How Employee Input Impacts PR: Witness Uber


In case you were holding on to that very untrue idea that all press is good press, read some recent articles about Uber. The ride service company has had it’s share of negative stories – the latest headline that Travis Kalanick has stepped aside as CEO.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigns after months of crisis

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s Spectacular Flameout

Travis Kalanick, Who Personified Uber and Its Demons, Has Resigned

And where does all of this negativity stem from? Uber’s corporate culture. Our CEO and resident culture vulture Lee Caraher makes the connection, and the case for listening to employee input in her recent blog post Ignore Millennial Input At Your Own Peril. Here’s what she had to say:

Uber’s in a world of hurt. A world of hurt that leadership created, fostered, and drove home every day through their culture. This despite years of input from employees – men, women, people of color, etc. – that articulated the problems in their culture. In case you’ve been off the grid for the past six months, you can read more about their self-inflicted implosion herehere and here.

Ignoring input is the ultimate hubris that will not end well

And all of this was avoidable. If only Uber leadership would have listened and responded responsibly to the countless input their employees have been giving them over the years. As Buzzfeed reported, Uber “has for years ignored concerns raised by an internal investigation into the company’s culture.” It’s the ultimate hubris in today’s Silicon Valley workplace dominated by Millennials who expect their input to matter, and matter big.

Giving Input IS the Millennial Experience

As I discuss in both of my books, giving input that is valued and incorporated is the Millennial experience.

Millennials and Input

Millennials expect that their input will be appreciated from the beginning of their careers. They have grown up with technology and connected devices that are unapologetically imperfect. They know to check for product and application updates regularly, and when they find a bug or a glitch—older people would have called them mistakes or flaws—they share their experiences with, and often are compensated by, the companies that distribute these products. This is radically different from the experience of previous generations, who bought games and software on discs, cartridges, or CDs and there was no way to improve them until the next version came out … on another disc or cartridge or CD.

Millennials’ feedback and evaluations of college classes, professors, and instructors have had significant impact in their school career. As one professor of humanities at a West Coast research university explained for the higher education publication Chronicle Vitae, the average student evaluation score that keeps non-tenured professors “safe” at her university is 4.7 on a 5-point scale. The ranking dominates conversation in the department, with more time spent on “how we get into the 4.7 and above range” than “about how to teach.” In this reality, it’s no wonder Millennials feel a responsibility to point out flaws or make suggestions. The companies they’ve purchased from have benefitted from their feedback almost all their lives—why wouldn’t it be the same at their jobs?

In the more than five hundred interviews I’ve done with Millennials in the past three years, I have heard one rendition or another of “why don’t they ask my opinion?” time and time again. As Eden, a twenty-six-year-old graphic designer shared with me, she left two jobs because her ideas weren’t considered or even asked for. At one job, she said, “Every time I made a suggestion about how to get the work done I was told that I wasn’t allowed to give input on how the team would work together. I left there fast.”

As leaders, we all must work to avoid the pit of death that Uber fell into from ignoring input for the sake of achieving its short-term goals.

The Culture of Input Starts With Small Requests

And the culture of input starts in the small things and is must be pervasive throughout an organization, its culture and processes. Solicit input from your team before you start a project. While you are setting the context for a project or work stream, ask everyone to weigh in on how, together, the team might streamline the workflow, make a bigger impact, or rearrange the schedule. You may not be able to apply everyone’s feedback: be sure to thank people for their ideas and explain why they might not be feasible this time.

The practice of soliciting authentically, considering and applying input will create much more cohesive teams, much more clarity, and help everyone to understand that they matter to the team.

Ignore your employees’ input at your own peril. The best people demand that their voice – and the voices around them – be heard and incorporated. And without these people, our organizations are at a strategic disadvantage.

Just look at Uber now. A company with a reported $63 Billion valuation that great professionals are avoiding like the plague.

* Parts of this post were excerpted from The Boomerang Principle.