"A CEO Vanity Project, Superficially Framed As "Inspiring" – W/ Many Unhappy Employees, High Hypocrisy & Turnover"
- Work/Life Balance
- Culture & Values
- Career Opportunities
- Comp & Benefits
- Senior Management
I worked at LRN full-time (More than 3 years)
Some really terrific, bright employees here. The rank and file employees here are the best part of LRN. A really fantastic group of smart, humble, hard-working, and thoughtful people who lean in every day.
The NY/LA offices are aesthetically pleasing and in a good location.
Here’s a handy decision tree for you…
+ + “You should consider accepting a job at LRN IF the following four factors apply:” + +
#1. If your starting salary is acceptable. LRN is open about the fact that it pays under market. Knowing you'll never get a *significant* raise - even if your responsibilities *drastically* expand, you need to be happy with your day 1 starting salary.
#2. If you are not looking to be able to demonstrate career advancement at this stage in your professional life - and are comfortable having an extended ‘plateau period’ on your resume where you don’t receive a promotion (even if your responsibilities drastically expand).
#3. If you will be working remotely in your role. If not remotely, if you are *not* working in the primary office where the CEO works (he creates an oppressive cloud of unease wherever he goes).
#4. If you have a high tolerance for hypocrisy and can shrug off periodic loyalty tests.
...if the conditions listed above are true, then a role at LRN might be a good option for you!
Caveat: if your role involves you working closely with the CEO... Do not take the job! It's not worth it. He is manic, has zero empathy or boundaries and thinks nothing of expecting 24/7 (really, 10pm on a saturday) support from employees - offering nothing in the way of rewards or even genuine appreciation. This is a guy who has gone through so many secretaries that he had to change the secretaries' email to 'assistant_to_the_Ceo' to mask the revolving door of people quitting because he was so unpleasant to work for. Seriously. If the job involves working closely with him – I’d strongly counsel you not to take it.
+ + A note about the reviews on Glassdoor:+ +
So you’ve made it to Glassdoor. You may have noticed a trend where reviews are either negative or gushingly positive. You might be confused about which to believe. While I was at LRN, the CEO initiated active campaigns to get employees to post on Glassdoor to dilute the tide of negative posts (which should be a red flag given LRN’s focus on culture, transparency and behavior). The glowing reviews? In my case, mid-campaign he pulled me aside personally and told me to go “be inspired” and “post a review tonight on Glassdoor sharing the real LRN”. Of course, the subtext is explicit: he expected me to post something that night, he would be reading it later and attributing it to me, and the effusive positivity of my post would a loyalty test demonstrating my commitment to LRN and its “mission”. I know of other posts made under similar guidance/duress. Need another example? Check out the ‘reviews’ of his HOW book on Amazon. 2/3rds of the reviews come from LRN employees – who were similarly ‘strongly encouraged’ to write 5 star reviews (despite the fact that doing so violates Amazon’s review guidelines). Get used to this shady approach to PR & reputation management because that’s how LRN creates buzz. And spoiler alert: this is what the term ‘inspiration’ will become skewed to signify once you work at LRN.
Look, you’ve come this far… If you are planning on joining LRN and spending 2+ years here, you owe yourself the due diligence to find out if these things people are saying on Glassdoor are true.
SO: use your LinkedIn network and find a *former* employee of LRN and reach out and ask them. Current employees are often too scared of retaliation to be honest with a stranger. People have been fired (from the LA office at least) when the story got out that they were too candid (not even vindictive, just frank) in interviews. Find someone who used to work here - and get the real story.
The thing you need to realize about this company is that the culture is 100% a manifestation of the CEO’s personality, operational ineptitude, and unstated narcissistic agenda. The company is privately owned by the CEO and he installed a weak board. He is pretty much all-powerful (the Executive Committee is just a shadow governance body that acts as the ‘hand of the king’ to provide the illusion he is not acting autocratically).
You may have read the CEOs book or seen a speech and found it inspiring. We all did. The important thing to realize is that the CEO has two different faces. With a crowd, he can be gracious, humble, reflective and open to other perspectives. In large public speaking settings he seems to match the company philosophy; and seems to be reasonable and fair. You are likely to encounter his 'public face' in any group conversation where there are more than 8 listeners, outside customers, or if he’s talking to someone of influence who he needs to ingratiate himself to.
