If there's one big lesson to be learned from the recent revelations about ridesharing startup and Silicon Valley darling Uber's culture, it's this: Culture can be a four-letter word if it is ignored. Culture can be a four-letter word if is toxic. And toxic cultures kill more businesses than recessions. And it is liable to kill Uber too, says Steven L. Blue, president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity and author of American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right.
Many CEOs wrongly believe culture is a concept reserved for "squishy, beer-for-lunch, feel-good" companies and hot startups, and that it doesn't deserve a place "at the grown-ups table," according to Blue. But that thinking couldn't be further from the truth: Culture should, in fact, be at the top of every CEO's priority list. "I'm always prepared to make a compelling case to convince CEO's that culture is every bit as important as strategic planning. I can cite all kinds of studies and dazzling statistics that prove that positive cultures create positive financial performance. But now I know I don't have to thanks to a four-letter word: Uber. Uber's toxic culture is front and center," Blue says.
According to recent reports, Uber has engaged in everything from sexual harassment to stealing driverless technology from Google. Even some of its own investors claim the company fosters a toxic culture, Blue says.
The importance of culture
So, what went wrong, and how can you keep it from happening to you? It starts with recognizing the importance of culture and making sure everyone at your organization manifests your organizations' values every day, Blue says.
"How can a company that claims, as Uber does, that its values are 'making communities safer' and 'standing up for its driver community' go so horribly wrong? That is because those are only what I call 'bumper sticker' values; values that look good in an annual report but have no real meaning inside the company. Wells Fargo is a perfect example of this. Two of Wells Fargo's key, stated values are 'ethics' and 'what's right for customers,' and yet they defrauded their customers by creating over two million ghost accounts," he says.
There is often a difference between bumper sticker slogans and the real values that lie beneath, he adds. Value statements are always warm and fuzzy, but a company's real values are manifested in how it acts, not how it claims it acts. And, at the end of the day, the culture is nothing more than a collection of values, and those values dictate how employees will behave, Blue states.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.