A Company's Culture Starts With The Board
The recent instances of irony relating to Uber seem to keep coming - and I am sure I am not the only one noticing this...
First, a video surfaces of Travis Kalanick, the billionaire CEO of Uber, chewing out an Uber driver during a pricing discussion. The driver, visibly agitated, mentions how he's lost $97,000 and is now bankrupt from what he states is Uber's "flawed business strategy." Kalanick, exhibiting an obvious low emotional intelligence (EQ) and lack of mindfulness, ends the discussion by angrily stating, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!” Even if Kalanick's statement could have been true, his response was that of an immature business leader with an obvious need for leadership training. What better way to bury your business than to berate and belittle your employees - the same ones that elevated you to billionaire status! Irony.
Then, in an effort to show Board and C-Level alignment across the company, an 'all-hands' meeting, a town-hall-like gathering for employees, was called to address topics including the recently announced CEO's leave of absence *, news coverage on the company and claims relating to gender discrimination. What happened next cannot be made up... First, Liane Hornsey, Uber's human resources chief, asked everyone in attendance to hug each other. Yep, a request for some physical contact in a company meeting - somewhat of a risky move and in poor timing for a company mired in sexual harassment lawsuits, don't you think? And from the head of HR? That is irony, my friends. Next comes the icing on the cake. Arianna Huffington, an Uber Board member, was speaking to the company in that same 'all hands' meeting on the topic of building a more diverse board in an effort to spark change from the top. "There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on a board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” she stated to the group. That's when another Board member, David Bonderman, chimed in to joke, “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.” Wow. A sexist joke at a company meeting designed to show support on changing a sexist environment? And from a Board member? Once again, more irony. Needless to say, Bonderman's resignation in less than 24 hours was a welcomed response for many.
(* Update: As of Tuesday, June 20th, it has been announced that Travis Kalanick is no longer CEO of Uber - five of the company's key investors demanded that he resign via a letter entitled 'Moving Uber Forward.' In another twist of irony, it is believed that his resignation was announced to the media before being conveyed to Uber employees...)
Uber - /ˈuːbə/: denoting an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person or thing. To a great or extreme degree.
Even the definition of the word Uber as compared to the company is ironic. Setting a 'supreme example' is a lofty goal and I admire this - likely a phrase that fits perfectly into any company's vision statement. But what could have happened differently at Uber? And where could a course correction have emanated from when earlier warning signs of a wayward company culture were starting to stray?
It begins and ends with the Board...
A common challenge for Boards, especially in the private sector, is the open and honest communication regarding development and focus areas for the CEO. This can be a tough conversation in public companies, too, however private companies have the added nuance of the CEO typically directing the Board or having overriding voting power on the Board. Tricky maneuvering, indeed, and territory that requires finesse and an ego-free exchange. Boards should consider multiple facets of evaluation for a CEO that should not just be 'scheduled events' or 'formal reviews,' but more so ongoing analysis via observation with more frequent verbal feedback. Experience has shown that CEOs who are open to this type of constructive feedback and act on it experience greater success and have a more productive relationship with their Board. A few areas to keep in constant perspective when a Board interacts with their CEO:
In singular or combination of the above focus areas, there are interesting outcomes for a company overall when these are addressed head-on and improved upon. Increased company performance, higher employee job satisfaction, ethical company-wide behaviors, lowered legal risks, decreased employee turnover and a further sense of team members having found the right professional 'home' are just a few profound examples - all of which are uber-important to any business.
What will you consider when evaluating, guiding and supporting your CEO?
Reach out for help in creating your solid Board CEO support strategy.
About the Author: In addition to sitting on numerous Boards, Mark A. Pfister is a certified Board Director and advises public, private and non-profit boards in efficient and effective operations. He is the inventor of the 'Board as a Service' (BaaS) engagement model and an expert project/program manager frequently consulting on strategic global initiatives in their initiation and operational phases....... << Read full bio here >>
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