Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia, started his journey as CEO with Uber just last August. After a long 70-day search — and an even longer year before that, of scandal — the company’s deeply wounded culture needed a strong business leader. It found one in Khosrowshahi.
While many employees are excited about Khosrowshahi’s new position at the company helm, he has his work cut out. And he’s hardly the only leader struggling to build relationships and trust in the workplace.
According to an Ernst &Young May 2016 study, Trust in the Workplace, only 46 percent of employees surveyed said they had a “great deal of trust” in their current employers, and only 49 percent trusted their boss or team.
Most company leaders won’t ever be affected by leadership scandals as huge as Uber’s. But, big or small, any company rift can affect a leader’s success. Here’s how you can succeed in the leadership spot, no matter who has failed before you:
1. Leave big promises out of it.
Making big promises is one of the first instincts leaders have when they walk into a new and difficult company situation. They feel pressure to fix large-scale problems quickly, when what those problems often need are long-term solutions, resulting in a breakdown of trust.
Tim Sackett, president at HRU Technical Resources, in Lansing, Mich., told me that, rather than making promises, leaders need to be consistent and vigilant in their vision and behaviors. “I always recommend to leaders that they take a period of time, maybe 90 days, to first understand the culture, the people and the organization before announcing anything major,” Sackett said via email.
“What I find is, their ideas of what they want to do on day one change very dramatically from what they want to do on day 90.”
Remember, successful organizations aren’t built in a day, so leaders shouldn’t expect to impart instant change. Sackett believes great business leaders who take their time to understand the environment will then know what the organization is capable of handling.
2. Remain transparent — even with the negatives.
The first thing business leaders need to accept is that there will be negatives when they enter into the company. They’ll naturally want to remain positive and upbeat for the sake of employee morale, but if they overdo it, team members will see right through this.
“Every employee knows what’s going on, but oftentimes you’ll see leaders acting like it’s not going on,” Sackett explained. “Live up to it. Have a plan. Be transparent. People, our employees, can handle so much more than we give them credit for. Most employees will actually embrace the challenge and help circle the wagons to protect ‘their’ company. Use that to your advantage.”
So, put all ambiguity aside. Let employees know that their new leader isn’t aware just of the company’s current troubles but of the rocky road that lies ahead. Then, allow them to sit in on meetings regarding the organization’s future. This gives them the opportunity to hear what’s happening at the company and offer their input on changes to be made.
3. Remove communication barriers.
Communication barriers have the potential to be just as damaging as a major company scandal. Walking into a leadership role and clearly communicating with other business leaders doesn’t guarantee that the rest of your team is in the know.
Donna Rogers, founder of Rogers HR Consulting, in Springfield Ill., said she believes this lack of communication is actually the most powerful fault of leaders. Often, communication efforts aren’t even enough, she said: A top-down approach must be used, focused on and implemented.
It’s also important, she said, to bring employees into strategic meetings to let them know first-hand what is happening under the new leadership.
In other words: Don’t keep things secretive. “Every company has leaks,” Rodgers shared with me via email. “Word gets out and then you have to deal with a firestorm, which possibly turns out to be an internal PR nightmare.”
So, break down those communication barriers by going straight to the source — the employees. Be present in their daily work lives by offering frequent updates. Even when there are no changes, keep the employee gossip mill to a minimum by ensuring that your troops know exactly where their new leader stands in terms of resolving issues.
4. Involve employees in the company’s future.
Being part of a company hardship takes its toll on employees. Most have likely considered whether or not they should move on in their employment. But once a new business leader (or leaders) arrive, there’s a need to make employees believe that leader has what it takes to lead the company into a successful future. If this confidence isn’t built quickly, leaders may lose their quality team members.
What’s more, transparency isn’t enough. While it’s a crucial factor for keeping employees in the loop, leaders need to do more to rebuild employee confidence and motivation. The best means is allowing them to be part of the planning processes.
In Uber’s case, the need to hire new leadership became the perfect opportunity to involve employees in the company’s future. Now, bringing them in on the hiring process will reassure them that a positive change is possible — and probable.