Driving accountability in open organizations

A lesson in accountability from my Uber driver

My 22-minute ride with this entrepreneur taught me a powerful lesson about accountability in open organizations.

Employee? Owner? or both?
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The first thing I noticed was how nice Kyle's car was. It wasn't too fancy (a late model Toyota Camry) but inside it was spotless. We were sitting in leather seats. On the back of the passenger seat, Kyle had mounted a tablet customers could use to watch TV if they wanted (not that I was particularly interested in television during this 4:30 a.m. ride to the airport).

I told Kyle how nice I thought his car was when he offered me a bottle of water. This started a conversation in which I learned a lot about Kyle—and gleaned a 22 minute lesson in what it's like to truly take accountability for your career in an open organization.

Just the beginning

Kyle is young, polite, and very talkative. He'd been working in a screen printing shop, which he liked, but the money wasn't great. To pick up extra money, he started driving for Uber. I've had conversations with dozens of Uber drivers over the past few years, and most of their stories end here. For Kyle, it was just the beginning.

Kyle didn't just pick up a few rides; he incorporated a business. He bought a car specifically with professional driving in mind. He experimented at driving during different hours of the day to determine which times and areas were most profitable and least frustrating. He also streamlined his business, finding mobile phone apps that would allow him to automatically calculate his milage and track his expenses for tax purposes.

Despite all the conversations I've had with Uber drivers, I'd never met one who approached the endeavor as if they were starting their own business—which, of course, is exactly what Uber drivers are doing (if you think about it). This is how Kyle describes his Uber work on LinkedIn:


Kyle explained that the money he earned from driving was better than what he'd made at the screen printing shop. But rather than simply quit his job at the shop, he talked to the owner and explained the situation: He wanted to keep working there, but needed more money. He says his boss told him the printer "couldn't do anything" about the money, but that he'd be happy to have Kyle keep working on a contract basis. Now, Kyle earns a commission whenever he refers clients to the print shop. So he has two forms of income, both of which he can dial up as needed, and neither of which involves a boss or regular employment.

But he didn't stop there.

Always pitching

"Have you ever dropped your phone and cracked the screen?" Kyle asked me next.

Of course I have, as I'm sure most people have at some point.

"If you take it to the store where you got it, it's pretty expensive to get it fixed. But, it's actually a really easy fix to make, " Kyle explained.

As he kept talking, I started to realize he was making a pitch for his third business. A website I'd never heard of, iCracked, is like Uber but for repairing smart phones. iTechs (as they are known on the site) learn how to do basic phone repairs and get supplied with all the parts and tools they need to make them. When someone requests a phone repair through the iCracked app, iTechs can respond to the job in the app, and call the customer to close the deal.

"This app-based vendor system is next level," Kyle explained to me.

Like Uber drivers, iTechs are freelance. They can work as much or as little as they want. The commitment requiring for being an iTech, though, is significantly more than the one required to be an Uber driver. You need to learn how to do the work. You also need to pay up front for the parts and tools, which can be a significant investment. And, when you respond customers, you have to finalize the sale and the price. Customers don't make a commitment until you contact them, explain what you can do, and tell them how much it will cost.

As Kyle put it: "I own and operate my business as a full-scale mobile repair service."

Kyle explained that being an iTech is harder, but it's more money per job once you get efficient with doing the work. Plus you have control of your own profit margins; Kyle could do jobs at cost for friends while he was learning, then increase his rates as he got faster and better.

"My pricing is very competitive. And because I own my inventory it is much more motivating and rewarding to do my work," he told me.

Driving accountability

At the end of our ride, I was thinking that Kyle would be an awesome person to hire for a sales job in a traditional company. He has all the people skills. He understands how to structure a deal. He's sensitive to motivations and incentives. And he's an industrious entrepreneur.

But the characteristics that make Kyle an ideal candidate are part of the reason he doesn't need (or want) a traditional job. In the life that Kyle has set up for himself, he is totally accountable for his income, his career development, and his future potential. He would never say, "there is no career path for me here", or, "the company doesn't care about my development." He doesn't expect anyone to promote him, or give him a raise, or, by the same token, tell him when to be at work or create pressure for him to perform at a certain level.

Most Uber drivers aren't like Kyle, and they don't have to be. But Kyle isn't just looking to pick up some extra cash, or do a job that's easy and doesn't require any special skills. Kyle is looking to control his destiny and create a life he's excited about.

The lesson I learned from Kyle's story was not something like "If you want to control your destiny and earn more money you should quit your job and join the 'sharing economy.'" Instead, it was something more like: "If you're in a corporate job now, imagine that you are accountable for your career growth every bit as much as Kyle."

If you didn't expect someone to give you a promotion, or a raise, or training in new skills, how might you go about getting those things within your current company?

It's not that your manager or your company don't want to help you succeed; they surely do. But, they can't give you the instructions, or the recipe, or the sum total of what you need to do in order to make it happen. Your manager or HR department can't create your career path for you.

What dictates your career growth more than anything else is the initiative you take, the learning you exhibit and apply, the outcomes you achieve, the problems you help to solve, the things you do to help the company achieve its goals.

About the author

Sam Knuth - I have the privilege to lead the Customer Content Services team at Red Hat, which produces all of the documentation we provide for our customers. Our goal is to provide customers with the insights they need to be successful with Open Source technology in the enterprise. Connect with me on Twitter: @samfw