Does high performance justify allowing bad behavior? A resounding “NO” just came out of Uber’s Board of Directors who finally began to address the reported sexual harassment, gender bias, anti-diversity, and other inappropriate acts that have been part of Uber and largely ignored by top management.

As Uber grew from its founding in 2009 to become a $70B company, operating in over 70 countries, reports came out little by little that bad behavior was not only tolerated but ignored, covered up, and even encouraged in their culture. With a recent blog post by an ex-employee, the flood gates opened and more employees came forward to shine a light on the extremely negative culture and practices within Uber.

The biggest challenge corporations face is to create work environments and methods that allow individuals and teams to contribute and express the best of their thinking and effort. And, for those environments to translate into business results for the long term.

So, why can such a negative culture happen and still deliver great performance? And how can a company cultivate and guard an excellent culture? It starts at the top and is sustained through buy-in and action of all levels. As with the CEO of Uber, culture is first mandated and demonstrated at the top. It is made up of a whole dashboard of practices, policies and conversations that signal to the rest of the company what is important and not important.

The culture of an enterprise tells people how to be successful, what they should do, and how to do it. It tells them what is possible and what must be rejected. Unfortunately, many companies have cultivated a very negative culture like Uber is facing or at best, they have undertaken culture initiatives which merely result in new vision and values placards in each conference room. Getting it right at the top includes creating practices and principles that enable the rest of the company to think, act and perform in their jobs every day. As well as warning signals for when it is going in the wrong direction.

Uber demonstrated how allowing a negative culture that lacks integrity can begin to allow turnover of employees, encroachment of the competition, and a slide in productivity, simply because people are not focused on a broad purpose or vision that includes doing the right thing.

An example of a company doing the right thing and getting the results is Southwest Airlines.

Their key to long-term enterprise success has been to decisively shape the culture as a key access point to big and lasting results.

How can you as a leader drive a right and intentional culture? Set your course for these elements of culture:

  • Language and the kinds of conversations that are had and encouraged
  • Customer orientation
  • What is valued in everyday operations
  • Accountability and responsibility
  • Traditions, rituals, heroes, legends, and artifacts
  • Leadership dynamics
  • Unwritten rules for success
  • Decision rights and processes
  • Legacy

If a company endeavors to address these elements, they can have a great culture that sustains and drives high performance for many years.

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