Take responsibility

When Uber’s boss fell out with one of his drivers, the video went viral. In the process he’s taught us all a lesson about true responsibility.

It’s pretty ironic, I suppose. The digital revolution has enabled Uber co-founder, Travis Kalanick, to build a business worth a cool $70 billion in just eight years. Then the same technology and a humble dash-cam captured his angry exchange with one of their drivers, Fawzi Kamel, and it went round the world in seconds, thanks to a judicious leak to Bloomberg Technology.

Their argument started over tough changes to the business model of Uber’s high-end chauffeur service and ended with Kalanick uttering the priceless words “some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit” – thereby both passing the buck for the hapless driver’s bankruptcy and also – it seems to me – serving as a metaphor for the challenges facing global capitalism today.

It’s doubly ironic coming from such a profoundly disruptive business, the poster child for the new opportunities and painful transitions that the digital revolution is engendering. If ever there’s a company needing to “take responsibility for its own shit”, it’s Uber right now. Perhaps in tacit admission, Kalanick has now decided to hire a COO to help run the business.

Taking responsibility for our own shit is perhaps also a good (albeit down-to-earth) job description for the growing number of people working in corporate responsibility and sustainability functions and in intermediary and consultancy organisations like the one I cofounded. Certainly the words were ringing in my ears as I headed off to facilitate a workshop this week, hosted by Barclays in London for measurement professionals.

Forty practitioners talking animatedly for a couple of hours on differing approaches to impact evaluation may not sound like the front line of corporate accountability. But if we can’t demonstrate the good we do for society and business – ‘shared growth’ in Barclays terminology  – there’s little chance of us taking responsibility and putting back together our fragmenting world.

Among those inputting to the discussion were The Crown Estate, with a distinctive approach to stewardship and the measurement of total contribution; the Social Value Portal who are really scaling up the opportunities for wider social value from public procurement; and the Accounting for Sustainability project who are taking the message out to my old profession, the accountants.

Key take-aways from the session for me were:

  • The need to create space for experimentation and making mistakes – ‘playing in the sandpit’ as one presenter put it – rather than worrying too much about getting it perfect or comprehensive on day one;
  • The importance of getting the finance function and especially CFOs on board and integrating measurement in this space onto balanced scorecards and the ExCo agenda;
  • The potential that exists for using the Social Value Act not just for public sector procurement but extending the principles to the much bigger spending power of private sector purchasing.

In short, lots to learn and do better on.

Possibly in keeping with that spirit, Kalanick has now told staff he’s going off to get some leadership training. For the rest of us, perhaps “own your own shit” could become the unofficial anthem of the whole movement towards corporate accountability.

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