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What Hard-Charging Organizations Can Learn From Uber

The sexual harassment and workplace abuse scandal at Uber is a dramatic case study of a hard-charging corporate culture gone astray in the hyper-competitive Silicon Valley environment.

The independent report by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about Uber’s numerous transgressions and scandals concluded that hard-charging Uber must change leadership, increase the number of independent board members, improve manager training in handling complaints and communicating with staff, and re-write and implement new organizational values.

Other companies on the fast-track should take heed of Uber’s turmoil. As communications consultants, we recommend that other organizations study the report and see what, if anything, applies to them. Don’t get caught up in the “Oh, we’re so different” attitude. It’s surprising how some of the elements in the Uber culture can show up. Quick takes on Holder’s proposed remedial measures:
  • Tone at the top: How a CEO as Communicator-in-Chief and senior executives conduct themselves has a direct impact on organizational culture and brand reputation. CEO Travis Kalanick’s repeated erratic behavior and offensive comments provided tacit approval for a culture of company-wide abuse, and became a damaging meme throughout the company and on social media.
  • Trust: Once lost, trust in leadership is difficult to regain. Some former and current Uber employees remain skeptical despite promised changes that they worry will only be cosmetic. Credibly delivering on promises is essential to turning the company’s culture around.
  • Transformation: Successful transformation doesn’t just happen with new leadership. The naming of two women executives to top posts and the addition of a second female board member, didn’t prevent board member David Bonderman from cracking a sexist joke during a meeting, resulting in his resignation. Changing behavior takes time and consistent reinforcement of principles.
  • Accountability: Change in management requires accountability at the top. Uber is not the only company with a “founder-friendly” board and corporate structure. It might be time for other companies to look at their board composition.
We will be watching to see how Uber’s efforts at addressing these four areas progress, and how – and if — similar companies learn from them.