5 Areas of Focus to Avoid an Uber Culture Catastrophe

Is this the end of Uber’s bro culture? An investigation into Uber’s corporate culture, led by former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., has resulted in Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick taking a leave of absence for an undisclosed amount of time.

Holder made 8 recommendations, including 2 that I myself proposed as needed, among them:

  • Review and reallocate the responsibilities of Travis Kalanick — “The Board should evaluate the extent to which some of the responsibilities that Mr. Kalanick has historically possessed should be shared or given outright to other members of senior management. The search for a Chief Operating Officer should address this concern to some extent.”
  • “Require senior leaders at Uber to receive mandatory leadership coaching” — Holder also recommended that new or first-time managers receive significant training.

From those who are not leadership effectiveness and culture change experts, I was expecting more legal recommendations than organizational effectiveness recommendations. Hats off to Mr. Holder and his team. The recommendations combined with the leave of absence (which I feel was only partially related to the  recent sad and unfortunate recent death of Kalanick’s mother) sends the clear message that the board – which has a $68 billion dollar investment value at stake – doesn’t believe Kalanick possesses the leadership characteristics to restore the brand, change the culture, and drive high performance.

Who else saw this coming? I did. I even wrote 2 articles about Uber and Kalanick. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s apology means nothing without action.  And Clearly Uber CEO Travis Kalanick hasn’t grown up yet.  In both articles, I spoke about the characteristics a good leader needs to be successful and how culture impacts performance.

Clearly, Kalanick never read them. Though perhaps Holder did.

For businesses to have increased growth they need engaged and happy employees. Engaged and happy employees create engaged and happy customers. Engaged and happy customers create increased brand loyalty and increased growth. For employees to be highly engaged brand evangelists, they not only need to believe in the mission of the company and feel valued personally and professionally, but they also need to believe in and trust their leadership. The same goes for customers. People need to see action.

No action

Kalanick demonstrated no action. Kalanick’s very public apology and pledge to grow as a leader never translated into action. No change in the culture was reported. But what was reported were 215 complaints of sexual harassment, bullying, and other incidents. It wasn’t until investors felt they may lose money that corrective actions began to occur.

If Uber is going to survive this without severe damage to the brand and ongoing losses to revenue, they need to build a new culture from the ground up.  Which by the way – spoiler alert – doesn’t happen overnight. There is hope, though.

Focus on these 5 things to create a high performance culture:

1. If you want to know something, just ask

Before you develop a strategy and direction you need to collect data from internal and external sources – including customers. I know this is a foreign concept to some – but the easiest way to collect data is to ASK those who are part of your organization and those you want to win over. Basically, ask them what they want!

If you ask –  then people expect to see confirmation their voices were heard, not just in a “thank you,” but in actions and direction. You need to understand – not guess or assume – what it is the people want and why. Then you need to make it happen – somewhat promptly. Holder began this process at Uber and now it needs to continue, reach out a bit further, and data needs to be communicated with transparency.

2. Know where you’re going

Often organizations are not certain where to start, where to place focus, and what to include when developing a strategy or making a course correction.  It’s difficult to get to where you want to be if you don’t know where you’re going – or why. Whether planning for a technology or change project, or for the direction (or change in direction ) of the entire organization, an actionable and aligned strategy is imperative to success. Create a plan based on the data collected from your internal and external sources and execute that plan. 

3. Resistance is futile

Be open to change. Change is never easy. Be agile and flexible. Collect your data, plan, and then act. Culture change, in particular, is extremely tough. Uber is learning this the hard way. New business initiatives, new technology, new processes and procedures, leadership changes – all require new behaviors and new ways of doing things. People don’t like change. As the Borg say, “Resistance is futile.” Perhaps, but resistance can be minimized and the speed of commitment and adoption increased – increasing your ability to achieve success. Organizational change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it has to be painful or costly

4. The way work gets done around here

Culture is “the way work gets done around here.” Your culture can make or break your business – just ask Uber’s board or, more so, Uber’s employees – so it’s important to develop the right one. Leadership plays a part in this as do employees. Organizational culture isn’t just the result of one swift decision, but an ongoing process and way of being. Creating a high performance culture takes work. You need to determine who you are, who you want to be, how you are going to get there, and continually work toward high performance.

5. What to say when, to who, and how

Strategic communications helps you determine what to say when, to who, and how. How well your organization is positioned to implement strategic direction – or organizational change – is just as critical as having a solid actionable strategy in the first place. For strategy and change to gain commitment and adoption, frequent and transparent communication is required. It takes more than a clear strategy to achieve desired outcomes and a high performance culture– it takes timely and targeted communication.

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It is also important to focus on other areas as well such as diversity, leadership, structure, processes etc.

Organizations with a high performance culture tend to be much more adept at recruiting and retaining top talent. They benefit from higher employee engagement and retention, and lower turnover. They have positive brand recognition. They have increased productivity and higher revenues.

Change does not happen overnight. Change doesn’t happen because you say you want to grow up. Organizational culture change doesn’t just happen by appointing new leadership. Change happens because you put forth the effort to make change happen – each and every day and not just in moments of crisis.

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.