Finding Success in Failure: Building an Engaging Culture

Mike Bensi
June 9, 2017


It’s easy to think that bad things can’t happen to your organization when things are going well. But signs of trouble can hide themselves during periods of growth. And when left ignored, these issues can cripple a company.

Recognizing these issues is best understood by telling the story of a rapidly growing company. They increased their number of employees twelve-fold over a 24-month period. Their customer base grew to the tens of millions within a similar period. From the outside, this company had arrived as a major disrupter in their industry.

However, this growing company started to fall apart from the inside. It became publish news that lavish parties with incidences of sexual harassment occurred and were presented to leadership, but no action was taken. They ultimately favored financial gain over abiding by the law and valuing their employees.

Have you guessed which company this is yet? This story is one that continues to unfold with Uber. Unfortunately, this past year has also proved that these issues aren’t isolated to one organization. Other companies, such as Thinx and Zenefits, have had a similar rise in popularity and success, but internal issues stalled or stopped their incredible growth.

It’s easy to think these stories wouldn't happen within your organization. You may say those companies are too big, and they grew too fast. But the truth is we need to listen to these stories to understand what went wrong and learn from these common failures.

Treat employees as your top customers

Uber was (and still is) known for their superior customer service, but as we’ve learned over the past month, they didn’t treat their employees the same way. Thinx prides themselves on empowering women, but their leadership sexually harassed their female employees. If we aren’t treating our employees as our number one customer, the truth can come out in harsh ways. This blog has great ideas for showing your employees you truly care about them. Make sure you’re connecting with your employees and they’re buying in to your organization.

Live your values as non-negotiables

Zenefits pressured employees by setting them up with clients before they got their license to sell policies. Reports also showed they provided ways to cheat on training courses and other ways to cut corners. Uber lowered wages of employees to get a higher profit line for investors. Creating and living out your values is like setting the foundation before building the house. Without a strong foundation, the house will not be stable for the long run. This piece features a great plan for discovering your company’s unique values. Learn more about how your company’s culture can be your biggest value proposition.

Don’t rely on perks to help with engagement

As these companies grew, so did the lavish perks they provided to their employees, including movie star themed conference rooms, kegs in the office, and partying on company time. This not only gets expensive, but in these cases, it gets you in trouble. Providing more perks doesn’t help distinguish companies as better or different. And it definitely doesn’t help with engagement. To truly be different, create a "value chain " so each stage of the employee experience links to the next, forming a more valuable experience overall. Our mission and values need to connect to the goals of the employee. And we treat employees during the onboarding process as well as we treat our customers during the sales process. And we give feedback as openly as we would receive it from our own customers.

Each of these issues started small. As the companies continued to grow, so did the problems. Instead of going away, the problems magnified in scale with the companies’ size. If there is a problem within the company, it will show itself, one way or another. The challenge for leaders is to address and face the issues now when they’re small and manageable, rather than having to address an Uber-sized problem in the future.

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