However, if you work at LRN – sooner or later you encounter *the real* CEO in a smaller meeting. The real CEO is autocratic, abrasive, inflexible, retaliatory, stingy, bereft of empathy for employee well-being, and operates off of a coercive ‘my way or the highway’ type management style cloaked in whatever principles are convenient to justify his ends. He perpetually gives lip-service to his big ‘HOW’ ideas, but his default personal style and psychological tendencies are in direct conflict with those ideas… and the default psychological tendencies (manipulative and cultish) always win. If he was to write a business book that *really* reflected how he operates, it would be called “Leverage: Get More from Your Employees via Coercion Repackaged as Principle.”
Also, do not buy the repeated internal refrain about ‘LRN is on a journey’. Whenever serious problems are brought up, the CEO responds ‘LRN is on a journey, we’re frank about the fact that we’re not there yet’. However, that metaphor is way of failing to take accountability. Once recast in narrative terms, *every* person and organization is on a journey. What matters is if the real issues are truly addressed or are they just given lip-service or toothless internal initiatives to airbrush concerns. LRN is good at making a convincing show at contrition, and will prop up reform initiatives that are just real enough to seem like they’re working on it, but the truth is – all the biggest roadblocks stem from the CEO. His managerial mandates create the operational low-ceiling that suffocates the business and keeps LRN from truly flourishing.
Ultimately, the real ‘journey’ that LRN is on, is endlessly circling the CEO’s neurosis. There is always movement, but never progress; the organization cannot escape the event horizon of his pathology … it just orbits around and around in a frantic circle of attrition and reinvention.
Advice to Management
If you’re reading this, you should know there is *zero* advice to sr mgmt that will make a difference.
The only advice that would be meaningful is if the CEO agrees to step back from all operational governance for the company. Anything else would just be more ‘strategic misdirection,’ appearing to cosmetically take action, but ignoring the real underlying causes (the CEO’s usual tactic). Look, new Start-Ups often need a self-assured ‘founder’ with certain attributes to get people bought into their vision. However, at some point a company grows enough that it needs an entirely different CEO skill-set to evolve the business and focus on growth & operational rigor. LRN was at that transition stage in 2007 and every year since then has yielded more operational dysfunction, but b/c the current CEO is the owner – he will never leave – and so the company will always be stunted by his managerial limitations and stuck in a constant cycle of departures, lost institutional knowledge and wasteful (re)invention.
Worse still bc the CEO is grappling with a very real case of narcissism, now that he’s tasted some adulation, he is 100x more focused on growing his personal brand than the business – and will make decisions that hurt the business, just to have a provocative sound-bite that garners him ‘thought leader’ attention at Davos (such as: ‘hey: my company is flat and has no titles’ or ‘hey: I took our sales team off of commissions, they’ll just be motivated by the mission’). These whims are enacted regardless of the collateral damage to operations. Ironically, in his book he writes about social contracts being frayed in the 21st century business landscape, but both of those examples I just mentioned (removing employee titles, eliminating the incentive structure) illustrate how he callously acts to undermine the basic employment contract between LRN and its employees …just to have a compelling sound bite – indifferent to how it impacts morale, operational effectiveness or the lives of his employees.
There’s the old expression: “The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. This encapsulates LRN - but you’ll never understand how kafka-esque & true it is until you work here for a while. When you join you may think: ‘sure, there are some broken processes, but I can change things’. You need to internalize that *everyone* feels that way and then is painfully disabused of that notion. Literally hundreds of impressive people have sat at your desk and thought the same thing. The CEO is the roadblock – and you can’t rewire him.
Here are the ‘5 stages of grief’ you will go through as an LRN employee:
1) Stage 1: You’ve joined - really excited about the company’s mission (even though you felt somewhat manipulated during the salary negotiation). Your first week in the office you encounter a very different ethos than anticipated for such an “inspiring” company. People seem guarded and afraid. The CEO pulls you aside and mentions that LRN recently went through “X” turbulent episode, so the culture is a little unhealthy (every 12 months the CEO re-selects a new historical episode to serve as an explanatory scapegoat for attrition or the bad reviews on Glassdoor, even though if you check the dates those reviews all cite the same issues and go back years). The CEO also tells you that *you* need to be an agent of change; you’re the new blood who isn’t in the ‘old mindset’. Although a little intense, you’re encouraged that the CEO has high expectations of you. You also casually note that even the most obvious, basic 20th century business practices are not in place at LRN. But hey, you’re here b/c you wanted something different and you think you can make an impact!
