by Trevor Bron
A lot has been written about Uber over the past 14 months. Most of it has been a scathing indictment of their toxic culture. But just yesterday I saw for the first time the new CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi in an Uber commercial talking about what the company’s focus must be going forward. He cited two things:
I will shamelessly admit that when Uber’s troubles first surfaced, I tracked down the email address of Uber’s founding CEO Travis Kalanick and sent him a short note that simply said, “I heard you say that Uber needs some help with culture. I think we can help.” I am sure you are surprised to hear that I did not get a response. Deep down, I was hoping to get a response, because I know that we could have helped even if it seemed like it was too late.
Ultimately, it is best to have a culture that you design and build rather than a culture that defines and destroys you. And of course, it is best to address your company’s culture before it makes national news, but it is never too late.
In my previous article, I spoke of Phase One of the culture journey: Explore. In this phase we explore the present “legacy” and “shadow” culture of the organization. The point of doing this is so that we know what to keep or preserve and also, so we know what we are up against. In Phase Two we embark upon Design.
Like all great buildings, culture starts with great design. As the former owner of a construction company, I know the value of having a good design plan. It provides the homeowner with a visual picture of the desired outcome and it provides the builders with a step by step plan to bring that design into reality.
The Culture Design of a company is its dream. It should be bold, courageous and a bit outlandish. In doing this work with clients all over the country, one thing is true: The bolder the Culture Design the higher the buy in from people. If your Culture Design plan is too easy, too obtainable, too achievable and not a stretch, then people will not see its value or the need to do the work.
A word of warning however. Once you create that bold Culture Design, the first thing that will happen is critique, and the second is resistance. The critique will come from people saying it does not represent the organization. The resistance will come from the shadow culture that presently controls your organization and doesn’t want change.
In the Uber commercial, Khosrowshahi says, “One of our core values as a company is to always do the right thing.” There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of Uber employees and customers who simply do not believe that. Their experience is anything but that. But, if the line had been, “One of our core values as a company is do the right thing when it is convenient, easy and in our best interest” people might believe that. However, that is not Culture Design or courageous, that is company suicide. It represents the shadow culture and the status quo and it is costing American companies billions of dollars each year in lost customers and lost employees.
It is likely that you spend time and resources on strategic planning. Do you put the same effort into culture planning to design an organization where both employees and customers feel they can belong, contribute and make a difference in the world.