The chief executive of Uber gets into an Uber…
It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but that’s what happened to Travis Kalanick, the chief executive and co-founder of Uber Technologies Inc. He took an Uber with friends on Feb. 5 and got into a shouting match with the driver over his company’s policies. The argument was captured on the dash cam of Uber driver Fawzi Kamel in San Francisco. In it, Kamel complains about how Uber’s lower fares have hurt his income. “I lost money — $7,000 — because of you,” Kamel said. “I’m bankrupt because of you.” Kalanick shot back: “Bulls—! …Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own s—.” On Tuesday evening, Kalanick apologized for his behavior and said he needed to “grow up.” (You can view the video here.)
Clearly, there are no winners in this particular situation, but it raises an important question: What do you do if you have complaints about your company and you find yourself face-to-face with your boss in a café, elevator or even an Uber? “We should all have an elevator speech ready for our executives or our boss,” says Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, an information technology and engineering staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. But the employee should have a statement or question that requires an answer. Or, even better, an idea. “Have you ever thought of…?” It should be an idea or question that can be answered fairly, yet in a way that positions you as someone who wants to be a part of the solution. “That answer will set you up for future success,” he says.
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And if you see a big problem in the company, whether it’s one of policy or culture, tell the truth. Remember that scene in “Working Girl” where Melanie Griffith’s character (Tess) proves that she came up with the idea for a company merger? She took her moment and, in this context at least, gave her character Tess her Hollywood ending. Before that, of course, she crashed a society wedding and pitched the idea to the head of a fictional company. (Not to be recommended.) Real life is rarely so simple, but there’s a lesson in that confident and opportunistic approach, says Steve Langerud, workplace consultant and principal of Steve Langerud & Associates in Grinnell, Iowa.
“Be clear, factual and solution-oriented,” he says. And brief. There may be less than a minute before one of you has to go. “If you had the CEO in an elevator use a simple structure to think about what you would start, stop, and continue doing to help the organization succeed.” It could be explaining a big idea, as Tess did in the movie, or it could be a valuable piece of advice, framed as a compliment rather than a criticism. “The Uber employee was right to share his experience. Bosses want to be successful and improve. Hearing from employees and customers downstream from decisions is critical to tweaking performance. This was a great opportunity for Uber that went south.”
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“All CEOs want to hear what’s really going on in their companies, because they mostly get watered down, filtered versions from those who report to them directly,” Sackett says. “If we know this, the Uber driver might have gained favor and more time if he would have said, ‘I have some feedback I would really like to share with you directly on my experience as a driver.’” And if the conversation goes well, Sackett says, you could finish up with, “Can you give me a way to connect with you at a time when you’re ready to talk business?” Of course, having a conversation when either party is in a relaxed social setting or at the end of a long night may not be appropriate.
“Employees should have a voice and I admire employees who have the courage to speak up,” says New York-based work place expert and digital marketer Piera Palazzolo. “However, if you want to have a fruitful exchange, you shouldn’t start by accusing someone. You immediately put the person on the defensive and they might stop listening. Now, while the driver embarrassed the CEO, I’m not sure he got his real message across.” Either way, she says, don’t wait until tomorrow to say what you want to say. Make the most of that moment, whether you’re in an Uber or standing by the water cooler. “Speaking out is always a good idea,” Palazzolo says. “But how you do it is key.”