It all began in 2014 when it was identified that the arrogance and frat-boy behavior was the foundation of the mindset of Uber’s executives, yet they changed nothing. Fast forward 3 years and the CEO is caught on video berating an Uber driver who complained about declining wages. A former engineer at Uber writes a blog post claiming widespread sexual harassment. Because of the blog post, many more women came forward leading to the termination of a high-ranking executive for not disclosing similar complaints while at Google. During all this the issues around declining pay and poor conditions for the drivers are increasing yet the drivers are the main contributor to Uber’s revenue.
The conclusion we can draw based on these issues is that Uber wanted a culture that values results above all else including the well-being of its employees. The company has allowed and encouraged this toxic culture to live and grow. When this type of culture is allowed take hold of an organization it loses talented employees, severely reduces or limits innovation, reduces productivity and causes a lapse in judgement for ethical behavior for the law.
Go back the drawing board and redesign the company’s values and beliefs. The values must include acceptable behaviors of all employees and customer delight. Design a plan for implementation and accountability. Actions, words and behaviors moving forward must be aligned to these values and beliefs.
Create awareness that change is unequivocally required from the top down. You will need to create a movement within the organization that everyone can rally behind and move towards. The awareness needs to come with a high sense of urgency.
Announce your intentions for changing the culture. The messaging of the new culture needs to be consistent and crisp. The more elaborate you try to be with the message the more likely it will become overcomplicated.
To change a culture that has taken hold and is as wide-spread as Uber’s will require tough decisions and actions that will show it is serious about turning the culture around. This will inevitably include having to remove people from positions of power or from the organization. This will be difficult to do for an organization who created an arrogant frat-boy like environment.
Replace arrogance with humility
Switching from having an exaggerated sense to having a low sense of one’s importance isn’t easy but it must be done to save the organization. This too must start at the top and must be the tone in everything that is done and spoken.
Be warned about employee stack-ranking
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch created the stack-ranking system in which a certain number of employees absolutely must be at the bottom. This method of evaluating is increasingly falling out of favor, including GE. Stack ranking incentivize employees to compete with one another. If done healthily it can be a solid system for measuring employee progress and contribution but often creates unhealthy competition up to and including vicious and often poisonous behaviors. These behaviors include managers undermining their supervisors to take their job whilst at the same time fostering fear and paranoia as was the case at Uber.
Design new systems
New systems for hiring, firing, promoting and incentivizing need to be designed to strictly align with the new values. Do your due diligence in the hiring stage checking references carefully to weed them out before they are allowed in. When a high performer is up for a promotion but is not aligned to the values they must not be allowed to proceed. Instead of fighting to retain a high performer who doesn’t fit into the culture, wish them well.
Culture is like a pot of water. When there is balance between performance, reward and recognition, how employees are treated and the behaviors and actions that are acceptable the pot is simmering. When the culture is imbalanced in those areas the pot begins to boil and eventually will boil over. It happens every time, eventually everything comes out in the end.
Don’t accept a toxic culture like Uber did but if you have this type of culture alive in your organization learn from their plight and make turning the culture around your top priority.