2) Stage 2: After interacting with the CEO a little, you realize he’s a very different and more difficult person in real life than the public persona he cultivates. Not inspiring, just sort of impatient, unreceptive, and manic. But even though the CEO’s a difficult, hard-minded person – you’re reassured that he’s candid about the fact that LRN is on “a journey”, hasn’t gotten it right, and there’s work to be done. You’ve started making a list of the basic business processes to introduce to LRN, having decided maybe improving some of them is the type of change you can provide.
3) Stage 3: After (earning the trust of) and getting more institutional knowledge from tenured coworkers, you’ve learned that most of the inexplicable operational challenges you surfaced aren’t new. They’ve been around for years; and for years cosmetic & bizarre LRN-esque approaches have been tried. Ultimately, none of them work because the CEO cares little if those problems are fixed, he just wants to say ‘internal groups were working on them' (ex of one such issue: zero career progression in a ‘flat’ company, to staunch alarming attrition rate. He’s more worried about the sound bite of saying LRN is flat, than fixing the over 10 years of 1 year average attrition). That or a reform effort started well enough and soon was handicapped by either departure of key people – or crushed by the weight of the CEOs quixotic criteria and micromanagement (“this is all wrong, you’re focused on ‘how much’ - not ‘how’” ¬-or “this [effective solution] isn’t pushing the envelope enough”) until said effort was destined to fail. Moreover, at Stage 3 you *start* recognize that the CEO’s behavior and bizarre, capricious mandates are actually responsible for creating many of LRN’s operational problems. And it’s been happening for years. (Uh oh.) It’s a lot to process, but you conclude that: it’s must just be bc the CEO doesn’t realize – or bc he’s a really bad listener. You decide that if *you* can just be clear and communicate to him in the *right* way (or direct his manic attention on the right activities) you can help LRN to be successful.
4) Stage 4: By the time you reach stage four (maybe about 5-7 months), a surprising number of people who worked for LRN when you started have left the organization. Firsthand you’ve also seen terrific coworkers treated pretty unjustly by an ‘ethics’ organization. In terms of opening the CEO’s eyes to these issues, you’ve come to realize it’s not bc the CEO has never heard these criticisms before (he’s heard them hundreds of times over the years – gently from current employees, unequivocally from departing employees, empirically from internal culture surveys) he just forcefully drowns out all dissonance, keeps doing the same thing and expecting a different result. You’ve noted that working at LRN has started to feel a lot like the movie ‘Memento’. New lessons can’t be internalized; so it’s stuck losing people (and their institutional knowledge) and beginning each quarter reinventing the same mistakes over and over.
5) Stage 5: By this point, you’re pretty disenchanted. LRN is hiring some new impressive people and you wearily hope – that maybe these people can have an impact (which is exactly what people hoped about you when were first hired). Because the CEO is such a compelling salesman who can ‘sell ice to the Eskimos’ – he will always be able to bring in fresh bodies to replace the people that left, but you now truly grasp that there is no changing him, and therefore no fixing the organization. Referencing one of the change models in his book, you see that ironically it’s the CEO who is personally stuck on “The Hill of B.” His interpersonal strengths (salesmanship, bluster, vision-setting, and confidence) got him this far, but he can’t evolve and learn the new operational, managerial, interpersonal or delegation skills LRN needs from its leader to succeed. Yet he keeps doubling down on the behaviors that got him this far and expecting a different result. So people leave. New people come. They leave too. It’s a revolving door. By stage 5, you’ve developed an even deeper respect for the kind and hardworking rank & file LRN people you work with. You’ve been through so much absurdity together, but having seen so many people depart, you wonder if you should start looking too… You start putting together your resume.
None of what was written above is unique. This is the how the LRN cycle endlessly repeats itself. I was at the organization for many years. It is the constant reoccurring pattern. Consider yourself forewarned.
