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Uber’s CEO Just Posted New Cultural Values–and Taught a Valuable Lesson in Leadership

Yesterday, Dara Khosrowshahi published what he’s calling “Uber’s new cultural norms” on LinkedIn. Here’s why it’s an emotionally intelligent approach.

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BY Justin Bariso - 08 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Since taking over the world's most valuable startup, Dara Khosrowshahi has been faced with a formidable challenge: changing Uber's culture.

The company has suffered through a series of mishaps and scandals that included claims of sexual harassment, multiple lawsuits and serious fights with regulators. Since then, Khosrowshahi has worked tirelessly to rebuild Uber's reputation and guide the company to the next level.

Yesterday, Dara Khosrowshahi took his next step forward by publishing what he's calling "Uber's new cultural norms" on LinkedIn.

This latest move may not seem out of the ordinary. But a deeper look shows why this approach is emotionally intelligent.

Why Khosrowshahi's Approach Is Different

Khosrowshahi says he spent his first two months meeting various Uber teams around the world, as well as dealing with a few "firefights" as he experienced Uber's entrepreneurial culture firsthand.

"It's that forward-leaning, fearless approach that has underpinned much of Uber's success and has attracted many employees, including me, to the company," he writes. "But it's also clear that the culture and approach that got Uber where it is today is not what will get us to the next level."

"As we move from an era of growth at all costs to one of responsible growth," continues Khosrowshahi, "our culture needs to evolve. Rather than ditching everything, I'm focused on preserving what works while quickly changing what doesn't."

This statement illustrates the interesting challenge Khosrowshahi is now faced with: As a newcomer to the company, he's tasked with instituting monumental change. Yet, he must do so in a way that doesn't alienate his people.

So, what did he do?

Fearing that a culture pushed from the top down wouldn't get buy-in from employees, Khosrowshahi invited his people to write Uber's new cultural norms instead.

"More than 1,200 of them sent in submissions that were voted on more than 22,000 times," writes Khosrowshahi. "We also held more than 20 focus groups with representatives from our Employee Resource Groups and our international offices."

I don't think Khosrowshahi's approach would work in all circumstances, but I like it for this situation. It's a good way to garner employee support, and to make Uber's people feel like they are a part of the company's evolution--instead of helpless passengers along for the ride.

The result: Eight principles that were written by the people, for the people.

They are as follows (per LinkedIn):

We build globally, we live locally. We harness the power and scale of our global operations to deeply connect with the cities, communities, drivers and riders that we serve, every day.

We are customer obsessed. We work tirelessly to earn our customers' trust and business by solving their problems, maximizing their earnings or lowering their costs. We surprise and delight them. We make short-term sacrifices for a lifetime of loyalty.

We celebrate differences. We stand apart from the average. We ensure people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome. We encourage different opinions and approaches to be heard, and then we come together and build.

We do the right thing. Period.

We act like owners. We seek out problems and we solve them. We help each other and those who matter to us. We have a bias for action and accountability. We finish what we start and we build Uber to last. And when we make mistakes, we'll own up to them.

We persevere. We believe in the power of grit. We don't seek the easy path. We look for the toughest challenges and we push. Our collective resilience is our secret weapon.

We value ideas over hierarchy. We believe that the best ideas can come from anywhere, both inside and outside our company. Our job is to seek out those ideas, to shape and improve them through candid debate, and to take them from concept to action.

We make big bold bets. Sometimes we fail, but failure makes us smarter. We get back up, we make the next bet, and we go!

I commend Khosrowshahi for attempting to get to know "the old way" of doing things before introducing major changes. People are often emotionally attached to the past, regardless of "right" or "wrong." By learning from his team first, Khosrowshahi gets to know their world, and he shows that he values their experience.

Lessons for You

For those of you leading a team, there's a major lesson to be learned from this move. (It just happens to be the first of The 10 Commandments of Emotional Intelligence.)

Listen first. Talk later.

Invite your people to express themselves. Get to know them. Learn about their challenges, their way of working, their strengths and weaknesses.

By doing so, not only will you begin to see things from their perspective...

You'll start earning their trust.

Of course, like at Uber, change may be needed. That means eventually you'll have to share negative feedback--it's the only way your people will grow.

But if you gain their trust first, they'll see constructive criticism as helpful, not hurtful. In time, they'll seek your opinion and direction--because they know it will make them better.

And they know you've got their backs.