Behind the Greatvine

Greatvine is the product of years of research, conversations and collaboration by people from different walks of life.

We are indebted to all the people who have shared their insights to shape this project and tackle one of the most insidious problems in modern workplaces.

But before all these efforts even started, Greatvine is a story.

A story that starts with my dad and my students.

Corporate life seen from the outside

My dad is a doctor. His work as a radiologist was to review scans and diagnose patients so they could get the care they need. It's relatively black and white (beyond the images).

So when my dad asked about how my career was going in corporate-land, he was clueless about the dynamics of organisations. I rolled my eyes at questions in the vein of “If you do good work, why are you not getting a raise or a promotion?"

How could he not understand that doing good work is not enough? That sometimes your boss prefers to promote unthreatening yes-people rather than those who challenge the status-quo by trying to improve things? (guilty as charged). Try explaining that to people who never set foot in corporations without starting to feel this is all a bit silly...

If organisations had evolved into fully functional systems, corporate life would be less disfunctional.

The most depressing class to teach

Fast forward a few years. I am preparing postgraduate students to become drivers of innovation by teaching them not only how to innovate but also why it can be so hard to innovate, in particular in established companies.

Many obstacles to change emerge in organisations which may be frustrating to innovators, but are also very logical. I help my students understand those obstacles, so they can recognise and overcome them “in the wild”. It's pretty fun.

But one class is no fun. Because while we understand the root of this issue, I cannot offer any guidance to overcome it. This issue is bad leaders who will crush others' efforts. Or as Stanford professor Bob Sutton elegantly puts it, “assholes”.

Greatvine exists because I could not just stand there, telling students that they’re bound to suffer from a system that enables toxic people to rise into leadership positions.

Toxic leaders should be an accident. Unfortunately, I am yet to meet someone who has not dealt with one in their career.

Why are we accepting such a big flaw in the system?

Dealing with toxic people so our kids don't have to

I have been both very lucky and very unlucky in my professional career.

I have worked with phenomenal people who taught me how to be a better person, which made me a better leader. I have seen their positive impact multiply when they were promoted to senior roles.

I have also worked with bullies, psychopaths, narcissists who kept rising professionally despite (or thanks to) their character. I have seen colleagues spiral down into burn-out, anxiety and other mental health challenges because of those bad leaders.

Greatvine aims to help great leaders become the rule and limit the rise of toxic ones.

I want my kids to work and live in an environment that enables them to keep growing. Both from working with great leaders who teach them by example, and living in a society driven forward by great leaders' choices.

It's a big, long-term and idealistic target… but don't you want to help shape such a world for your kids?

The penny drops in reverse

Dealing with this issue has been on my mind for years, but the systemic challenge is very strong. There are many reinforcing links that make it hard to fix the issues and many potential points of intervention to consider.

One day, a recruiter called to “sell me” a job they were trying to staff. They sang the praises of the company, the role, the conditions etc… Sitting in my car, I took my laptop out and asked for the name of the manager this role would report to.

While the recruiter started telling me how great and friendly that leader was, I found that manager's LinkedIn profile, found they had worked in the same company as one of my friends, sent my friend a message inquiring about said manager, and in an instant got a reply: “avoid”. Huh.

I stopped the recruiter in their tracks, I would not take that job. Needless to say, they were surprised… but as it turned out, they had been charmed by that manager through short interactions, while my friend saw that manager in action over months.

I realised it can be critical for a candidate to check their potential manager's background… but the reverse was even more valid.

Companies would gain a lot from hiring managers who have a great track record and attract talent.

It takes a village…

A century ago, we benefited from the power of word-of-mouth in our villages. Who’s a good tradesperson or carer? Who is consistently honest, reliable, and whose work stood the test of time? People worked and were known for their work locally.

Today's technology makes the world a smaller, hyperconnected place.

Internet enables any business to market themselves globally. But we cannot trust businesses' marketing at face value: we get input from strangers’ feedback about products we want to buy (is that $1,000 dryer worth it?) or services we want to experience (how good is that restaurant?). Everyone sells themselves as the best, social insights help us sift between the good and bad.

When it comes to individuals though, internet's hyperconnectivity increased self-promotion but loosened social feedback.

Knowledge workers have become brands. We are told to “market ourselves” to raise our profile and progress professionally. Add to that an increased mobility between industries and geographies, and the ability to get feedback on someone's track record through social networks can easily get lost… until now.

In a village, you get feedback through the grapevine.

In a globally connected world, you can now get feedback through the Greatvine.

Want to hear more about our story or contribute to its next chapter?