Uber’s new CEO says he’s ditching a practice that turned employees into ‘a–holes’

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

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Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
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YouTube/Cornell School of Hotel Administration

    Uber’s CEO just published a list of new corporate values that employees helped draft in the two months since he took over as CEO. He also mentioned an example of one policy that had to go: Something called “toe stepping” which seemed to encourage employees to behave badly, although Khosrowshahi used a more colorful term to describe that behavior.

It’s been two months since Dara Khosrowshahi began his reign as Uber’s new CEO, and he says after meeting with employees all over the world, he’s now got a handle on the corporate culture. The good, the bad and the ugly.

“It’s also clear that the culture and approach that got Uber where it is today is not what will get us to the next level. As we move from an era of growth at all costs to one of responsible growth, our culture needs to evolve,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday.

Uber asked employees to tell company management what the new norms of corporate culture should be. They did this because Khosrowshahi believes a culture dictated by management never really works.

That’s not entirely true, of course. A corporate culture isn’t invented from the bottom up. Employees do and pursue what they are measured and rewarded for doing and pursuing. If management doesn’t change its formal measurement and reward systems and it doesn’t change the kinds of things managers notice, praise, and informally reward (from shout-outs to bonuses and promotions), then employees won’t change their behavior. That’s true no matter what mottoes are written in giant letters on the cafeteria wall.

That said, Khosrowshahi said he found some obvious bits of the culture that need to be immediately stamped out, including something called “toe-stepping.”

“‘Toe-stepping’ was meant to encourage employees to share their ideas regardless of their seniority or position in the company, but too often it was used [as] an excuse for being an a–hole,” Khosrowshahi wrote.

To create the new corporate culture, some 1,200 employees sent in submission suggestions that were voted on more than 22,000 times, he wrote. Uber followed that up with 20 focus groups.

The final list of Uber’s new norms, shared by Khosrowshahi on LinkedIn, is a pretty standard one that every company says it subscribes to. It includes things like being “customer obsessed,” and “celebrating differences” and “we do the right thing. Period.” That is, no company says its values are the reverse as in “we don’t care about customers” or “we punish differences” (which would be illegal in some cases) or “we tend to do the wrong thing. Oh well.”

To his credit, Khosrowshahi is trying to walk the talk by publishing such progress reports on Uber’s changing culture publicly. He knows he needs to talk publicly about how he’s cleaning up Uber after all the scandals that dominated the company’s reputation throughout 2017. He’s far from done in dealing with the repercussions of those scandals, including being kicked out of London, multiple federal investigations, the lawsuit with Waymo, and so on.

But even in his first couple of months, Uber’s reputation seems to be improving. For instance, Uber was just named the No. 1 startup for job seekers by LinkedIn. And it looks like the #deleteuber campaign that hurt the company so badly at the start of the year has abated, too, Recode reports.