Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi "has the D." Greg Sandoval/Business Insider
A new policy at Uber enacted by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has some employees at the $62 billion ride-hailing startup bewildered by what they're hearing in meetings.
In a May 15 memo obtained by Business Insider, Khosrowshahi describes a new company policy designed to eliminate "bureaucracy creep," at the growing company.
"While our scale and scope are unrivaled, they come at a potential cost: increased bureaucracy, slower decision making, less accountability, and too many people in too many meetings where it's unclear who the decision makers are," Khosrowshahi wrote in the memo.
For that reason, Khosrowshahi tells employees how they should assert control in meetings.
"You may hear me say in meetings '[insert name] has the D here'. This is about being clear on who is the decision maker; I'd encourage you to do the same," Khosrowshahi wrote.
"The D" doesn't only mean what he thinks it does
The idea behind this new policy to is to be clear about whose opinions matter most in meetings where there are a lot of different teams and leaders participating in a conversation. To Khosrowshahi, D likely stands for "decision maker."
But to younger employees and those familiar with slang, the phrase sounds like "getting the D," a commonly-used phrase which means "having sex." In this colloquialism, "D" stands for "dick."
A comprehensive history of this phrase can be found on Know Your Meme, which traces the phrase back to the 2004 single "So Sexy" by Twista, as well as a viral meme known as "Give Her the Dick," which started with an awkwardly phrased comment on PornHub.
And to be fair, wielding one's "D" in meetings is not a Khosrowshahi invention. A 2006 article in the Harvard Business Review titled "Who Has the D?: How Clear Decision Roles Enhance Organizational Performance" explains the merits of the managerial strategy.
That article was written by Paul Rogers and Marcia Blenko, partners at Bain & Company, a consulting firm that Uber recently hired to work with it on its organizational management, according to the memo.
But language and slang are ever evolving, and in the twelve years since the HBR article appeared, the phrase has taken on a new meaning. The lewd usage of D gained steam in 2012, according to Know Your Meme.
Khosrowshahi, 49, was unfamiliar with just how sexual this phrase sounds to an entire generation of employees, according to Uber.
"As you may have read, Uber is now run by your dad— so, no, that interpretation was lost on him, but he appreciates Business Insider pointing it out," a spokesman for Uber said.
Uber has a history of frat-like memos
"The D" may be little more than an example of a disconnect between different generations in the workplace, but the optics aren't ideal, given Uber's past history of inappropriate behavior from the top.
Khosrowshahi joined Uber in August 2017 as part of the board's efforts to clean up a frat-like culture that allegedly emanated from founding CEO Travis Kalanick.
Last summer, in the midst of an epic battle between Kalanick and his opponents on the board, Recode obtained an internal email from 2013 in which the former-CEO warned employees not to barf or throw any kegs off of buildings during a company party in Miami.
"Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic 'YES! I will have sex with you' AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML," Kalanick's email reads.
Khosrowshahi, who joined Uber from a successful tenure as CEO at Expedia, has spent the last 10 months righting the course at the dysfunctional unicorn. He spent the first few months traveling the world to meet with regulators, business partners and employees in an effort to restore the company's image.
It's also been Khosrowshahi's mission to cut costs at the company to get its finances in order for a 2019 initial public offering. And so far it's working since at the end of the day, it's Khosrowshahi who "has the D."