You cannot break just one rule

The latest scandal to hit Uber is a good example of the power of corporate culture.

At first glance, one could be tempted to label Joe Sullivan, Uber’s chief security officer, as a bad apple. After hackers asked a ransom for the personal data of 57 million drivers and riders, a breach that should have been reported to the authorities, Sullivan paid them hush money, had them sign a non-disclosure agreement, booked the payment as “bug bounty”, and didn’t disclose the breach to the CEO, the Board, or the authorities. It seems that only a lawyer working for him knew of these activities.

Of course, Sullivan’s behavior must be taken in context. When all of this happened in October 2016, Uber was sitting on numerous scandals yet to be disclosed: sexual harassment, theft of trade secrets, and blocking certain regulators from booking rides, among other shady practices. When hackers came to Sullivan for ransom, he knew exactly how Uber expected him to respond.

This should give us pause. A culture of sexual harassment does not simply foster more sexual harassment. It signals to employees that rules can be broken. Any rule. And the more rules are broken, the more disregard employees have for doing what’s right.

If our organization is tolerating a practice that should not be tolerated, we have more to fear than the proliferation of this one practice. Our entire organizational culture – in fact, our entire organization – is at stake.

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