Starting a new job is never easy. But in January when Liane Hornsey stepped into her new gig as SVP and chief human resources officer at Uber—a company quietly nearing a self-inflicted catastrophe—she had it tougher than most.
Speaking in a Tuesday panel discussion at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., Hornsey told the audience that she was just three weeks into her tenure with the ride-hailing startup when Susan Fowler’s blog post—in which former Uber engineer described sexual harassment and deep cultural problems at the company—set the internet aflame. Hornsey had planned to deliver her first introductory address at the company all-hands meeting the following week, but when she walked into the room and saw the distress on employees’ faces, “I ripped up my speech,” she said.
People were “literally viscerally shocked,” Hornsey says. “It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen.”
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Employees didn’t need a speech, she says. They needed her to listen to them. So she encouraged them to email her with all their questions and concerns, and promised to respond to all of the messages within 48 hours—even if it meant sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night to do so (which it did.)
Hornsey’s fellow panelist, Wells Fargo head of Community Banking Mary Mack, also stressed the importance of prioritizing listening during a crisis. In the wake of the bank’s fake account scandal, which is now estimated at 3.5 million fraudulent accounts, she’s visited nearly 55 of the bank’s markets in the past 12 months, talking to employees about what went wrong—and how to fix it. Like Hornsey, she also encouraged team members to email her with their concerns. “I have the easiest name to spell at Wells Fargo,” she cracked about the accessibility of her email address.
What else is essential to surviving a company crisis? Perspective, says Mack. “These are solvable problems,” she says. “In our personal lives, many of us are struggling with problems that are not solvable.”