Fixing the Uber culture

According to recode, Jeff Jones, the president of Uber, is leaving. He cites the Uber culture as his reason:

I joined Uber because of its Mission, and the challenge to build global capabilities that would help the company mature and thrive long-term.

It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business.

This brief statement illustrates the concept of culture fit. Jones was attracted to joining Uber because of its mission–its purpose. But a glorious mission–even one that is changing the fabric of our society– becomes flawed when there are severe deficiencies in how that mission is delivered. Purpose is an essential ingredient for culture fit because when the company’s purpose genuinely matters to the employee, then work feels meaningful. Purpose is the “why” of work. But although the purpose of work, in the case of Uber, is quite compelling, it is the “how” that is where the company shows its flaws.

The other element of culture fit is harmony. Work not only should feel purposeful, but it should also provide a sense of harmony for its employees. The workplace values must be a fit with its employees if one wants to thrive in the workplace. When the values of the company and the approach of leadership are in sync with an employee’s values, the employee is able to be his or her authentic best self at work which increases vitality and well-being, promotes engagement, and lowers stress. In contrast, working at a company with inconsistent values forces an employee to pretend to fit in, creating facades of conformity that can be damaging to one’s emotional well-being. If the employee has the option, it’s better to leave.

Much has been written about the Uber culture. This key departure is just one more statement to the public that a company with a wonderful mission can be damaged by the principles its leaders practice. The public will hear about it in the news, and the company’s employees will experience it.

So what is the remedy? The answer is at the top. The core values of a company are derived from the company’s founder/leader. Those prime values are not easy to change while that founder/leader remains. Creating a buffer with a COO who has different, preferred values is an attempt to improve the reputation of the company. But reputation is a reflection of the company’s identity and that is quite difficult to change.

Job seekers and culture fit

Companies screen for culture fit and job fit

Companies screen applicants on at least two levels–job fit and culture fit.

First, they evaluate a candidate’s fitness for the job. To evaluate for job fit, companies consider these questions:

  • Does this person have the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for this job?
  • What past experiences have prepared the applicant for the job?
  • Do the applicant’s strengths match the requirements for the job?
  • Will this person be sufficiently challenged doing this work?

More and more, organizations now add a second layer of questioning to evaluate how a candidate fits their culture. Companies think about these questions in the selection process:

  • Is our organization’s work meaningful to the applicant?
  • Are the applicant’s values in harmony with the core values of the organization?
  • Will this person naturally perform in ways that are consistent with how we do things here?

How well a job candidate fits the culture of a workplace can make the difference between job search success and failure. Candidates who are selected on the basis of culture fit—in addition to job fit— contribute faster, perform better and stay longer with the organization. When hiring professionals neglect culture fit, the company and the employee share the burden. Working at a company whose guiding principles and values are inconsistent with yours can be difficult, stressful and unrewarding. As you experience situations that conflict with your values, you discover how important those values are to you as a person.

Your values are difficult to change. When you don’t fit the culture of an organization, even training and development cannot easily alter the mismatch. It’s just not the right place for you and not the right life for you to live.

Discover how to screen for culture fit

Job Seeker Manual, culture fitEmploy the information and activities in the newly published Job Seeker Manual. This step-by-step guide will help you better understand yourself and the culture of a potential workplace and to decide if the organization is right for you. Then, using your knowledge of the company’s culture, you can effectively demonstrate how well you fit.

Find a workplace where you will thrive

Begin the journey to finding a workplace that is right for you. Discover how to find a meaningful workplace where people are making a contribution and practicing the principles and values that matter to you. Use culture to get hired because you are a total fit.

Conduct a culture assessment

Should you conduct a culture assessment for your organization?

Is it time to conduct a culture assessment? Before answering this question, think about how  employees in your organization would respond to these questions?

  • What is the purpose of our organization?
  • Why is the work we do important?
  • What makes our company distinctive from our competitors?
  • What is central to who we are as an organization that should never change?
  • What should we focus on and pay attention to with our customers and with our employees to ensure that we thrive?

