It starts with you.
It doesn’t take a news junky to realize that many of Silicon Valley’s top startups have serious challenges with ethics. Whether you’re talking about the latest “Uber firestorm” or the data concerning women and minorities holding down jobs, the landscape is not pretty. It has led some to describe the problem as potentially fatal.
I hear people claim they are horrified by the treatment Susan Flowers received at Uber and blame Travis Kalanick for his poor leadership. The truth is, the responsibility lies with each one of us. Most of us have a team that we lead and impact either directly or indirectly. It’s on us to prevent unethical behavior from occurring.
For things to change, every single person in the valley must take personal responsibility and ownership for the organizations, departments, teams, and people we lead.
Here are five things that must be done now:
Treat everyone you work with the way you would want an American soldier to be treated.
As an Army veteran, this is easy for me to understand. For those that never served, hold your peers, subordinates, and leaders to a high standard, and expect a lot from them. However, you need to realize that they are the most important asset your organization has, and you must love them (appropriately) for their efforts. Praise them for raising their hand and “jumping on the bus,” oftentimes acting without any clear guidance to help get your startup to the promised land. Show appreciation and respect every chance you get, and never do anything that may curb their desire to charge into battle with you.
Obviously, running a startup is not the same thing as going to war. But take it from someone who has been there – it’s the closest thing to it without having to hold a gun.
Guard your reputation well – you only get one shot.
Warren Buffet has a saying that goes something like this: If you would not want to see it reported on the front page of the New York Times, just don’t do it. This applies to all the stakeholders in your startup, starting with your employees. If you do not want BuzzFeed to report on you and your senior managers visiting hookers in Japan, then you should not partake in that activity (even if you failed to learn that behavior was wrong from your parents.)
Tell your customers the truth.
Lying will always come back to bite you in the long run. You must place your customers’ interests before profit. Just ask Wells Fargo, whose leaders got so focused on the bottom line they developed a culture of irresponsibility. The short-term blip in sales won’t be worth it once Huffington Post picks up the story. To paraphrase another popular Warren Buffett quote, a reputation takes decades to build and minutes to ruin. Customers vote with their wallets – don’t give them a reason to regret placing their trust in you.
Keep your organization transparent.
The most important advice I can offer involves mid- to long-term planning and personnel issues. Too often senior executives do not keep mid-level employees in the loop on things such as pay and directional plans. Ultimately you are better off being transparent and real than fake and shady. Just assume your team will find out what you are discussing anyway, and let them have a seat at the table from the start. You’ll drive engagement, motivation, and loyalty when you share openly with them, even the not-so-good news.
Take responsibility for yourself and your team.
If you want more diversity in startup culture, bring it to your team! At 360 Payments, I do everything in my power to make sure I did not keep any secrets from my team and that everyone is treated with respect. I understand that anything that happens or fails to happen is my responsibility. I’m not perfect, but when mistakes do occur I have the guts to admit to my team that I’m wrong and the practice should not continue.
I’m not saying that if I ran Silicon Valley we’d never see another Susan Flowers-esque headline, but if everyone took this article’s advice to heart and took ownership of themselves and their team we’d see a whole lot fewer of them.
PS – I’d love to start a dialogue about this. Reach out to me via email or on Twitter and let’s chat.
PPS – At 360 Payments, we try to walk the walk. Get in touch with us and let us show you how we’re bringing transparency and honesty back to the payments industry.