I just read this article on the controversial new logo change and rebranding project for Uber – the transportation and logistics unicorn start-up that has been valued as high as $60B – and I was struck by how it includes a cautionary tale about having very senior leaders involved in a project.
To sum up the story – Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been planning/working on this logo change for 3 years. He knew that it was an important step as his company had morphed from offering one service in a small number of markets to offering different options in urban areas spread across the globe. Consequently he wanted the rebranding to help tell the story of Uber to both new employees and customers.
But instead of trusting this project to an outside company, Kalanick worked closely with Uber design director Shalin Amin and a dozen or so other internal people on the redesign. In my view, too closely as they reached a point where the design team realized that the choice of colors for the new logo scheme was being overly influenced by Kalakick’s own personal style. At that point, he decided to take a step back and Amin and his team established a set of principals that other designers could work with. From there on, it seems like the project really started moving forward to completion.
Kalanick’s close involvement with this process is exactly the kind of under-delegation that I see senior leaders doing all of the time. Too often, leaders will give a project to their team and then still be highly involved with the low-level decision making and idea generation. This creates several problems:
1. The power differential between the leader and the team will almost always bend the process toward what the leader wants (or what the team thinks the leader wants) in ways that are counter-productive.
2. An over-involved leader lacks the critical distance to make clear decisions about the results of the project because he/she is too close to the granular issues and not able to focus on the merits of the results.
3. In a similar way, both mission and timeline creep are much more likely when the leader is down in the trenches instead of above the fray holding a team accountable, aimed in the right direction, and focused on the task at hand.
All three appear in the Uber scenario, and its a good concrete example of how CEOs and senior executives can sometimes only get the results they need by letting go of details that are below their pay grade.