Other Miscellaneous Factors (that are worth being aware of when you are considering a job here):
++ How the CEO treats ‘the help’ ++
Question for you: What would you say about a CEO who publicly writes about ‘inspiration’ and how ‘behavior is the real differentiator in the 21st century’, but has had about 8+ of his personal assistants leave in 2.5 years because he is so difficult to work for? No really. 8+. When internal employees are reassigned to work closely with the CEO it is widely understood as an employment death knell, signaling that they will quit in 3 months. The CEO has as told employees, in all seriousness, when they said they didn’t have enough time to do all the work he was assigning them – and they were already working weekends, that they should “sleep less”.
There is an old expression that when you are on a date – watch how your date treats their waiters – to see what they’re *really* like. That is an excellent metaphor for understanding the CEO, because once you become an employee he sees you as a chess piece; an “it”. His day-to-day management style is starkly at odds with the public persona he cultivates; it’s much more coercion-based and more similar to a “devil wears prada” style of management than anything resembling what you’d expect from his book.
In short, the closer you are to the CEO the more unpleasant, exhausting, and thankless your work will be. There seems to be a *direct* correlation between how closely people work with the CEO – and how quickly people leave the organization. 95% of people who have managed to last more than 4+ years at LRN – all have carved out roles where they operate remotely.
++ Salary + +
Please note: Whatever salary you negotiate on your way in is what you will get. Do not assume that bc it is an ethics company, LRN will do right by you. Once you have rearranged your life to start working here – they have all the leverage and are not interested in making sure you are financially ok. Even if you live up to the CEO’s impossibly high standard of loyalty – it will not be rewarded – that’s the crazy thing. You’ll just be expected to continue jumping through hoops. I’ve seen employees deliver so far above and beyond – including both financially outperforming their goals and still not getting their bonuses nor a raise commensurate with how their position has expanded after they took on the work of 2 departed coworkers. Echoing his deeper narcissistic mania and the many Glassdoor complaints that LRN is cult-like, the CEO believes that in an ideal world everyone would be working for free to serve ‘the mission’.
My advice: During the job offer, get clarity on salary *early* - ideally in an email. Otherwise, at the end of a multi-month hiring process they will surprise you with a shockingly low figure. That will still probably happen, but at least you’ll have it in an email.
Also: the CEO may try to pressure you to move for LRN. One of his many loyalty tests. If possible, stall until you have a few months in role so you know what you’re getting into.
+ + Flatness + +
LRN lauds its hierarchical flatness as some innovative centerpiece. What’s more accurate is that LRN has regressed and adopted a model resembling, not flatness, but a papal theocracy. The pope (CEO) is on top and he is the ultimate arbiter of scripture (the HOW book) and divine will (the mission and strategy of the organization). Then, a small council of bishops (the EC) execute his decrees. No other plebs have differentiating titles, just the CEO and the EC. Every so often the Pope comes down from the mountain and imparts some silly new metaphor (the knowledge architecture! the arrow! Enlist/envision/enable! chess! the gateway/pathway/engine! etc) and everyone is supposed to gush over it as if it’s revelatory – or provides *any* guidance to struggling daily operations. When in fact, his contributions are ‘emperor’s-new-clothes’ moments that illustrate how terribly disconnected from daily operations the CEO is and how little he can contribute.
LRN’s move towards a papal model is not accidental; it is a manifestation of many of the CEO’s deeper, cultish impulses. Except for him and the EC, everyone else in the organization has had their titles, professional designations & seniority erased to be another faceless, interchangeable cog serving ‘the mission’. Alarming examples abound, like the evening where *everyone* in the organization had to don ‘How’ t-shirts and hand out free copies of the Founder’s book in the streets of NYC (not a joke: kickoff 2011). And like in a cult – if you don’t live and breathe the mission and regularly & publicly proclaim your allegiance (to the CEO’s latest article, sound bite, or statement) – you are in danger of becoming a marginal ‘persona non grata.’ Also, like in a cult – there is a high exit cost for leaving. Once employees leave, no one ever comes back to the office to visit. Many employees are ‘shamed’ for 'not living up to LRN's values' on their way out through departure emails and didactic meetings held in their wake. LRN’s is an e-learning vendor to many fortune 500 companies, yet all employees are supposed to consult with the CEO *before* accepting a job with any of those myriad client companies. No, seriously – this is a stated expectation. Have you been to confession recently? That's the expectation. Moreover, if LRN employees are even thinking of looking at other jobs the CEO expects them to announce their intentions to look to him in advance.
