One Person Cannot Change a Company Culture. Just Ask Uber.

It’s hard to believe. But then again, maybe it’s not. Last weekend, Uber’s food delivery service, UberEats, ran a promotion for Wife Appreciation Day. But instead of urging its male customers in Bangalore, India to do something special for their spouses, Uber suggested that husbands “let their wives take a day off from the kitchen.”


When Bozoma Saint John, Uber’s new chief brand ambassador, heard about it, she immediately fired off a damning tweet: “Oh hell no. This is completely unacceptable. Will take care of this.”

(Lest we forget, Uber conducted an investigation this year into claims of sexual harassment within the company, and fired more than 20 people following a damning review. Senior executives who left the company included Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick.)

The bigger problem: trying to change a culture all on your own

I give Saint John huge credit for working hard to change Uber’s “boys’ club” culture, but she’s fighting a losing battle on her own. One person cannot change an ingrained, toxic culture, as I said to Entrepreneur, when asked for my reaction to Uber’s latest sexist misfire. (Read the article here.) Here are my comments:

Outliers and change agents are lonely. The core cultural values, beliefs and behaviors are usually pervasive. People still share the same jokes, the same stories and same perceptions of what is important, valued and respected.

To truly sustain your customers you may have to change a culture, it takes a (committed) village

Sure, one person can come up with an amazing strategy to effect change, but it takes determined commitment from the entire company, top to bottom, to make it happen. And more importantly, to make it stick. 

Does your organization need to change? Try this change process that works

At SAMC, we are culture change experts who specialize in helping organizations change their culture, whether it’s a hospital or a corporation or an early stage start-up. Our culture change process and methods could help you with the discovery, design and implementation phases of a change project. In brief, here are the 3 major steps to take to bring about real change. Try them and let us know how they work for you:

1) Experiential learning. How people “see” and experience things helps them change how they do things. It is a lot like rehearsing for a performance in a play or on a sports field—they need a lot of visualization and practice. They also need a script. Rather than just one thing, it’s a combination of methodologies that causes behaviors to change. And, as in Uber’s case, it needs to be a collective effort, from the C-suite all the way down to the rank and file, for it to work.

2) People who are implementing the changes should help build your process. For lasting culture change to take place, your organization’s leaders need to be involved in building the change process. Don’t just leave it up to your head of HR or Chief Communications Officer. YOU must lead the charge.

3) Culture Change Methodology. At SAMC, the change methodology we use with our clients is the multi-step process developed at the University of Michigan by Professors Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn: Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework.”  The focus is on making the undesirable desirable. A company’s social order, and the structure that supports it, will need to be revamped. (In Uber’s case, obliterated.) Otherwise, people abandon the changes and go back to their comfortable, familiar habits. 

Want to learn more? 3 blogs on culture change

  1. Want To Change Your Organization? Make It Like An Exciting Play.
  2. Change: Are You Going To Avoid It Or Embrace It?
  3. Why Change Is So Scary—And Why That Dooms Businesses To Fail

To learn how to successfully change your organization, give us a call.

At Simon Associates Management Consultants, we specialize in helping organizations change. Please contact us for a $100 1-hour consultation to discuss how we might help your company successfully implement a lasting change process that works, now and into the future.


From Observation to Innovation,


Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants

Check out my latest Huffington Post article