In an incredibly short period of time, modern technology has helped reinvent the ways we communicate, create, collaborate, connect, and conduct business. Silicon Valley has become the epicenter of tech transformation, redefining the way we do things one device, one app, and one moonshot idea at a time.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a front-row seat to the tech revolution. For nearly two decades, Airfoil has worked with numerous wonderful companies based in Silicon Valley. Along with the rapid rise of truly personal technology, we’ve seen dizzying changes in the culture of business.
Many of those changes have been very positive. From crowdfunding campaigns to venture-capital investments, tiny startups now have giant opportunities. We’re happier and healthier at work, as many employers promote a better work/life balance and an environment that encourages creativity. The next great idea can come from anywhere in the organization, as many companies have adopted a decentralized structure.
But not all cultural changes associated with the tech industry have been positive. Last week, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned after repeated accusations of questionable behavior. And sadly, the Uber saga was not an isolated incident. Stories of bullying, casual misogyny, and toxic work culture have become disturbingly common in the tech industry.
Over the past decade, I’ve experienced some of these negative behaviors myself. I’ve been asked by a client to “never put that woman near my CEO again,” I’ve been called “dumb” for no apparent reason, and I’ve had my clothing choices unnecessarily scrutinized. As a nearly 30-year veteran of the communications consulting profession, I have developed thick skin -- I can “take it.” But unprofessional behavior has certainly become more common in recent years, and it can speak to a lack of good leadership and core values in an organization.
Has Silicon Valley always been like this? Not in my experience. Bad behavior may not be the industry norm, but it’s increasingly tolerated by investors, managers, boards, and even employees. In the latest gold rush, wealth, fame, and net worth seem to trump respect, common sense, and just plain good manners. The result can be an abusive culture that doesn’t respect its employees or allow them to truly thrive.
So, how can stakeholders in fast-growth, early-stage, and highly valued companies find out if a company values the right things? The following four habits are a great place to start.
- Ask for feedback, particularly when you and the business are most successful: If you need a good source of objective information, 360 reviews of managers are invaluable.
- Form an advisory board: Just make sure it doesn’t include your investors. An independent board should be actively involved in ongoing, objective assessments of your company and industry.
- Know the score: Benchmark the company’s reputation and industry standing. Simple tools such as media coverage, analyst research, and social listening tools provide well-rounded insight.
- Think very carefully about the company mission and the words within: In high-growth cultures, I find that employees take the company mission very literally. When the founder’s mission is clear and comprehensive, they’ll be more likely to follow its original intent.
I hope that the Uber leadership crisis is a wake-up call for the Silicon Valley technology industry and the investors that fuel those businesses. Innovation and progress should not have to come at such a high price.