The New York Times has a good article on Lyft’s public response to Uber’s woes. Or, rather, on the lack of it.
It may well be tempting for Lyft, GrabTaxi and other ride-hail companies to kick Uber publicly when it is down.
Lyft is right not to.
At at a time of greatly increased scrutiny on Uber, and when the major players face many of the same issues, from fair pay and concerns about driver conduct to driver churn, immigration clamp-downs and widespread skepticism about self-driving cars, gloating or worse is likely to be seen as opportunistic, serve to further alienate key constituencies in government and elsewhere, and risk drawing even greater attention to the industry as a whole.
Nobody wants to be seen to be participating in a race to the bottom.
As if Uber doesn’t have enough problems, TPG partner and Uber board member David Bonderman’s sexist jibe about over-active women talkers during an all-staff meeting to discuss law firm’s Covington & Burling’s report on harassment and discrimination could hardly have come at a worse time.
To reiterate: Bonderman responded to a comment by fellow Uber board member Ariana Huffington that one woman on a board tends to attract others, by saying ‘Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking’.
“Today at Uber’s all-hands meeting, I directed a comment to my colleague and friend Arianna Huffington that was careless, inappropriate, and inexcusable.
“The comment came across in a way that was the opposite of what I intended, but I understand the destructive effect it had, and I take full responsibility for that.
I do not want my comments to create distraction as Uber works to build a culture of which we can be proud. I need to hold myself to the same standards that we’re asking Uber to adopt. Therefore, I have decided to resign from Uber’s board of directors, effective tomorrow morning.”
He also apologised direct to Huffington and emailed Uber employees:
“I want to apologize to my fellow board member for a disrespectful comment that was directed at her during today’s discussion. It was inappropriate. I also want to apologize to all Uber employees who were offended by the remark. I deeply regret it.”
Recode’s Kara Swisher lambasted Bonderman’s apology and refused to ‘include it [in her coverage] because he does not deserve it in any way’.
Bonderman deserved the opprobrium. At a minimum, his words were insensitive and showed poor judgement. Yet he saw the error of his ways, relinquished his position on Uber’s Board and apologised quickly, directly and sincerely.
It is a mea culpa that deserves to go a long way towards healing the wounds.
Below is my full response to the journalist; the published article is here.
Which risks are created for firms from employees’ personal social media accounts?
Researchconsistentlyshows the top risk of social media to companies is damage to reputation. Rank-and-file employees may be seen as the most trusted sources of information on, and credible advocates for an organisation, yet the flip side is equally true: inappropriate, offensive, unethical or defamatory behaviour by those seen as the most authentic embodiment of a company has a nasty habit of spilling into the broader public domain and bringing their employer’s name and image into disrepute.
Understandably, much of the focus concerning employee social media profiles is on internal threats. However, companies underestimate the external risks associated with these accounts, notably the increased risk of social engineering to access personal and/or company information, and greater opportunities for identity theft as a way to embarrass an individual – and perhaps their employer – in public.
Which types of posts from employees on personal social media accounts are the most damaging (political statements, unprofessional conduct, criticising the company etc.?)
The degree of damage depends on factors such as the nature of the post, the resonance of the topic, the credibility of the employee, whether the post is seen as accidental or deliberate, and the visibility and reputation of the company. It can be particularly damaging if it is seen to involve confidential or highly sensitive information, racist, sexist or discriminatory comments, the harassment or smearing of colleagues, customers or competitors, or which point to corporate hypocrisy or double standards – all of which will quickly attract negative coverage and can result in legal action, financial penalties, or lost sales.
Much hinges on the local political, social and media context. For example, political and social online activism across Asia is less widespread but certain topics are guaranteed to raise hackles and with civil society gaining ground and personal online activism on the rise, a loose statement can prove immensely damaging. And while smears are commonly regarded as below the belt in the west, in China and elsewhere there is a pervasive culture of trashing other individuals, companies and just about anything and everything else, many of which are surprisingly overt. Many die at birth, but others take on a life on a life of their own if the employee is trusted. It often also helps if the target is western.
How can firms mitigate these risks? Is employee training necessary, or does it need to go further into rules in contracts and disciplinary action?
The blurring of employees’ personal and professional lives online presents a tricky challenge for any organisation. While some companies continue to limit workplace access to social media, or to personal social media accounts during working hours, most accept that the great majority of their people have a personal presence on social media and understand it is unreasonable, and in some countries illegal, to clamp down on or to monitor personal online activities, particularly outside of working hours.
At one level, the risks of rogue social employees can be reduced by having strong values and culture, ensuring good behaviour across the corporate ecosystem, having a healthy working environment and fair compensation, and being open and honest whenever possible. Understanding that there is little to stop aggrieved employees sounding off on employer review sites such as Glassdoor, or taking to anonymous workplace communities like Blind, many companies are also strengthening employee reviews, complaint procedures, and putting in place more substantive and constructive exit interviews.
It is also essential to have strong social media governance, most obviously in the form of a corporate social media policy and a set of guidelines that spell out the expected parameters of online behaviour, highlights the link between poor personal behaviour and reputational damage on the company, and which threatens disciplinary action for breaches of policy. Many companies now refer to or embed these terms in employment, contractor and supplier contracts, and feature them in formal onboarding processes.
Of course, social media policies and guidelines must also be understood and lived, which is where training and communication come in. The challenge is often that these dry, rather formulaic policy documents have many grey areas. For example, is it appropriate for employees to talk about, let alone criticise, their employers’ activities on Facebook and, if so, when and how? Should they respond to third-party criticism of the company on their social profiles, or the open web? Are there any topics employees should expressly steer clear of, even in their personal lives? Should employees be talking up their company’s products on social media and, if so, how? In what circumstances (if any) should an employee use his employer as an online platform for his own personal activities and views? Smart organisations have training programmes that get into these awkward nooks and crannies, bring them alive, clearly spell out the dos and don’ts, and issue regular reminders.
Companies like L’Oreal have taken this educational approach a step further by hand-holding their people personally through the social media maze, showing them the merits and risks of different kinds of social media strategies, platforms and profiles, and teaching them how to segment users, limit access to their opinions and content, and keep their profiles secure. Corporate personal branding programmes not only help employees and their employers protect their reputations day-to-day, they also instil residual goodwill and help reduce the likelihood of alumni disparaging the company once they have moved on.
It would be great to know your thoughts on this necessarily messy and difficult topic. Is there anything you find particularly challenging about employees’ personal social media accounts? What are the best ways of minimising these risks?
I had the pleasure earlier this week of talking to early-stage entrepreneurs and assorted others about the importance of building trust from the get-go.
Providing a genuinely useful and usable experience with great customer service is the starting point for many start-ups, but one that is nowadays expected as the price of admission.
Customers, the general public and others are able to act immediately on bad experiences and are increasingly intolerant of perceived poor behaviour by companies.
The travails of companies like Uber and Theranos show that having good governance, being open and transparent – including preparing properly for when things go wrong – and having strong values and a clear purpose are essential if a start-up is to build trust over the long-term.
One of the pleasures of working in a start-up office space is being surrounded by entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, which makes for an interesting, exciting and positive environment.
In the rush to get up-and-running, generating revenue and turning a profit, most start-ups focus on product and marketing. This is eminently sensible: both are building blocks of a strong and healthy reputation.
But long-term reputation and communications are often overlooked in the mix. Uber’s current travails are an obvious example of this, with its perceived arrogance and willingness to play dirty resulting in severe friction with local authorities and access issues in multiple markets.
On which, here is an article I penned recently for Jumpstart HK magazine on how start-ups can build trust from the get-go.