Imagine the impact the organization could have if everyone answered these questions similarly? No, it would not mean you are a company of clones. Instead, it would mean that employees have a clear and shared purpose and are guided by a set of principles and values. What it would mean is that if your company prides itself in providing wow service or heartfelt caring or whatever is core to your company, then employees would be practicing those principles. Picture a hospital where everyone genuinely valued safety, and they consistently practiced the simple act of washing their hands to ensure the safety of patients. Or picture a technology company that prides itself in design, and employees consistently design the most amazing products. Or picture a company that prides itself in customer service, and employees seek to not only service their customers but also build personal connections with them. This focus and drive does not just happen. It requires a shared understanding of why the organization exists and its distinctive character.

Conducting a culture assessment is a process for uncovering the company’s core culture. Top leadership must be committed to and lead the assessment process. And by including all employees in the process, the culture that unfolds is one that unites everyone and motivates aligned action.

Use a culture assessment to identify the company’s purpose

More and more, companies are taking the time to reflect on who they are as an organization using a culture assessment. First, they identify the company’s purpose. Research suggests that people want to make a difference through their work. And focusing on purpose rather than just profits builds business confidence and drives investment (2014 Deloitte Core Beliefs & Culture Survey). Business leaders report the value of purpose in driving performance. In organizations whose purpose drives action, leaders “reported a greater ability to deliver revenue growth and drive successful innovation and ongoing transformation” (The Business Case for Purpose, EY Beacon Institute and Harvard Business Review Analytic Services). Research released June 2016 (Korn Ferry global survey of 1,045 executives in May 2016) states that “focus on both personal and organizational purpose is key to productivity and financial success.”

Use a culture assessment to identify the company’s core values

In addition to purpose are the organization’s core values. The values serve as guidelines for how employees do their purpose-driven work. If employees are not part of the process for defining those values, they may not be as dedicated to living them.

Core values must be genuine. They are more than a list of nice sounding attributes to put on the website or on the lobby wall. Core values are beliefs that everyone shares, commits to, and lives by.

Use your distinctive culture to build a workplace that thrives

Successful leaders know the power of organizational core culture. They unite employees around a small, compelling set of principles and values that generate business success. Employees understand what is core and distinctive to their organization, vendors get it, and customers love it.  With an understanding of core culture, you can create a workplace where people are doing the right work in an organization where they have a real sense of connection and belonging. The results: a thriving and dedicated workforce and a highly successful organization.

Culture is a competitive tool

Culture–your organization’s hidden asset

culture as competitive tool

According to Fortune and its latest research on the 100 Best Companies to Work For, culture is “the secret to business success.” This Fortune issue reinforces the importance of workplace culture and the trend that culture is a competitive tool.

Steps to make culture your competitive tool

Similarly, based on my research and practice, making culture your competitive tool doesn’t just easily happen. It involves a few key steps and an ongoing and unwavering focus.

First, you must clearly define and communicate the principles and values that your company holds as core to the culture. This culture assessment process must be an organization-wide process. Yes, everyone must be involved, to some degree, in participating. Yes, leadership can make the final decision, but smart leaders listen to employees. Therefore, a culture assessment collects employee views so they can be incorporated into the decision-making process. Defining core principles and values includes not only defining your organization’s Purpose, its distinctive Philosophy, and its strategic Priorities, but also identifying the universal Priorities to focus on in order to have an engaged workforce.

Next, is alignment. You must align all Practices–internal and external–and the images you Project to the public with the core culture. Alignment hinges on a key area: hiring. You must hire for culture fit. If your employees are passionate about your organization’s core principles and values, you have a better chance that they will practice those principles and values. The Purpose of the organization must feel meaningful to the employee. Additionally, there must be harmony. Harmony between the organization’s core principles and values and the employee’s principles and values.

Alignment of Practices and Projections is an ongoing process. The never-ending aim is to embed the core culture principles and values deep into every facet of the organization.

