Dear Uber: Your Problem Isn't Culture, It's Trust

06/07/2017 11:25 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2017

The news today that 20 people have been terminated as part of Uber’s on-going management of the fallout stemming from Susan J. Fowler’s blogpost alleging sexual harassment will most likely do nothing to change Uber’s culture. In fact, it may make it worse in the near-term.

Culture is one of the most favored buzzwords in business today; it’s also one of the most misunderstood concepts. Culture is not something that you can change through termination; it is something you cultivate, nurture, and grow through the participation of your employees. Culture is an amalgamation of everything that your company respects and rewards: group norms, individual behaviors, and corporate attitudes. If an organization rewards certain behaviors and norms despite the detrimental impact, culture is eroded, it just takes on the qualities that drive it. This is where leadership plays an important role, insofar as leadership is trusted. Trust is at the core of culture; without trust, you only have the illusion of culture.

Let’s look at the state of trust in the workplace today: according to a recent study, one in three employees don’t trust their leaders. In fact, the farther away from the C-suite you get, the lower the trust. Fifty percent of those surveyed felt it was important for CEOs to exhibit “highly ethical behavior” but only 24 percent believed their own CEO did so. Trust in leadership is based upon the belief of integrity and of another core belief: benevolence. John Blakey, author of The Trusted Executive, has pointed to research out of the University of Florida that shows that benevolence involves showing compassion and kindness without commercial motive. “That’s probably the most challenging for a lot of leaders who have been brought up with the mindset of being strong and ruthless and driven,” Blakely states in a recent article on trust and leadership in SHRM.

Which brings me back to Uber. It has been reported that Uber’s corporate culture is so toxic that a manager "threatened to beat an underperforming employee's head in with a baseball bat," according to the New York Times”. How do you build trust inside of an organization where this kind of “professional” behavior exists? How do you rebuild a culture made up of 12,000 plus employees? Can it be done? I, for one, am looking forward to finding out.

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