Should you be a good employee?

When I worked at Morgan Stanley there was a running debate among the analysts about whether it was better to be a good analyst or a bad analyst. The theory went that if you were a great analyst you were rewarded with more work (but not much more pay, given how few analysts actually made it to the “outstanding” category at bonus time) and if you were a mediocre or bad analyst you were passed over for projects and had a much much better lifestyle (i.e., you worked 60 hours a week instead of 90 or more). Banks never really fired analysts, so one could pretty easily coast by for the time of their indenture.My own views on this are pretty clear based on prior posts, but there were a handful of people I worked with who went the other route and were rewarded with a social life.

A recent article in the Times (link here, although there have been plenty of articles in the news in the past months on similar topics) got me thinking about how often companies reward failure – sometimes in obvious ways, in the case of large severance payments for failed execs or big bonus payments for execs to work a company through bankruptcy – the same execs who brought the business into financial crisis in the first place; sometimes less obvious in the case of companies who offer their first wave of lay-offs more severance or longer tails on their benefits than later lay-offs.

One would think that venture-funded firms are generally able to avoid this type of behavior, but you’d be wrong – it happens in all types of companies. I think it sucks and I’m going to be more conscious of this phenomenon. High performance organizations reward individuals who truly contribute and, while treating their employees fairly, don’t let people take advantage of sub-par performance.