These steps are critical for culture to successfully be a competitive tool. It’s not a simple process, but those companies that get it and live it excel.

Make culture your competitive tool. Be true to your core values and ensure that your universal Priorities incorporate a climate that is engaging and humane to its workers. Let your culture be your secret to business success.

Organizational culture assessment instrument

Is there an organizational culture assessment instrument to help identify and define your company’s core culture?

Organizational culture assessments are used to identify the principles and values that are core to the culture of an organization. If you are planning to conduct an assessment, what organizational culture assessment instrument or process do you use?

Is there an organizational culture assessment instrument to help you define your organization’s foundational principles and values? Is there some list of questions that can be used in a survey to simplify the process?

I wish the answer was yes, but the truth is no generic instrument will capture your organization’s distinctive culture. There are a number of instruments that say they define culture, but in reality, it’s not your distinctive principles and values that these instruments measure. Instead, they offer a set of pre-determined values that are used to gauge a description of your organization. No generic instrument is going to capture the language and terminology that insiders use and understand as their guiding Philosophy.

So what do you do if no generic organizational culture assessment instrument can give you the unique description of your organization’s personality and character? If you don’t identify and define your valued beliefs, how can you be sure employees will be striving each day to be the best at practicing these prime principles?

Use a process rather than a generic organizational culture assessment instrument.

Rather than a generic survey, a process is needed that extracts the principles and values that uniquely define your organization’s core culture. The process involves a series of steps to extract your organization’s vital core.

The process has three stages:

  1. Step One: Conduct interviews and/or open-ended surveys with key leadership to uncover the principles and values that they see as core to the culture. Sometimes focus groups, using a cross-section of employees, are also helpful to see how others throughout the organization define the organization’s guiding principles. You can learn more about the types of organizational culture assessment questions to ask at this link.
  2. Step Two: Next, construct and implement a closed-ended customized survey based on the information gathered in Step One. Yes, list all reasonable options derived from your qualitative data gathering. Now is the time for all employees to reveal how they view the organization’s principles and values—by reacting to the options on this customized survey.
  3. Step Three: Finally, conduct a facilitated session with the leadership team to review all the information collected and make decisions on the core culture.

Using this process, you will define your organization’s core culture, share it with everyone in the organization and begin the ongoing journey of aligning all practices and projections with the core culture. First, you must clarify who you are as an organization. Next, you must integrate the principles and values in everything you do. Build your Culture of Distinction by defining your distinctive character and practicing the principles that drive success.

Clarify organizational identity during change

Avoid changing organizational identity.

When going through change, avoid changing organizational identity. Identity is the organization’s Purpose–the fundamental reason why the organization exists–and its distinctive Philosophy–its enduring, guiding principles. When these few attributes change, employees will need to re-consider if the workplace is right for them because identity changes are like changing the company. It will feel like a different place–especially to loyal employees who were connected to it.

Clarify organizational identify if going through change.

In a merger/acquisition, a corporate spin-off, or other major change, where organizational identity may change, be sure to handle this change with care. Any confusion that employees have about the Purpose or Philosophy of the organization will cause tension, uncertainty, and even fear. This is not good for an organization or its employees. As soon as clarity can be provided–with a defined Purpose and Philosophy that employees understand–employees will be able to evaluate if the workplace is the right place for them. And only then, will momentum be achieved to move forward. Likewise, if the organizational identity is not going to change, that should also be communicated as quickly as possible. Ambiguity in organizational identity is destructive to an organization.

Core Culture–your competitive advantage

Core culture can be your driver for success.

Is your competitive advantage your organization’s core culture?

One facet of the organization that any company can focus on to improve its potential for success is its organizational culture. I’m not saying this is the only factor for success, but it would be hard to find a highly successful company that does not have a clearly defined and distinctive core culture. Do you have a culture of distinction that employees understand, connect to, and live by each day? Does your organization have principles and values that unite employees in delivering a unique experience that exemplifies these principles and values?

