First off I want to congratulate Dara Khosrowshahi on his role as the newly selected CEO of Uber. He has an amazing opportunity to be in the drivers seat of the ride share global leader (pun intended). Similar to the transformation he realized at Expedia, Inc. during his successful 12-year tenure as CEO, Dara can transform Uber into its next stage of life, or at least he has the opportunity to do so.
In selecting the professional, but honest Dara, Uber's board no doubt took into account his success in delivering a nearly 5x increase in stock price during his time at Expedia's helm, but also for Dara' professional and personal commitment to diversity and inclusion. Uber has struggled over the past year as it has experienced PR disasters realted to it's no-holds-barred and sexist company culture, capped off with the co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick cursing at a driver on film, taking a leave of absence, and then being booted by the board. Ouch.
I worked for Expedia, Inc. when Dara hired the first VP of Diversity and when he put his own bonus on the line in order to ensure recruiting and retention goals were met for hiring female tech leaders, and to work towards greater parity. I swelled with pride as an employee when his leadership team hosted honest discussions around the gender wage gap and other barriers to building a more inclusive workplace. This was tech, but tech with a heart and a mind.
This was tech, but tech with a heart and a mind.
While my time at Expedia was limited, I never once experienced a tech/bro culture there. My leadership and colleagues at Expedia were professional and were more concerned with the results from an A/B Web experiment, than with sharing crude jokes. I like that.
Here is how Dara can bring his knack for driving business performance and for building a sustainable work culture to the PR disaster-afflicted Uber.
1. He Should Manage What He Can Manage
Similar to Expedia, the majority of Uber's customers interact not with Uber employees, but with a third party. For the travel company these third parties are hotels and car rental dealerships. They don't work for Expedia, but they are the real people customers interact with and "touch". Dara should take the lessons he learned from expanding Expedia's hotel, car and activity offerings and apply these lessons to Uber.
The ride share company needs to focus on connecting with drivers who will serve customers with respect, professionalism and courtesy, and when incidents do arise, Dara and his team must ensure Uber addresses them with a sense of urgency and compassion.
Bosses can't do everything, but they do communicate in stated and unstated ways a culture that permeates an organization.
Even more important than the network of freelance drivers, Dara should intensely engage the thousands of actual Uber employees who develop the apps, provide customer service and launch new markets. This is the easiest group to influence and to communicate that 'a new sheriff is in town'. And one is. Within a few months or quarters employees who aren't onboard with the new culture will move on. That's the best part of silicon valley and tech. Things move fast.
2. He Should Skip The Merger
Prior to joining Expedia, Dara worked under Barry Diller at IAC. During his time there, and later at the travel brand, he became a master of the M&A, or merger and acquisition. Just in the past three years Expedia has picked up travel competitors Travelocity, Orbitz Group, Homeaway and Australia's Wotif Group, among others. These additions to Expedia offer new markets and technology, and while this works in the online travel space, Dara won't be able to 'M&A' Uber's image back to greatness.
The way to make Uber shine again will be by buying not companies, but 'buying'/hiring leaders who unquestionably communicate his vision and who can imprint a new culture within the workforce. What if Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg was lured to Uber? The statement alone would carry for miles, let alone the achievements the Lean In author could implement in her leadership role. Dara needs hires like these. Transformation. He should seek out executives who are qualified, but also who unequivocally will mark a new era for Uber.
3. He Should Focus on Soft Skills
Uber already has thousands of analysts using big data to plan market expansion, optimize advertising and probably ply their trade at every facet of business at the tech firm. Uber won't fail because it can't crunch numbers, but it might get hung up if it can't figure out a more humane way to serve ALL customers, employees and contractors. And while Uber's at it, just GROW UP. Don't do illegal things. Don't be sexist. Just work. It's not that hard.
Uber won't fail because it can't crunch numbers, but it might get hung up if it can't figure out a more humane way to serve ALL customers, employees and contractors.
The way Dara can transform the culture and restore customer confidence in Uber is by focusing on the things that are harder to analyze—the "soft" features of a brand. You don't even need to A/B test this, or host a survey group. As a leader, Dara can just DO what is right.
This could look a bunch of different ways but may include relaunching an internal communications program that educates employees at every level of Uber's new values. Uber could also develop a new code of ethics that every employee reviews and signs off on each year. This is something leadership at Berkshire Hathaway require employees to do annually. The topic of ethics is so front and center at Buffett's company that it regularly comes up at quarterly meetings, investor discussions, and trade shows. No one loves meetings, but beating a drum over and over actually works to imprint a concept. It can also help shift the culture and perception of Uber in the right direction.
Similar to how other tech brands like GoDaddy were able to transform their sexist image by making hard and soft changes, Uber can too. And Dara can be the catalyst.