Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber's 49-year-old CEO sent out a memo to employees recently obtained by Business Insider. In it, he encourages employees to say that "[insert name] has the D here." From the context it seems clear that he intended to fight bureaucracy creep and rambling meetings by designating one clear decision-maker in every situation. 

The only problem is that, to many of the company's younger employees, "the D" refers to...well, a male body part and nickname for the name Richard. That Khosrowshahi was apparently unaware of this slang term undermines his worthy efforts to make Uber more efficient, and demonstrates why middle-aged CEOs and other top executives need younger, hipper folk to review their communications before they go out into the world.

Khosrowshahi's gaffe is reminiscent of McDonald's notorious "I'd hit it" online ad of 2005. The fast food chain seemed not to know that "I'd hit it" or "I'd hit that" means, in 2018 terms, that you would like to to give someone the D. 

As Business Insider notes, Khosrowshahi likely got his terminology from the Harvard Business Review article "Who Has the D?: How Clear Decision Roles Enhance Organizational Performance." The article argues that when it's clear to everyone who decides about what, organizations can operate more efficiently. That simple concept makes good sense, although the article's authors clutter it up badly in an overly long piece that ties itself in knots justify the acronym RAPID--for those who Recommend, give Input, Decide, Agree, and Perform on a decision, never mind that if you put these in their correct order, the acronym is RIDAP. The article was written in 2005, about a year after the single "So Sexy" by Twista and R Kelly gave "the D" its other meaning.

McDonald's apparent failure to run its ad by anyone under the age of 40 before releasing it to the world was inexcusable. Khosrowshahi can be forgiven for not pausing to have a Millennial or Gen-Z employee review the memo before he sent it out. But, in today's world, that's good practice, especially when you consider that any missive sent to all hands at a high-profile company with 12,000 employees is liable to be seen by the press as well. 

When Business Insider reached out to Uber to ask if Khosrowshahi was as innocent about the term as he appeared, a clever PR person responded, "As you may have read, Uber is now run by your dad [a reference to a Washington Post article with that headline]-- so, no, that interpretation was lost on him, but he appreciates Business Insider pointing it out."

In the end, the whole episode just makes Khosrowshahi seem more lovable than ever. After all, until about a year ago, Uber was run by its founder Travis Kalanick, who spent his time at the company giving the D to taxi groups, municipalities, local lawmakers, and anyone else who got in his way, while running a company where sexual harassment was a protected activity. A little cluelessness about slang beats that kind of behavior any time.

Published on: Jun 7, 2018