As you might expect, the papal theocracy pervades LRN’s operations too. As one example, while LRN’s ‘unconstrained’ policies on many things (vacation, maternity) seem at face value – generous, the CEO is the ultimate arbiter of what is ‘appropriate’. So externally, it seems flexible and free, until you realize your ability to exercise those rights depends on the CEO’s sanction (or your ability to fly below his radar). Now compare this with the normal time-tested model that most companies use i.e. - ‘having a concrete allotment written in a policy which expands with tenure’. Having a policy protects employees – by assuring them, they are legally/contractually entitled to exercise those rights. So is LRN’s approach, really a progressive business practice or a regression to an earlier era? LRN’s lack of a policy sounds intriguing in a sound bite, but like much of its philosophy it withers when you take a closer look; revealing operational ineptitude masquerading as contrarian/provocative thinking.
+ + Inspiration & Significance ++
For all its talk of significance and trying to make the world a better place, at the end of the day LRN is like a non-profit that constantly trumpets its own grandiose mission, but only .5 cents out of every LRN dollar seem to be spent towards making the world any better. In contrast, it feels like .55 cents out of every dollar go towards the CEO’s self-promotion efforts and maintaining a large ‘office of the CEO’ staff devoted entirely to booking him events, writing and seeding his “articles” in publications, and shoring up his personal brand presence.
Surrounded by all the mission chest-thumping that goes on at LRN, you may forget that at the end of the day (big, empty talk aside) all you’re doing is helping to sell compliance e-learning (laden with clunky, artificial dialogue about values) and helping to peddle the CEO’s book and speaking engagements. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that, but if You, job seeker, are really after ‘significance’ - you should ask yourself why it’s not more worthwhile to work at a non-profit, or alternatively to build a career in a less-cultish environment at the dozens of organizations that do innocuous, but fulfilling education & training work. (Plus, those places pay bonuses and offer promotions for demonstrated performance!)
++ The Philosophy ++
As mentioned, given the cultish atmosphere, in order to work here, you will have to swear allegiance to LRN’s mission and philosophy, which happens to be a half-baked patchwork of business ideas. The CEO is openly looking for acolytes opposed to just hard-working, independent-thinking people. As such, to join you will need to be prepared to sacrifice much for a noble, but vaguely-fleshed out idea which doesn't match the internal reality of the company. More troubling, is that this vaunted philosophy to which you’re supposed to salute daily and shed blood for - is just boilerplate platitudes. Bumper sticker logic with the ring of truth, but without any serious depth.
So for example, the HOW philosophy is built upon "apple pie," strawman arguments that are so self-evident that they are extremely hard to disagree with - for example: "companies should foster more trust" or “employees that are ‘inspired’ work harder than employees that are just motivated by rewards” or “we live in the age of transparency” or “a values-based organization is better than one based on blind obedience” – Wow. Stop the presses! I mean, who's going to disagree with that? In the abstract - it all makes sense and it's refreshing to hear to hear in a business context, but when you spend time with it, you realize they’re all repackaged surface-level platitudes. The philosophy might alternately be titled: 'Do Onto Others As You Wish For Them To Do Onto You in Business: Cherry-Picked, Feel-Good Business Anecdotes That Support Things Good People Already Believe” …meanwhile the overwhelming liturgy of alternate examples where more pragmatic behavior was successful are strategically omitted from this discussion.
Regardless, the insights of the philosophy are so general that they aren’t applicable or useful once you pull them off of the bumper sticker. Where they'd be useful is providing more detailed, tactical guidance of (ironically) *how* to do this. ex: What's the correct balance of those elements in a complex 21st century organization? How can I achieve that balance with more than just platitudes and hallmark card slogans? How would this apply to a multi-national corporation with different cultures where ‘self-governance’ isn’t a cornerstone of their country’s founding narrative? That's where the philosophy defrocks itself as only suited for a speech; there is no guidance and you realize that “there's no there, there". It’s just bumperstickers and vapourware. Fine for a speech, but little else.
