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Uber’s new culture of truth telling and inclusion

Leadership sets the tone for a new set of values

The Uber culture, “according to interviews with more than two dozen sources, was one that valued and rewarded hard-charging, hard-working, and even hard-partying employees — literally ranking them above others who weren’t seen as aggressive enough — and a management style that many say fostered anxiety and fear.”

At it’s core, Uber’s culture was dysfunctional. Leadership failed to build a culture of trust and respect. Employees feared being thrown under the bus. Women felt excluded. There was an absence of psychological safety.

But a culture of dysfunction isn’t uncommon. According to a Harvard Business Review study, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional.

Did Uber lack values?

The solution to Uber’s culture problem might have been to align around a strong mission statements and set of values. Values that define the culture. Every manager and employee could use these values as inspirational guidelines that impact day to day work.

It turns out Uber did have values defined. Per a Fast Company article: “Uber has 14 of them, which include such vague statements as “always be hustlin’” and that employees should “be themselves.” These maxims mean nothing at best, and at worst leave what is considered appropriate conduct open to potentially poor personal judgment.”

The lesson here is that defining core values does not create a strong company culture if those values are unclear and contradictory. The key is to cultivate a culture where people genuinely feel included and inspired.

New leadership, new culture

On Wednesday, August 30th, the new Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, held an all-hands to address his employees, which was live-tweeted by the Uber Communications team. Mr. Khosrowshahi’s goal was to set the tone for an ambitious restructuring of Uber’s culture.

Specifically, he told his employees that there are three values he believes in:

A leader should be transparent and authentic

“I won’t BS you, and I hope you won’t BS me.” — Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

By beginning the conversation on the topic of honesty and candid communication, Mr. Khosrowshahi sets the tone for direct and open communication throughout the company.

“Encourage truth telling” is an important pillar of self-awareness, as per Dr. Sasha Eurich. Effective leaders encourage their team to call them out if they are wrong. They reward team members for being truth tellers and keeping the team honest. They allow and encourage trusted teammates to correct them. And, they are open-minded and gracious for their team’s support. They don’t isolate themselves from reality. They allow the team to confront leadership about the truth.

A leader fights for his employees

“I don’t like war metaphors, but I’m a fighter. I’m all-in and I’m going to fight for you with every bone in my body.” — Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

The goal here is to unify the team around it’s leader, and to make them feel protected and represented.

Mr. Khosrowshahi speaks to loyalty and selflessness in response to Uber’s previous culture of anxiety of fear. Mr. Khosrowshahi is attempting to build psychological safety by stressing unequivocal support of his team. He’s speaking to the need for trust and the importance of protecting each other.

A leader makes everyone feel included

Lastly, Mr. Khosrowshahi makes an effort to make every employee feel included.

“I will know I’ve succeeded if everybody at Uber knows they can contribute to the success of Uber in their own way as their own selves.” — Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

The goal of a statement like this is to support diversity and to encourage individuality. Each employee should feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. Being your own self at work means being vulnerable, showing emotion, and engaging in healthy conflict. The purpose of insisting on inclusion and individuality is to put an end to the toxic “bro culture” of Uber’s past.

These new values are a much needed step in the right direction. At BigTalker we provide teams with skill-building sessions on self-awareness, communication skills and psychological safety. By setting a tone of truth-telling and inclusiveness, Mr. Khosrowshahi has started a massive cultural transformation at Uber.



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Startups, Product Management, technology. Huge fan of functional democracy.