Who is Your Frances Frei?

Uber’s been in the news a lot lately. And not in a good way. Seems some employees have expressed concern about improper behavior – most notably sexual harassment. Business people everywhere are watching Uber’s woes in the same manner that we gawk at the terrible accident on the freeway – searching for the reason why it happened to those people, and not to us.

But the truth of the matter is, any fast growing company with young managers could suffer the same fate as Uber. At HR Collaborative, we encounter this daily in our business. We often end up teaching new managers and supervisors the secret to motivating their teams and resolving conflict while obeying the employment laws of the land. These skills aren’t intuitive. They must be carefully taught.

Uber has a boatload of lawyers at their facility, investigating 215 claims of harassment in the workplace. Twenty employees have had their employment terminated. And Uber’s facing a PR nightmare. The one shining light in this whole fiasco? Frances Frei.

Several months ago, shortly after Susan Fowler’s blog about her experience at Uber hit the internet, the company engaged the consulting services of Dr. Frances Frei. Frei is the Associate Dean for Executive Education at Harvard. She is now also the Senior Vice President of Leadership and Strategy at Uber. A big part of her job is to work as a partner with the head of HR at Uber, and to serve as an executive coach to the leadership team. In other words, she is the “adult in charge”.

Dr. Frei recently reflected on her job in an interview on NPR’s Marketplace in June. She said that, in the three months that she consulted with Uber, she identified these three challenges to the organization:

  1. The leadership team wasn’t behaving like a leadership team. All the decisions were still being made by the CEO.
  2. Uber has 3,000 managers, none of which have been trained by the company on how to be a good manager.
  3. There isn’t a clear business strategy that allows leaders to row in the same direction.

When asked why she would accept such a daunting assignment, Frei cited the same reason that most people cite for taking or staying on a job – the people. Frei describes the employees of Uber as “just earnest, lovely, smart, open, open, open to help”.

Every company needs someone like Dr. Frei to serve as the conscience for the organization. They need someone who can take an objective view of the situation, and present options that align with the values of our society and the values of the company. They need an adult in charge. And so I ask you — who is your Frances Frei?

About the Author: Beth Kelly is a Managing Partner at HR Collaborative. To learn more about Beth, connect with her on LinkedIn.

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