Yet if you meet the CEO, or read his book he acts like he actually *solved* these age-old problems and is some incredible thought-leader. Worse, you’ll need to pretend that’s true if you want to keep your job and ‘remain in favor’. And most disheartening, you will also, ultimately recognize that the aspects of the company’s mission focused on helping others take a huge backseat to creating buzz around the CEO’s personal brand.
+ + But the negative tone isn’t from the CEO, it’s from the EC + +
One of the things that you learn about the CEO is he is very concerned about monitoring his image – and often gets others to enact his will as proxy cultural executioners. So even though he’s very draconian with individual employees, in large groups he’s worried about how this might appear and thus uses lieutenants to carry out his orders and foster the impression that he is not acting autocratically. Here’s a basic but true example: dress code. Now, you’d think in a ‘self-governing’ company that there wouldn’t be a dress code and you could wear jeans, but forget that. If the CEO doesn’t want people to wear jeans, that’s fine. We’re adults. We get it. Just make a rule saying “no jeans.” But instead of doing that, which would be the simplest solution, the CEO will isolate a more tenured employee and tell them that they need to go talk to the person not wearing jeans and have a “how” conversation with them. Not to save time (mind you), but to obfuscate accountability.
Now if you’re deputized, and you talk to the person wearing jeans and frame it as “the CEO told me to say this” and that gets back to the CEO, you will be yelled at for “not being a leader who exemplifies the principles of the company”. You need to own the message as if it’s your own. Meanwhile, often it’s a less innocuous, more insidious example than ‘wearing jeans’ and if the person being corrected gets legitimately upset, the CEO will claim that you, proxy executioner, misunderstood the instructions – and throw you, the deputy, under the bus – keeping his hands clean.
This happens all the time. Thus, most of the time when people think “the Executive Committee made a decision”, they are really just enacting the CEO’s will and providing the illusion of governance and organic decision-making. Just a good thing to be aware of.
+ + A final note for YOU, job seeker + +
Wow, you made it this far? As someone considering a job at LRN, you may dismiss what I wrote as a disaffected employee, but you should be the judge: I strongly, strongly recommend that you use your LinkedIn network and contact a *former* employee of LRN to get their point of view. Ask some tough questions. Get informed about “how it really is.” Decide for yourself if it really makes sense before you join, because there is a huge disparity between how LRN presents itself as to the outside world – and what it’s really like on the inside.
You owe it to yourself to do the research.
I worked at LRN full-time
Lots of extremely smart, hard-working, and passionate customer-facing and back room employees. Beautiful NYC office space in a terrific location.
It's all been said in previous posts. The company which, ten years ago, was a provider of market-leading online ethics and compliance training modules, now appears to be a shell of its former self. Two biggest reasons: (1) It's now all about selling "How" and increasing the franchise value of the founder/CEO with little real concern for the actual customers; and, (2) Abysmal management style akin to former Soviet Union or 1960s Cuba, a handful of incredibly pompous and arrogant leaders, and lack of even basic human resources processes which makes the entire employment experience feel like a cult. Sad really. A once cutting edge thought leadership is now reduced to shallow and hollow products and services couched in a grandiose but cartoonishly impractical philosophy.
Advice to Management
Either go get professionals to run the company or sell it to someone who will.
I worked at LRN full-time
The CEO is authentic in his desire to change world and the company attracts people who want to create a more ethical corporate culture. It's exciting to be able to discuss ideas, philosophy and the possibilities of a truly ethical corporate culture where employees are valued and recognized and everyone has an opportunity to equally contribute to the mission and impact change within the organization. Sounds great to work at a company where you can have no title and don't need any actual experience to participate in different roles.
There is so much material for a sitcom here so lots of entertainment.
Life is truly stranger than fiction and nobody could create this-- a true opposite of everything they say a company should be and do. They take a prescriptive approach to a new level by telling employees how grateful and fortunate they are to work here. We are the chosen few out of all the ivy league talent we made it, now you should be so honored to be working for the mission that "if we didn't pay you tomorrow you would still come in for the mission". That attitude is reflected in compensation, acknowledgements and respect towards employees. This was clearly demonstrated by the CEO, in response to a top performing sales person asking about why the company decided to withhold commissions for a period of time - you just need to learn to manage your money better.
