Why Uber’s CEO encouraging employees to say they ‘have the D’ is causing a stir

When you speak in the unnatural language of spreadsheets and business how-to guides, you may end up saying something that you never intended to mean. Take Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s faux pas as a cautionary tale. According to a May 15 memo that Business Insider obtained, Khosrowshahi encouraged his employees to say they “have the D” to establish their authority, appearing to not realize the phrase’s sexual connotations.

The new instruction was originally meant as a way to help Uber employees recognize decision makers in meetings, clearing up bottlenecks that prevent ideas from going forward.

“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.

Khosrowshahi said that henceforth, he was going to use a phrase to clarify decision roles 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.

Having the “D” has multiple meanings

Khosrowshahi appeared to be drawing from a management technique taught by a 2006 Harvard Business Review article titled “Who Has the D?: How Clear Decision Roles Enhance Organizational Performance.” The article was written by partners at Bain & Company who also consulted for Uber, according to the memo. It instructs business leaders to “locate the D.” Once you “have the D,” you are advised to use it wisely.

“To be strong and effective, the person with the D needs good business judgment, a grasp of the relevant trade-offs, a bias for action, and a keen awareness of the organization that will execute the decision,” the article states.

But for younger employees who grew up on hip-hop, “the D” has a much different meaning. Since the early aughts, “the D” has gained a sexual connotation following the release of the 2004 single “So Sexy” by U.S. rapper Twista. Google Trends reports that the phrase “getting the D” spiked in use in June 2004 and has since steadily gained popularity as slang.

Uber said that its CEO was unfamiliar with the sexual meaning the phrase had.

“As you may have read, Uber is now run by your dad — so, no, that interpretation was lost on him,” Uber said in a statement.

Visionaries everywhere, take heed. Before you introduce a new phrase into the lexicon of your company, run a fact check to make sure it has not gained a second life as slang for genitalia.