Belated, very belated it seems, boards of directors are waking up to the fact that culture matters, especially to the extent that it impacts the bottom line. In a recent interview, Uber board member Arianna Huffington said, “We are recognizing that what’s happening in the culture has direct consequences to the bottom line” and gave several different examples of where she believed that a negative and even toxic culture had negatively impacted the company.
The first was the culture of “burnout and constant stress,” which she said existed at Uber when she arrived. As a company with a data-driven culture, she said the company and its employees need to listen to the data that indicates that burned-out employees both act out inappropriately and are prone to more and greater mistakes. She said, “We all know that when we are running on empty, when we’re exhausted, we operate at our worst.” Interestingly, she also noted that burnout impacts women in greater numbers than men, as males tend to wear it as a badge of honor while women internalize much more so.
The next area was what Huffington termed “the cult of the top performer,” which leads to many inappropriate mistakes being forgiven because such an employee delivers results. She cited the example of Harvey Weinstein, but this hit much closer to home at Uber when you consider the original blog post from former Uber engineer Susan Fowler who said she was told that the person who sexually harassed her could not be reprimanded because he was such a high performer.
Huffington said, “A culture is not nice to have, it’s absolutely essential. Especially right now, in the world of social media, companies can no longer hide behind expensive ads what’s happening in the company.” Both companies and boards must recognize these as business issues and take steps to remediate them.