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UBER’s choppy waters remind us about the most important lever for culture change – strong leadership

It’s about time UBER chief Travis Kalanick took a leave of absence. I understand he has combined this with personal leave to grieve for the loss of a parent (I can relate) and in so doing Travis courageously took full responsibility for the state of his company’s culture, as he should.

The first step in changing a toxic organisation’s culture is knowing you’ve got a problem (tick)

And the second (often difficult) realisation is that it’s the leaders themselves that need review and a shift needs to be made. It’s a long road which will involve significant time and effort to create lasting changes. This process is now underway at UBER and will send a clear signal to employees and shareholders alike.

To that end I was appalled by the comment one of the board members, David Bonderman, made at an employee meeting this week, as the appointment of the second female board member was announced (Arianna Huffington joined in 2016). He remarked that adding more women to the board would result in “more talking.” Well, go figure!

I’d humbly suggest that deep and thoughtful dialogue is probably what’s needed most to bolster UBER’s culture change process. And throw in courage, empathy, listening, and accountability as key ingredients to that mix to have half a chance of succeeding at culture change. Thankfully Mr Bonderman had the sense to resign from his board position the next day as culture change cannot happen with executives like this still in charge.

The change themes in the 13-page recommendations report are:

  • Tone at the top
  • Trust
  • Transformation
  • and Accountability

It will take quite some effort to swing this culture around from its current state to a renewed, ideal state.  You can find a link to the recommendations report here.  What would YOU recommend should be changed, beyond diversity and inclusion, when laws are being broken – harassment, discrimination and retaliation are all illegal!

Chief Human Resources Officer Liane Hornsey, who joined UBER in January, is up for a busy time. She quite rightly commented this week: “While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers.”

Trust indeed. And it baffles me how a company that is in reputational deficit can still report growth with revenue increased to US$3.4 billion in the first quarter. I wonder how long that will last?

Here’s to deep learning from big mistakes!

I wish them well, and in the meantime, my UBER App is deleted and I happily return to my trusted taxi drivers until I see a real and sustainable change at UBER.


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