, embodies my entire philosophy about a workplace. I practiced all that I could with my small team – I genuinely respected them, made them feel safe to try things, gave them creative challenges, gave them autonomy and trust, monitored their progress, gave them support and offered them flexibility to work from home or different hours to avoid the traffic. They were motivated and impassioned about their work and productivity was high. But in the end I myself was driven out the door and chose to start my own business because I was being crushed and undermined from above and the waste of time and resources in the wider company was intensely frustrating to be a part of. If I were a bolder person I would head up the management ladder to the top and run a business with the principles you have outlined. You’ve articulated all I believe. As for the comment about “socialist crap” – that to me shows a complete lack of vision and creativity.

  24. […] Pam Slim – A former corporate consultant, she had an idea pop into her head one day while out for a walk with her baby and bolted home to write this post on her then unknown-blog – Open letter to CEOs COOs CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world.  It became an internet sensation and launched her career as an author and small business coach.  She wrote about taking the leap in her book Escape from Cubical Nation – From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur.  That Open letter post still speaks to me like no other. […]

  25. Cole says:

    Socialist crap. Work where you want, quit any time. Of course bosses make the most–they’re risking capital. Employees just come to work. This post is yet another rant of someone who skipped economics class.

    • New Rich. says:

      Cole, I loved your post, I want to attend one of your meetings, like the ones Pam has but for people that skipped economics class. Please post a link! my boss doesn’t risk any capital but he must because I just go to work and he makes rules. You are an innovator, excellent man, just excellent.

  26. […] since her edgy, no holds barred “Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world”, I have watched my virtual sis on this skyrocketing trajectory as she frees lost souls from […]

  27. […] Pushing him around my neighborhood in a stroller inspired my most popular blog post ever, Open Letter to CXOs Across the Corporate World. […]

  28. […] exactly the phrasing she’d have chosen it’s hard to have read Pamela Slim’s open letter and not hear those […]

  29. […] it took me this long to find her. For proof, check out these fantastic posts from 2006. First, an open letter to the C-level folks. Then, an open letter to employees. For anyone who is feeling low about their corporate existence, […]

  30. […] her famous blog post, “Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world“, Pam Slim advised: 3. Spend a moment walking around the halls of your company and look at […]

  31. Hey Pam,

    Last night I was reading Stephane Grenier’s Blog Blazers. After reading a few interview, I couldn’t resist jumping ahead to see your response to “your most successful post ever” – although I KNEW your response! Did I call it way back on May 5, 2006 in the first comment or what?! Way to go, sis, I’m proud of you!

  32. […] her on Twitter, and then met her in real life at the Dallas workshop and book signing. This Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world is one of her most memorable and popular posts, but these are two of my favorites Whip out the […]

  33. Mike says:

    You are my new blog hero. Outstanding post and clever yet direct articulation of what I feel after a years of corporate bs. I can’t wait to explore your other articles. Thank you!
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Ortho Home Defense Against Mice Is Overkill =-.

  34. Ophélie says:

    Oooh, this felt so good to read, as an employee. My boss actually follows all of this advice, but we’re a very small company.
    .-= Ophélie´s last blog ..Oct. 14th =-.

  35. […] of new leadership behaviors for the new millennium. (The conference organizer was inspired by my Open Letter to CXOs post and invited me to speak. How is that for the power of […]

  36. […] goes back a few years, to an excellent and inspiring blog post/rant the author wrote titled an Open letter to CXOs across the corporate world. Having been a corporate trainer and consultant, Pamela had seen how companies repeatedly […]

  37. Hallelujah!!!
    .-= Bob Lieberman´s last blog ..CONCEPTS =-.

  38. cubicle refugee says:

    Thanks for your excellent writing. Best line: “ If you want to see things change immediately, stop acting like an asshole”.

    This goes for all employees as well as employers.

  39. tochi says:

    a big ups on this article! you perfectly enunciated what i have been saying to the management & staff corporations i have worked at… whenever i told them that many of their workplace practices were humanly unnatural, i got labelled. then the war would start. oh well, i’m so glad now… because those experiences taught me to think for myself & to provoke others to do the same for themselves too!

    like it says in proverbs… better to live eat bitter herbs in peace than to eat the fat of lambs in dissension.

    i’ll be checking back from time to time to read your blog. well done, pamela!

  40. […] One of my favorite posts, that also garnered a lot of attention in the blogosphere is An Open Letter to CXO’s Across the Corporate World. It opened a floodgate of new blog readers, and was the inspiration behind my book. It was very […]

  41. […] felt good to share my thoughts the other day on what I really wanted to say to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world. In this “Eleventh Hour” of our world filled with scary things like war, terrorism, […]

  42. Matt says:

    A++++++++++++++ Great read, thank you.

  43. […] Guevara has been a fascinating figure for more than a few generations of would-be revolutionaries. Indeed, nothing has sealed (and marketed) his legend more than Ernesto, M.D.’s iconic image, […]

  44. kt says:

    Pete, so was George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, JFK, the Georges Bush, and all those of us who have not done all we can to save all the lives we know are being taken. Revolution is never pretty, but it is necessary. Thank heaven this particular revolution is unlikely to involve the loss of life…but the fact remains that in our era, Che is the quintessential avatar of the revolutionary.

  45. Pete says:

    nice post. bad image. Che was responsible for people’s deaths.

  46. […] awhile will remember my first connection with Guy Kawasaki in May, 2006, when he linked to my post Open Letter to CXOs Across the Corporate World.  This simple gesture was hugely significant to the growth of my blog, and led me to fondly call […]

  47. James says:

    this is a great post thanks! it was a relaly good read a lot of the things here I didnt know!

  48. Adam Zand says:

    Belated thanks for this great post! You have now created a test for any future company I choose to work for.
    Cheers, Adam

  49. Feerhooke says:

    I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs.
    — H.L. Mencken


  50. Amit says:

    Thats some solid CXO bashing,

    Rings a bell, though.

    I recently quit my corporate job to live a life I love. I guess it was point no 1 – Corporate Culture, that instigated me to take the step sooner.

    I aspire to have my own company soon and as I was reading your post, I was thinking … “I better read this letter every month once I have people working for me!”


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