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How Frances Frei tried to rebuild Uber’s culture

Uber is two for three on revamping its culture, Frei said.

Uber SVP of Leadership and Strategy Frances Frei onstage for Recode Decode Uber

Frances Frei, the culture coach that Uber hired when in the depths of its crises last year, says Uber fared two for three on rebuilding its troubled culture during her year at the car-hailing company.

At the TED Conference in Vancouver on Friday, Frei sketched out some observations from her time there. The Harvard Business School professor described how companies often “wobble” in three areas.

“When I got there, Uber was wobbling all over the place. Empathy, logic, authenticity, were all wobbling like crazy,” she said. She claimed that the company was able to fix two of the three wobbles — empathy and logic, but not authenticity.

Empathy: “In the meetings at Uber, it was not uncommon for people to be texting one another about the meeting. I had never seen anyting like it.” Frei said she made sure that technology like phones had to be “off and away” during meetings, which encouraged employees to listen to one another.

Logic: “Managers were getting promoted again and again and again. Soon they were put in positions that they had no business being in. Their positions outstripped their capability and it was not their fault.” The solution, Frei said, was executive coaching that made managers better at their jobs.

Authenticity: Frei conceded that in this realm, Uber is “still mighty wobbly” — just like other Silicon Valley companies, she said. “It is still much easier to coach people to fit in. It is still much easier to reward people when they say something that you were going to say as opposed to rewarding people when they say something entirely different.”

Frei was hired last June and said she was leaving the company this winter.

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