By Sharon Florentine
June 7, 2017
Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent examples set by Amazon and Uber, both of which have come under scrutiny for toxic cultures brought to light by former employees.
Culture can become a four-letter word if toxicity is ignored. Toxic cultures kill more businesses than recessions. And it is liable to kill Uber too, says Steven L. Blue, president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity and author of American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right.
“I’m always prepared to make a compelling case to convince CEOs that culture is every bit as important as strategic planning. I can cite all kinds of studies and dazzling statistics that prove that positive cultures create positive financial performance. But now I know I don’t have to thanks to a four-letter word: Uber. Uber’s toxic culture is front and center,” Blue says.
According to recent reports, Uber has engaged in everything from sexual harassment to stealing driverless technology from Google. Even some of its own investors claim the company fosters a toxic culture, Blue says.
Culture isn’t lip service to ideals
So, what went wrong, and how can you keep it from happening to you? It starts with recognising the importance of culture and making sure everyone at your organisation manifests your organisations’ values every day, Blue says.
“How can a company that claims, as Uber does, that its values are ‘making communities safer’ and ‘standing up for its driver community’ go so horribly wrong? That is because those are only what I call ‘bumper sticker’ values; values that look good in an annual report but have no real meaning inside the company. Wells Fargo is a perfect example of this. Two of Wells Fargo’s key, stated values are ‘ethics’ and ‘what’s right for customers,’ and yet they defrauded their customers by creating over two million ghost accounts,” he says.
There is often a difference between bumper sticker slogans and the real values that lie beneath, he adds. Value statements are always warm and fuzzy, but a company’s real values are manifested in how they act, not how they claim they act. And at the end of the day, the culture is nothing more than a collection of values, and those values dictate how employees will behave, Blue says.
Culture is intentional -- and impacts the bottom line
That’s a lesson Greg Besner learned early on, first at Goldman Sachs and then as an early shareholder of ecommerce site Zappos.com. Seeing the importance of a focus on culture and how it helped build employee engagement, loyalty and employer brand was key when he founded culture management software platform CultureIQ, and it’s the foundation of the entrepreneurship courses he teaches at New York University’s Stern School of Business.