You need a sense of humor and thick skin to last here. For example, you can leave a town hall where the CEO talks about transparency, communication and how there are no managers and no boundaries. Two minutes later your sales manager pulls you into a glass conference room one by one where you are interrogated about your commitment to the "mission"/company, berated for something you said and questioned about the status of your colleagues and their commitment. The following week, these same managers (leaders since no "formal authority") will be held up by the CEO as great examples of the culture.
With over a third of the company leaving annually, the wheel is re-created constantly. In fact, your whole work experience feels like you're being asked to reinvent the wheel. You suggest a Tire - they say, its too much like a wheel, this company is trying to change the world, be significant, go collaborate more. So you collaborate and realize nobody is working on the wheel, but everyone is talking about reinventing the wheel, over and over at every meeting. Hmm.
Then you realize everyone is swamped, busy and can't talk about the wheel..... Three weeks later you're putting out fires, working with clients and attending meetings, meetings and more meetings. One year later, 360 reviews, a million questions about your progress on re-inventing the wheel, not one mention of any fires, achievements, goals, objectives - just the wheel. Did you try to recreate the wheel? Did you enlist others in recreating the wheel? Where you humble as you tried to recreate the wheel?
If re-creating the wheel is what the CEO constantly means by "working here is an intellectual challenge" then yes, swallowing the irony, the abyss between what I say and what I do is absolutely intellectual challenging, and so everyone is either leaving or planning on leaving or getting fired for lack of commitment to reinventing the wheel.
And you wonder why all the employees feel like lab rats as the CEO constantly refers to them as experiments. Naysayers or disbelievers are quickly terminated after sufficiently being "shamed" another favorite tactic of the CEO. Ultimately, this dysfunctional, monarchy is but a waiting ground for those who are seeking sanity or a landing ground for those who excel at performance over substance.
Advice to Management
Smart men learn from their mistakes
Wise men learn from the mistakes of others
Before you can be either, you first need to acknowledge that you make mistakes
or as some cultures would say:
if 3 people tell you you're drunk -- you're drunk
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I have been working at LRN as an intern
LRN has a lofty mission that draws a certain type of individual - earnest, intelligent and focused on making the world a better place. Many of my colleagues who I worked with are passionate and were a delight to work with.
LRN's offices in Manhattan are aesthetically pleasing and in a central location.
While there is plenty of talk about doing the right thing by others, transparency and having an open culture, the management of the company does not adhere to the standard they set for themselves.
The organization purports to have a flat management structure, but nearly all decisions go through the Executive suite. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but when minutiae has to go through the upper levels of management it makes one feel less empowered.
Lack of internal structure makes it challenging to understand how to get things done
Advice to Management
Allow your capable, intelligent employees to make decisions and treat people consistent with how your admonish people to act in speeches, presentations and other correspondence.
Well today I cant think of any - but back in time one could make quite a large amount of money being a part of an E Learning firm that focused on a niche market - E&C.
Benefits are better than at competitive firms. These guys still match the 401k!
The office location is nice
OK so here's what happened - the company was fairly large and in charge at one time aprox 2007 BD (Before Dov). The firm had a robust mgnt team and was really well built out - global - good people at all locations, Solid LMS And good courses. But CEO decided the firm should be about his goals, his books and his mission and so anyone who viewed the company as a product company was gone. In one year 60 people were let go nicely and then over the next couple years another 100 or so left on their own. People were pushed out either by reduction in comp or just pushed out by their manager. Anyone who just wanted to have a job and work hard was let go...Instead of product meetings we had meetings about the CEOs book. Instead of being judged at all on performance it was now all based upon supporting the CEO - tweet his name...facebook links to is book etc. And that trend continues today - those that work at the firm today support the CEO, his book, and his mission and really don't understand anything about helping Ethics and Compliance professionals lead companies. Because this firm isn't about its customers or products...just about its CEO and his book.
Advice to Management
Great people to work with
Good flexibility with work/life
Excellent locations in CA and NY
People that work at LRN are extremely competent and bright.
