Just as Google engineer James Damore was getting sacked this month for a controversial memo he wrote 3 1/2 years ago, I was finalizing a controversial book I started writing at approximately the same time.
Damore’s memo expressed critical views of the company’s diversity efforts. In response to social media’s uprising about freedom of speech, echoed by a handful of female engineers, Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, argued that Damore wasn’t fired for “speaking truth to power” but for “mishandling” the sensitive topic of diversity.
In other words, he got fired for having a diverse opinion to Google’s dominant ideology on diversity.
While some pity Damore and others decry him, I believe we should celebrate him. His story made me think of ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio.’ The truth will set you free. As long as we lie or impart half-truths, we are marionettes on the strings of others. Once we are brave enough to speak our mind, rather than worry about what others would have us say, we are true to ourselves; that’s when we start being “real boys”.
Pichai referenced violations against policies laid out in Google’s Code of Conduct as the main legal reason for Damore’s layoff.
The Code of Conduct is just another set of top-down prescriptive guidelines that we, the employees have to juggle in the workplace. If it’s not rules and regulations, it’s employee handbooks, if it’s not policies, it’s employment contracts, if it’s not operational manuals, it’s frameworks, and so on. Employers rely on these documents to guard their interests.
And what about our interests? Where do we lay those out? When do we get a say in how the workplace should be shaped? Employees’ interests are almost anything but what a few Human Resources people decide it should be.
Deloitte, Gallup and the likes are currently on the prowl for the next stellar model of motivating workers. But the mistake they make, the mistake WE make is that we continuously expect improvement to come from a new framework or some other form of a mechanical business prescription. In the process, we’re overlooking, even omitting, the most cardinal growth agent – personal responsibility.
How can we change that? A small elite in a distant Ivory Tower should not be defining how we work and be planning our lives for us. We are the creators.
What is your idea of the ideal workplace? Dream up your work paradise. It can be any kind of paradise you want. It can be spiritual, or sensuous. But spell it out. What do you want to happen in your work? What would make you more motivated and engaged?