A colleague shared a blog post about “success at work” and I clicked on it, expecting the usual set of prescriptions proposed by people who want work to be better but can’t do much about it.
This post was different, though. It was written by the head of HR at the World Economic Forum.
“I wish I had written that”
His name is Paolo Gallo, and he’s based in Geneva. In his post, he tried to reframe how we view success at work. He had an almost romantic view of what “corporate heroism” truly is, and I kept nodding to myself as I went through this section on how measuring success by corporate title is bad for the individual and the firm:
“1. If we only value those who have reached the top of the hierarchy, then by definition we’re writing off the other 99%. We create a cruel assembly line that produces myriad people who are frustrated and unhappy, who believe - often wrongly - that only those who arrived at the top truly triumphed.
2. By seeing our careers as a race, we enter a state of constant struggle: "us" against everyone else. Think, for example, about incentive systems: I have seen many and - mea culpa - designed some that are focused on individual performance results but never based on sharing, cooperation or a sense of purpose. I believe that stress is not linked solely to the amount of work we have, but rather on the poor quality of the relationships we develop with our colleagues. An organizational climate of “dog eats dog” downgrades our relationships, so they become only transactional, utilitarian, losing any trace of connection between people. This obsession with appearances over substance strips us of our humanity.
3. Ultimately, we all end up taking part in a rat race. We became so self-absorbed and busy trying to win this race that we forget that even by winning it, we will still remain rats. And vulnerable rats: the chronic economic crisis, corporate restructuring or simple events outside of our control can all oust us from our jobs. If corporate success is the only way you define your identity, then that identity will be destroyed with all the emotional and social consequences that result.”
What do you do when you read something interesting?
I started by reading more of his work, including other articles he posted on the World Economic Forum website. There’s no way to follow him or provide feedback there, so I looked elsewhere.
First I searched for “Paolo Gallo” on Twitter and didn’t find him. Then I used Google to search for “Paolo Gallo World Economic Forum” and found he had cross-posted his articles to LinkedIn. I clicked the “Follow” button on LinkedIn so I would see his future posts (and he might also see I followed him).
One of his most recent posts included this sentence:
“We have to internalize the idea that "networking" does not work when we engage with people only when we "need" something from them: we need to be constant givers of our time, attention, respect and help.”
It inspired me to leave a comment, and to offer to send him a copy of Working Out Loud. Maybe he won’t reply. Or maybe we’ll wind up collaborating in some way. Regardless of the outcome, in just a few minutes I felt as though I opened a door of some kind, a gateway that might lead to new people and possibilities related to my work.
Update: A few hours after I wrote this, Paolo Gallo was kind enough to thank me for the comment and send me a personalized connection request on LinkedIn.
Update #2: A few hours after my last update, he sent me a really nice note and we arranged to meet in NYC in late April. I'm really looking forward to it.
Update #3: On April 22nd, I met Paolo at the World Economic Forum office in New York City. He was visiting from Geneva. We sat in a large conference room with an long, impressive-looking table. And what did we talk about? Our kids, and life, and ideas about how the way we all work could be different, more fulfilling.
I didn't know this when I wrote this post, but the mission of the WEF includes this lovely line capturing something I also believe:
We believe that progress happens by bringing together people from all walks of life who have the drive and the influence to make positive change.
We walked out of the building together and before we parted he suggested we take a selfie together. Here we are, in midtown Manhattan, with rush-hour traffic as a backdrop.
I hope we meet again.
Update #4: On October 25, we met again. I had seen that Paolo had published a book, La Bussola del Successo (The Compass for Success), and I had sent my congratulations. He invited me to an event celebrating the book launch in NYC. It at the offices of the World Economic Forum and sponsored in part by Paolo's alma mater, Bocconi University. There was a fascinating mix of people there.
I stood in the back, listening to his talk. He was surrounded by people afterwards. While I waited to say hello, I met his wife and young daughter, and we had a lovely conversation - about the book, about new careers (both hers and mine), about children. As the crowd thinned, Paolo greeted me with a hearty European hug, thanking me for coming. He signed a book for me, a physical reminder on my shelf of how easy it is to connect.