Any brand, no matter how far it has fallen, has the opportunity to come back from that fall. It’s all about how it does it.
It’s a well-known fact in the marketing world (established by research) that when you have a disappointing experience with a brand, and that brand then surprises and delights in the way it over-delivers to solve and compensate your issue, your opinion of that brand is higher going forward, than if no such episode had occurred.
Which brings us, of course, to Uber, the embattled Silicon Valley darling-turned-pariah thanks to a sexist bro culture on steroids. It’s a company where sexism is so entrenched that a board member made a sexist remark at a meeting about sexism, and the only female board member laughed it off.
Not the headline Uber was hoping to come out of its much-anticipated company meeting! (“Uber’s Board Votes Unanimously To Adopt All Recommendations Of Holder Report” was the story for about six minutes.) Let’s face it, none of the headlines have been ideal — not “Yet Another Crisis For Uber: Six Vacant Executive Jobs, And No Active CEO,” not “Now The FTC Wants A Word With Uber,” and certainly not “Uber Is Sued By Woman Who Was Raped by One Of Its Drivers in India.” Uber has completely lost our trust, and for head-shakingly good reason.
If Uber wants to come back — and it should, there’s a $68 billion valuation riding on it — then it needs to do three things, immediately, and in this order:
Step 1: Take full responsibility and apologize unreservedly.
By ‘Uber’ here I mean every single member of the leadership team and the board. By ‘full responsibility,’ I mean acknowledging the appalling workplace culture and the egregious abuse that has gone on within it. To get some idea of how bad that’s been, separate from Susan Fowler’s brave and horrifying blog post, all you have to do is read between the lines of the full Holder Report and recommendations. Every other company, Uber’s done you a favor — read every word of that report, and if you’re not currently doing what it recommends, START NOW. And by ‘apologize unreservedly,’ I mean the visual and verbal equivalent of the Japanese shamed-company public apology (see here, here and in South Korea, here) with pleas for forgiveness, tears, and deep bows — preferably the ultimate demonstration which involves getting down on your knees and actually touching your forehead to the floor. No carefully scripted, legally evasive wording here — I’m talking full-on ‘we fucked up and we cannot apologize enough’ mode. No one will believe anything you say until you do that.
Step 2: Crowdsource the solutions the same way you crowdsource the business.
The boast has historically been "Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles." Uber’s business, and its enormous valuation, has been built by us. By “us,” I mean Uber’s employees, drivers and many, many customers — the same people who are now deleting the Uber app in droves. And nobody knows better than us what Uber needs to do now to fix itself — and bring us back. (Because it turns out that whole ‘founder vision’ thing hasn’t been working.) Part of taking full responsibility for everything that has gone so horribly wrong is finally listening to everyone who told them so — starting with its employees. The people who labored in that toxic culture know best what needs to happen going forwards. Start with bringing Susan Fowler back as an extremely well-compensated consultant and advisor (while you’re at it, bring on Sarah Lacy, too); ask all the women and people of color currently working at Uber how they would reinvent the way Uber works (and pay attention to feedback from female passengers and passengers of color, who are consistently discriminated against by ride-sharing services); and read all the advice currently being offered to Uber on social media, in blog posts, in commentary – and TAKE IT. You crowdsource your business; crowdsource the help you need to completely reinvent it.
This includes listening to drivers. While technically not Uber employees — oh, gig economy — they are the most visible part of Uber’s workforce and are literally Uber’s ambassadors to the public, with every single ride hailed. No doubt they have some feedback. Listen to them, then pay them handsomely for it. Every customer wants to know that their driver is vetted, well-compensated, and incentivized to provide the best service.
Step 3: Replace every leadership team member with a woman or person of color who would never take the role unless Steps 1 and 2 had been thoroughly and effectively executed.
The time has come to reflect the diversity Uber claims to want and to do that in the leadership ranks (including the CEO), which will then in turn reflect more relevantly and appropriately who Uber’s drivers and customers are (as well as the world as it really is). But there’s a particularly key reason to do that. I believe in "Communication through demonstration:" Uber needs to appoint, and announce, new leadership team members who would not DREAM of taking on the position unless the company, the board, and the rest of the leadership had demonstrated total authenticity of remorse, accountability, self-awareness, humility, and determination to listen and accede to "outsiders" and "others" who are "other." Basically, Uber needs outside validation that they’re committed to doing better. Bringing on Bozoma Saint John, who just joined Uber from Apple to take on brand management (what timing!), is a step in the right direction; what the business world and the world at large needs to see is new leaders who make a huge statement about Uber’s commitment to reinvention simply by taking the job.
Step 3 is extremely difficult — not just at the leadership level, but throughout the company — a company floundering in crisis for having a terrible and toxic culture isn’t exactly a beacon for top-level talent. But a company committed to rising above that culture still might be. Especially if it pays really, really well. (And Uber, it’s time to pay women and people of color really, really well.)
Do those three things, Uber. Surprise and delight us — your employees, your drivers, and your customers. Rebuild your value as a business the right way. Set a new agenda for Silicon Valley. Show that dramatic business reinvention and change is possible. Show a commitment to women and people of color as both the employee talent and customer base you want and need. Change your culture. Respect your people. Be better.
Do all that, and we might just consider putting you back on our phones.