If you’re anything like me, then you have been glued to the coverage of Silicon Valley’s highest-ever valued start-up’s recent troubles. The current saga that’s unfolding at Uber, which kicked off with the publication of Susan J. Fowler’s explosive blog post back in February, has made for gripping reading.
The twists and turns of Uber’s journey, from key investors calling for the company to make changes, to a former US Attorney General investigating their working practices, to co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation, to employees petitioning the board for his re-instatement have brought the topic of work culture and the importance of strong leadership to the top of the news agenda.
Of course, Uber must have done a few things right, or it wouldn’t be valued at nearly $70 billion, but recently there’s been more focus on their failings than their successes. It makes one wonder how much they might be worth if people’s working days weren’t clouded by negative press coverage and uncertainty.
When things are this bad, there’s certainly a lot of work required to turn them around, but it’s not impossible. For businesses that are working to improve a toxic working environment here are three key actions to begin with.
Ask employees what is wrong, and listen to their suggestions for change so everyone can do better
Every organisation has problems, but what most business leaders overlook is the key to solving those problems is right under their noses. They could tap into a goldmine of resource, growth potential, observations and solutions if they simply asked employees what is wrong within the company, and what they would suggest to resolve those problems.
Of course, it’s a very rare individual who would volunteer information like this publicly – so anonymity is a critical part of this process. If you give employees the ability to provide feedback about your organisation, you may be surprised at what you learn, and how quickly you can implement positive changes.
Employees will be grateful to be given a voice – after all, they are undoubtedly invested in improving workplace culture!
Revisit your purpose to make sure it’s relevant
A company’s purpose is the glue that holds everything together. It should clearly communicate to your employees what your company does and why, and provide a structure that inspires your team to align daily activities with your company’s overall aspirations.
Chances are, in a toxic environment, people are no longer connected to a company’s purpose, so revisiting it to make sure it’s still relevant is a good step to take as part of reversing toxic culture. Staff should be able to share thoughts on your company’s purpose as part of the anonymous feedback process and should be able to contribute to rewriting your purpose if needed.
Model engaged leadership and build engagement with managers within your organisation
Cultural change needs to come from the top, so when trying to improve a company’s culture, leadership must model positive behaviours. That means inspiring and motivating employees through brave and caring actions.
Take Elon Musk’s recent message to Tesla’s employees after a report highlighted injury rates at a company factory had been increasing. It would be easy for someone like Musk to hide behind lawyers or other managers, but Musk reached out to employees and admitted that the buck stops with him. He’s promised to speak with every injured worker to find out what they think needs to change, and vowed to perform the same tasks they do on the production line so he can gain ‘on the ground’ experience.
Musk’s message goes beyond a tick-box exercise, and is truly talking the talk and walking the walk to make real changes. That’s how you transform a culture that’s taken a wrong turn.
Stefan Wissenbach is the founder and CEO of Engagement Multiplier.