Uber: The Employees Speak

There is one thing about Uber that everyone agrees on. The global ride-sharing service that transformed the way people get around in major metropolitan areas has a remarkable capacity make news. The problem is, not all of the headlines it generates are good.

For every positive news item — securing an astonishing 69% of the US market, say, or launching a new service providing wheelchair-accessible vehicles, or positioning itself for what looks to be one of the largest IPOs in history — there always seem to be at least two three news stories in circulation suggesting an absence of accountable leadership at Uber. These stories have run the gamut from allegations of sexual assault on the part the former CEO, improper use of software to avoid giving rides to regulators and law-enforcement officials, poor screening of Uber drivers, controversy over Uber’s media “spin” of an incident involving a self-driving Uber car that killed a pedestrian, and bitter, ongoing battles with municipal authorities in important markets such as New York City and Portland, Oregon.

That’s only a random sampling. There’s a lot more where that come from. Suffice to say the company has been a whirlwind of negative press.

Here’s one takeaway from all this: Uber is big and getting bigger — but it’s not always seen as a good member of the community. And that is a classic symptom of dangerously unaccountable leadership.

Fulfilling a commitment to give something back to the larger community is one of the distinguishing factors of accountable leadership. Companies that do that successfully have good community relations in the markets where they operate. Uber often doesn’t. That’s a fact.

Now comes a story from Business Insider that looks, on the surface, like yet another public relations disaster for the company. Someone leaked the results of a confidential employee survey at Uber. Over 18,000 employees responded to questions like “I feel heard by my manager” and “I feel secure in my job.” Some of the numbers aren’t particularly flattering. For instance: Only 40% of Uber employees reported that they felt their compensation arrangement was “fair.”

Admittedly, that’s not a great number. But you know what? I’m inclined to think this story actually casts Uber in a positive light, and shows that its leadership is moving in the right direction. Why? Because it shows the current leadership is engaging with its employees and, we hope, listening to them. And that’s a good thing.

The only way to solve a series of crises like the ones Uber has been experiencing is to fix the working culture. And the only way to fix the working culture is for leadership to be accountable first. Listening carefully to employee feedback is a start to fulfilling the commitment to “it’s all of us” that is one of the hallmarks of accountable leadership. But it’s only a start.

An important next step to building an accountable culture would be for Uber’s senior management to conduct a very different survey of its employees.

It’s called an Accountability Index.  This is a special tool that allows leadership to get real data on what’s going on in their organization’s culture — and find out where there are disconnects that are keeping employees from experiencing accountable leadership as a daily reality. If Uber’s senior people are serious about righting their ship and creating a great company — a company that can sustain profitability and have a positive impact in the world — that’s the next conversation they’ll want to have with their employees.

You can learn more about the Accountability Index by emailing me.

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