Can Uber’s Corporate Culture Be Re-set?

A car tachometer suggests that a corporate culture might be re-set

Uber and its difficulties continue to dominate Silicon Valley business news as its corporate culture deteriorates despite former CEO Travis Kalanick’s recent ouster. The critical question is whether or not the needle on the culture dial can be moved significantly from the negative to the positive. And can it happen fast enough to save the now over $70 million organization?

First let’s see just how bad it is. Eric Holder, former US attorney general, was hired to investigate Uber’s organizational culture and make recommendations for improvement. Holder and his law firm were engaged after accusations of sexual harassment at Uber came to light. Shortly after, there was publicity around Uber’s evasion of law enforcement and a party at an escort-Karaoke bar in Korea for top executives. Any one of these alone would cause a company severe embarrassment, but all three together pointed toward a truly potentially unhealthy workplace situation.

Holder’s report was scathing. To the Uber Board’s credit, they adopted all the report’s recommendations. However, adoption is one thing; implementation is another. We know how hard it is to change a culture. Yet we know how much it matters.

Our organizational alignment research found that corporate culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing organizations. Workplace culture has a significant impact on a company’s bottom line. It is not just a “soft” measure of an organization’s success.

Does Uber have a prayer at combating their hard-to-change culture in time to rescue the firm once heralded as the world’s most valuable start-up?

Here are the challenges. To effectively drive company strategy and attract, engage and retain top talent, a culture must be:

  1. Clear and Modeled
    The desired company culture must be clearly articulated to employees and consistently monitored, modeled, and rewarded by the company’s leaders. Anything less will create skepticism and scorn. For Uber this means, for example, providing leadership training for managers so they know what is expected in terms of behavior and how to effectively communicate those standards to their team members in regular, frequent one-on-one meetings.
  2. Aligned and Believed
    A company culture must not only tie directly to the business strategy, but employees must also deeply believe that it is a key driver in helping them to achieve their objectives. At Uber this means that employees who are high performers need to be perceived as consistently living the desired company culture and no longer engaging in inappropriate company-sponsored after-hours activities.
  1. Experienced and Consistent
    Employees should experience a company’s desired culture on a regular basis. Organizational culture should boost a company’s immune system by keeping it healthy and defending against behaviors and actions that do not match how things get done. Uber will need to establish systems that hold employees accountable and better track complaints and employee agreements.
  1. Soft and Hard
    On the “soft side,” meaningful cultures make employees proud and motivated to do their best at every turn. On the “hard side,” performance-based cultures ensure that substandard performers are given a chance to “improve or move on.” Kalanick’s now gone. Are there others who would perpetuate the toxic culture that currently exists?

Uber’s future is uncertain. All we know for sure is that the Board needs to act without delay, convincingly, and with a genuine commitment to fix what is wrong for the long-term in order to create a healthier and aligned corporate culture.

To learn more about creating a high performance and purposeful culture, download The 3 “C’s” that Create High Performance Culture Whitepaper

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