Coinbase will fall, and it’ll be Brian Armrstong’s fault

Let’s just call it how we see it, shall we? Brian Armstrong wants to make Coinbase amoral. Corporate responsibility isn’t something he clearly cares about.

When your employees (and given Coinbase’s business model, your most valuable employees) have to walk out and go on strike for you to post “Black lives matter” (which is, by the way, below the minimum that should be done from a corporate level to combat racism), you’ve shown who you are and what you care about. Which isn’t other people. Let alone your employees.

And that is where the doom will start. By ignoring the needs and the voices of your employees, you’re setting a precedent that no matter how much effort you want them to put into your business (which, by looking at their culture doc, is quite a lot), you ultimately don’t value what’s important to them. And they will leave. And that’s going to be an incredibly expensive precedent to set.

Here’s the oxymoronic logic at play: The culture doc says Coinbase wants to create a welcoming environment. That starts at the top with the CEO. If your CEO won’t listen and doesn’t value your opinion, and who you are as a person – all of you – then that’s not a welcoming environment.

Not giving to charity, not advocating for causes unrelated to bitcoin, all in the name of inclusion and “staying on mission” is a big mistake. Especially for a company that so singularly focuses on hiring the best talent for a “championship team.”

If hiring the best talent available is important, you might want to rethink corporate philanthropy. 78% of employees WANT to engage in philanthropy. Let them. Research shows that over half of employees will not work for a company that doesn’t have a strong CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) commitment. And it doesn’t have to be political. It can be both conservative and liberal.

Let’s not lose the irony by encouraging opinions, but discouraging social justice.

Coinbase has offered a severance package to any who want to leave over this issue. That’s going to cost them millions in not just severance pay, but also the cost of hiring, onboarding, and training new employees. They’ve put their stake in the ground, and will die on this hill. That’s their prerogative. But it doesn’t have to be yours, CEO boss person.

If you’re struggling with how to let your employees get involved without being political, here are some tips

  1. Create a corporate philanthropy program that encourages employees to get involved. Let them pick what and how to get involved.
  2. Allow employees to select the charities they want to donate to, offer to match donations, regardless of charity type just as if it were a 401k. If you want to make sure you stay apolitical, put boundaries and caps on matching (eg: no political parties or religious institutions, annual matching capped at $500/person)
  3. Offer paid volunteering. Give them paid time off to volunteer where and how they want. 3-5 hrs a quarter is a great start.

Ultimately I wouldn’t be surprised if this sets Coinbase back financially and productively. At the very least, Brian is shoehorning himself into a less diverse (and therefore less inclusive) workforce. But you don’t have to. I encourage any CEO or executive to examine how to help employees share their social justice passions. It’ll make your employees feel more valued, make them more invested in you and your company, and ultimately more productive. It’s really a win – win.