Do you drive your company like a race car or ride it like a thoroughbred?

At a young age our partner, Fernando Senties, was a jockey and later a racing official. He uses a lot of horse racing stories to talk about his passion for ethics and his crusade against corruption. It made me think that one thing is true in all of horse racing; they take really good care of the horses. After racing, they can be very profitable. In NASCAR or INDY, even the winning car gets torn apart and rebuilt or scrapped. The last place horse gets a massage, a manicure and a meal.

I have been in software sales for decades and have seen both sides. In 2010, I didn’t join SuccessFactors; I got acquired. They had an “issue” in the core of their system design. No integration…a new Talent Mgt module every week but none of them talked to each other so reporting was a challenge. At Inform, we were experts in data integration and reporting but SuccessFactors didn’t want to admit there was an “issue”. Fast forward, Employee Central was the fix and I hope it worked. Trust me; despite the press releases, SuccessFactors needed SAP a lot more than SAP needed SuccessFactors. Lars Dalgaard, CEO of SuccessFactors bought Inform and we were supposed to somehow fix the integration/reporting issue behind the scenes. It was a bit of a mess.

If you look at Zenefits and SuccessFactors, both Lars Dalgaard projects, they are machines to be torn apart after the finish line; after they were acquired. This is the venture capital mentality that is really taking a beating lately. We all know the Zenefits story, but who remembers the story of “This CEO Saved His Company By Taking A Drive To Central California — Then Later Sold It For $3.4 Billion”? He saw empty homes in Silicon Valley and then immediately laid-off people. The real story, according to Workforce Management (Oct 08), is that Lars just “got rid of a bunch of poor performers”. He claims, tearfully, later to have hired most of them back. In the worst economic times, in the hardest hit area, he told people that they were fired for poor performance. This is treating people and your company like a machine. It worked for SuccessFactors but the strategy is struggling at Zenefits.

I had the privilege to work at companies like ADP and IBM; yes they both have their issues but they treat the company like a thoroughbred. They think long term. Unfortunately, IBM has been in the news recently. They have to make some tough cuts. They started with employees unwilling to come to the office; no more work from home. Right or wrong; it is a business decision. IBM thinks it is the right decision. These companies think decades in the future.

At Global Ethics Solutions, we are trying to help companies think long term. If you have a manager that uses derogatory language, the problem will not go away by ignoring it. It might be weeks, years or never before it blows up. But it could be a catastrophic crash. GES allows employees to anonymously report issues so they can be fixed quickly and quietly. Horse racing isn’t “better” than auto racing. Drivers and mechanics might love their machines more than Jockeys love the horses. The question is; are you just trying to make it across the finish line? Maybe you are. Lots of companies have an exit strategy. However, drivers and jockeys want to know if their vehicle has a problem. If you are just trying to get across the finish line you might ignore some warnings.