In leading organizations, employees understand what is core and distinctive to their organization, vendors get it, and customers love it. There is power in understanding and living by your organization’s hidden asset–its distinctive set of principles and values, its core culture. Take the time to define your core culture and build an organization that practices those defined principles and values regularly so customers seek it. The core values of your organization can be the driver for your success.

To learn more about the basics of core culture, go to this link.

Pear Analytics culture interview with CEO

The Pear Analytics culture

I conducted an interview with Ryan Kelly, founder and CEO of Pear Analytics, a web startup in San Antonio, Texas. They build search engine optimization tools and software to help make SEO accessible to everyone. This interview focused on the Pear Analytics culture.

SM. What is the purpose of your company? Why is the work you do important?

Mr. Kelly. The purpose of Pear Analytics is to help organizations compete online. We help companies do a better job of being more visible online. Our work is important because Internet marketing is not as expensive as other forms of marketing. It’s cost effective and trackable; therefore, any size business can do it and benefit from it. Companies that don’t understand online marketing will be left behind and will miss opportunities because many of their competitors are doing it better. Additionally, companies who don’t understand Internet marketing often waste a lot of money because they don’t spend their money wisely. Often, a company can get better results with less money. This is a rewarding business because this work can generate quantifiable improvements.

SM. What are the ideals that drove the founding of your company?

Mr. Kelly.  We want to be transparent and honest in what we’re doing. A lot of companies in this business are not trustworthy. SEO has a bad connotation; there are many scammers in this business because most consumers don’t understand it. Customers often write checks without knowing what they’re getting. At Pear Analytics, we are transparent: we tell customers the steps; we tell them what they get for the price; we give a roadmap. Clients like knowing what’s happening. They understand our end goals.

We communicate; it’s a lot of hand holding up front. With other companies, you buy, for example, 1,000 links for $200 and never talk to a person, or you pay an agency charging huge markups. We’re trying to price our work to be super competitive and still make money.

SM. How is your company different from your competitors?

Mr. Kelly.  We are different because we care if we help companies make money. Many in SEO just care about rankings, but traffic does not drive revenue. We care about conversions; we want the traffic to do something. We give customers pointers on how to improve conversions. We do conversion testing to ensure that clients are spending money on traffic that converts.

SM. How would you describe the personality or character of the company?

Mr. Kelly. It’s fun and flexible here. We have no set hours. We’re focused on getting tasks done. We have a project management system so we know if anyone is lagging. It’s like flexibility on a leash.

Employees have unlimited time off. Everyone works hard–at or over capacity. People often take one to two weeks off at a time. It’s important to work hard and play hard. People need to reenergize. You need balance to be productive.

There’s also flexibility in where you work. You can work from home or at the office—everything is in the Cloud so employees can do work remotely. We use our office for teamwork and collaborative activities, meeting with customers, and training.

We are also flexible in our processes. Employees give input in how we do things. They feel ownership. Employees can directly affect the way the company operates. We change things constantly.

We value decision-making and empowerment. I would rather have employees make mistakes and learn. They don’t need to come to me for every question. I’d rather have employees make decisions and make mistakes as long as they learn and are working to make customers happy.

We want to have fun, too. We have a ping-pong table and video games in the office. People work hard for two to three hours, and then they play a game. You need a break from looking at a computer screen.

Everyone is from different backgrounds. We train employees from the ground up. We have a lot of Gen Y, first-job employees who have recently graduated from college. They like a flexible, fun and empowering workplace.

SM. What are the things about Pear Analytics that should never be changed?

Mr. Kelly. We don’t have meetings. They’re often a waste of time. We have 5-15 minute maximum, morning huddles, often at 10am with Skype. We discuss news, where people are stuck, what’s happening, customer metrics, and where we are with tasks.

Also, everything is open. There are no closed-door offices or cubicles. We all sit together.