"Do as I say, not as I do" would be a better philosophy for LRN. They say one thing and do another. Defining the company as a "flat organization" is a joke. The company revolves around the whim of the board and Dov Seidman's climb for fame. He does not exemplify what he proudly boasts in his books. Humility is not one of his strong suits. The board is filled with leaders that are mostly "yes" men and women. They are excellent at what they do and can definitely lead in capacities if they were given the chance. I joined the organization, very excited and heard some negative comments, but I joined anyway. LRN lived up to the reputation which made me wish I listened to.
Advice to Management
Let the leaders lead and govern diligently and in fairness. Practice what you preach and listen to the people and not just Dov. Be approachable and be courageous and speak for the right thing and not out of fear.
They own GreenOrder and GreenOrder still has a few amazing folks trying to do amazing work. Advisory services to top CEOs who want to be ahead in environmental innovation. Also, the chaotic/unstructured environment could potentially generate opportunities for self-starters to try to develop and implement their own initiatives, grow their responsibilities, etc. However, as soon as you start developing passion for one thing, its likely to get shut down later on given a very skewed vision that sr. leadership might have of how the world works and how LRN fits in.
Leadership just does not get it. They have tried to dissolve the GO brand after acquiring it (people are told not to use it internally, and talk about themselves as LRN Advisory services) when the most valuable thing they acquired was the brand, people, and relationships. GO people are leaving unfortunately, and a great culture and community is being dissolved and mashed up with the LRN culture which is simply less genuine, authentic, or inspiring.
LRN also does not have its house in order. Unclear how new business is being developed or how they are innovating their product as technology evolves (e..g, mobile & tablet education). Leadership does not get it.
Advice to Management
To the board, not to management: Change quickly. Loose the dogma. Remove Dov, do not confuse founders with managers/leaders. The cultish How/Frameworks/Forced Readings is killing innovation and morale. Sell GreenOrder and let them recover their traditional culture, or let them hold on to what they have before everyone is out. Also, drink your own kool-aid if you want people to follow you.
- Mission is inspiring.
- I am passionate about our work.
- I really like my colleagues and consider many to be friends.
- Work-life balance good. Vacation policy flexible.
- Colleagues/leaders are always open to new ideas.
- CEO is visionary and recognized as a thought leader.
- Transparent with firm's finances.
- Firm recognizes that we are on a journey of building an innovative, new kind of company with an important mission in the world -- and that it takes time to build such a company
- Flip side of CEO as visionary is that he gives very little attention to how to implement his ideas (e.g. flat org structure) and far too little guidance, decision-making/budgetary authority to others to get things done efficiently.
- Too much management by committee, esp. micro-mgmt by top executive committee.
- Extremely far behind on critical people decisions that demonstrate a severe lack of management discipline & respect for people (promotions, raises, bonus formula, individual goal-setting process).
- Little strategic vision about the future of our market and how exactly we will fit in; little attention to clear yearly strategic goals & management dashboards.
- Little focus on aggressive marketing of our POV and thought leadership... and few if any credible spokespeople/thought leaders beyond CEO himself. Marketing is a focus for this year but really need to step on the gas.
- I am concerned that company as a whole not focused enough on the "performance" part of firm's mission "Inspiring Principled Performance" -- for ourselves and for our clients. How does our full suite of offerings truly improve performance at our clients?
- Compensation significantly below market rates & management seems to disregard this as an important issue
- Firm's "long-term incentive program" is really confusing and amounts are so small as to be irrelevant
- Extreme focus on vocabulary (i.e. words like "department") that are forbidden or counter to our philosophy gets frustrating/distracting
Advice to Management
Management uses the justification of "we're on a journey, change takes time" too often to excuse lack of clear long-term strategy and project/management discipline. We need significant senior counsel (through COO hire/management shakeup and/or working with a consulting firm) to help us get back on the right path to ensure a future where we create as much value as possible for our clients & where we operate as smoothly as possible internally.
The people make or rather should I say made that place, though most have left or been laid off. There was an atmosphere of collaboration within the different departments, and shared recognition of the big goals presented to us daily.
Lack of interest or knowledge and communication from the top to really get a sense of the working persons jobs and day to day problems.
Advice to Management
Find out what people do, and don't just try and please the number one.
Witty, brilliant, and wonderful colleagues
Great locations in NY and LA
No career advancement
Challenging bonus structure
Company changes strategy every six months
Tremendous, unbelievable dysfunction
Advice to Management
Pick a strategy and stick with it.
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