By Minela Bjelevac | Oct 8, 2019

Change is a trying time for everyone. It alters our physical and mental states, quite literary.

As I read the Washington Post article on recent major changes at Uber while sipping a cup of my morning coffee (very predictable Barefoot beans), I found myself pondering the value of effectively managing change.

As the Head of People Success at YML I feel I have a stake in this situation. Various thoughts circled in my head:

"How could a giant like Uber not manage this better?";

"Yes, cost-cutting is sometimes too real and necessary, but should it come at the expense of poor PR and employee experience?";

"Are you cost-cutting in the end, given added costs in low-morale, productivity, and even losing your best talent?";

"Can you ever win against the turmoil that change can bring?"

Executives at Uber (and everywhere, really) have incredibly hard jobs.

It's challenging to be responsible for decisions that affect people's stability and trust in an array of ways, coffee being one of them (pun intended).

How could Uber have dealt better with this recent change?

There may not be one right answer, but it’s crucial to consider the goals of the change and the process of it all. 

People's inputs matter (a whole lot!) so engage them and discover. 

Figure out what matters most to the people you are serving as leaders.

If a change, already hard as is, results in additional unexpected or uncommunicated physical or mental hardship to the team, you are not doing it right.

Which parts of macro or micro-employee experience are culture-making at your organization? A simple survey will get you this information. Use these micro-level insights to guide your macro-level strategy for change in your organization.   

Let's imagine this from an employee perspective.

You've been at Uber for four years. You have stock that’s vested, you're feeling disappointed but you don't want to switch jobs yet because you are a big believer in Uber's mission and you want to stick it out.

You arrive one day to learn that there is re-org happening 400 of your colleagues are being laid off, and your current project is being killed. You head to the coffee machine because if you are sure of anything, it is that you can still have a solid cup of coffee to fuel your day - but, coffee that you were sure of is now replaced with a different, cheaper version.

Unexpected change — a lot of it. 

Suddenly, any level of certainty and hope that you had for your future at Uber starts to dissipate. Fear settles in, the air starts to feel toxic. You suffer from presentism that whole week - you're there, but you're not. You decide to reply to a recruiter on LinkedIn.

You're no longer at Uber - mentally.

If leaders are not profoundly considering employee micro-experience to guide their decision making at a macro-level, it's easy to miss these deeply concerning signs of dipping morale. Culture and morale are reputations - they can take years to build and minutes to crumble.

However, this is entirely avoidable. 

Rely on your people leaders. And hold them accountable. 

People and culture leaders must assume a more active role in handling change with empathy that it deserves at both top-down and bottom-up levels.

I know this to be true from experience - it can feel incredibly threatening to be able and take a stance for the people and organization that is in contrast with that of your executive team.

You know it's not the right thing to do, yet you bow down and make it happen, assuming that your super-boss or CEO knows something you don't.

Taking a passive approach, such as above, makes you ineffective and costly to the organization. Your job is to guide the decision-making process in favor of people and your organization alike.

Yes, it's hard to have to say no to things that may make sense financially or to your executive team, but the cost of silence when you should have spoken up usually is much more daunting.

You have to plug your ears and heart in and be brave in taking a stance on things that you know are culture-making at your organization - like being the one to see that coffee matters, for example.

Yes, those you are advocating for may never know about it, and they shouldn't. Your job is to protect the employee experience when necessary, and grow it whenever possible.

Your job is not to be liked; it is to be brave and fair. Your executive team and employees may not always agree with you, but they should be able to trust that you are doing the right thing for all.

Because you are. 

Don’t hide change - make it as transparent and inclusive as early as possible. 

Transparency and a high level of inclusiveness in decision making are needed tools for leading change at scale.

If Uber pushed for more timely communication to teams explaining (with empathy and vision) ‘the why’ behind upcoming changes down to the coffee, people would fare with change much more productively.

Communicating change can feel risky, but it is much braver than having to face very costly consequences like those Uber is faring with for the second time in the last three years.