SM. What values, if followed by all employees, will allow the organization to compete and thrive?

Mr. Kelly.  Integrity, honesty, and transparency–I’ve mentioned them earlier. Those are critical.

We also want to deliver “kick-ass” service. We want to be the best at that. We don’t sell what people don’t need or what they’re not ready for. We want to have the right customers—if $500 is all a person had, I wouldn’t take that customer. This work is an investment; it may take time to get the results you want. We set expectations upfront; there’s no crystal ball—only historical data.

We also are building our technology to make jobs easier. We have that Kaizen mentality of continuous improvement. We want to be the most efficient and the least wasteful. We must build scalable and repeatable work. We monitor what gives the best results, and we repeat it. We’ve taken a service model and are making it repeatable. We want to be in the middle–between service and software. We’re trying to invent new and better processes to enhance our technical competencies so its’ easier to do one’s job, and we can save time and can grow the business.

SM. How do you get employees to be on the same page?

Mr. Kelly.  I try to communicate our mission, vision and values with employees. I want our company to be the most well known Internet marketing company in the world.

I also make sure we hire people who are self-starters and who don’t need explicit instructions. They just get done what needs to be done.

The Five Ps: an organizational change model

Use the Five Ps to understand your organization and manage change

The Five Ps–Purpose, Philosophy, Priorities, Practices and Projections– is a model that depicts a system-wide view of an organization. You can use this model to understand your organizational culture and to use culture to manage change.

At the very center, which is shaded in the image below, is the core culture–the Purpose, Philosophy and Priorities. These are the principles and values guiding all facets of the organization. The Purpose and Philosophy are typically stable. But the Priorities can change as the strategy changes and as new areas are identified for employees to focus on and pay attention to.

The Five Ps
The Five Ps

Once you have defined the Purpose, Philosophy and Priorities–the Core Culture–you can bring change by aligning the Internal and External Practices and the Projections with the Core Culture attributes. The diagram below shows examples of Internal Practices, External Practices, and Projections. Each must be aligned with the Purpose, Philosophy and Priorities.

Alignment of the Five Ps
Alignment of the Five Ps

Use this organizational change model as a simple tool to understand the different facets of your organization and guide change.

Organizational culture assessment questions to consider

When conducting an Organizational Culture Assessment, use these organizational culture assessment questions as a guide when collecting information through interviews, open-ended surveys and/or focus groups. During interviews, be sure to ask follow-up questions to enrich the information you collect. Encourage examples and stories.

Although the organizational culture assessment questions are designed to reveal particular attributes of the Core Culture, you will find that the responses are not always clear cut. Often people’s responses do not directly answer the question. Be open to what the information you collect actually reveals. For example, a Philosophy question might yield a Priority. You must understand the differences between a Philosophy and a Priority so that you classify the response in the most appropriate attribute category. Review the explanation of the Five Ps to ensure you understand these concepts.

Some of these questions sound repetitive. Often, using a slightly different word or phrase in a question will yield either confirming or new, insightful responses.

Organizational culture assessment questions

Below are some organizational culture assessment questions to consider asking employees in your process for conducting an organizational culture assessment.

Introductory Question

  • What words would you use to describe this organization? Give examples of each word.

Purpose Questions

  • What is the purpose of this organization?
  • Why is the work you do important? (Ask this question up to five times in an interview.)
  • How are you making a difference to society through your work?
  • What is your contribution to society through your work?

Philosophy Questions

  • What special attribute does the founder/leader possess that has influenced the character of the organization? Explain.
  • Describe the ideals that drove the founding of this organization.
  • What value is fundamental and distinctive to this organization since its founding? Give examples.
  • What makes this organization feel different or unique from our competitors?
  • Describe the personality or character of this organization.
  • What is central to who we are as an organization that should never change?

Priorities Questions

  • What should we focus on and pay attention to?
  • To effectively achieve our strategy, what principles should guide how we work? Explain.
  • What key values, if followed, would help the organization compete and thrive?