The Uber Culture Problem: What HR lessons can we learn?

The ride-sharing giant, Uber, has found itself in grid lock today, as the company’s CEO and co-founder, Travis Kalanick, announced to the company’s 12,000 employees he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence. The ongoing investigation into Uber’s workplace practices has resulted in over 20 Uber executives being sacked due to reports of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

The string of scandals started back in February when an alarming blog post by a former software engineer for Uber, Sarah Fowler, went viral. The blog post depicted a discriminatory and sexist workplace which defended “high performers” with disregard for unprofessional and offensive behaviour to female and minority colleagues. The blog post was damaging to say the least and sparked many more female and minority engineers at Uber to report similar treatment.

This ‘toxic culture’ that developed at Uber is unlikely the result of a single individual’s predisposition, but rather a lack of commitment and investment into HR leadership and people management within the organisation.

Here are five HR lessons we can learn from Uber:

HR before growth.

Growth should never get in the way of HR. Uber is the quintessential start up that made it big, making the company applicable to businesses of all size. Building a business from the ground up is difficult. With the primary focus always “grow, grow, grow”, businesses can forget to take a step back and look inwardly at the bones of the operation to ensure their own people are taken care of. In Uber’s case, they were so focused on growth that when the complaints of their employees were finally heard, there was no escaping a massive PR scandal and resulting large scale investigation.

People and culture should never fall by the wayside.

A “high performer” can end up costing your business more than they’re worth.

Effective recruitment and people management is essential to driving the company culture within your organisation. Hiring and retaining an employee simply on the merit of their performance, can result in a hostile working environment for the rest of the organisation. We recommend having staff complete a personality assessment, prior to their start date, to ensure that the candidate is a ‘culture fit’ for the organisation. This not only minimises risk of complaints from other employees, but will help identify under what circumstance the candidate will contribute positively to the culture of the organisation.

People management starts at the top.

Culture comes from the top down. When leadership doesn’t respect the employees working for them, or follow proper procedures for a workforce complaint, that has a trickledown effect to all levels of employees within an organisation. Prior to the investigation, a video of Mr. Kalanick was leaked capturing the CEO cursing at his own Uber driver for expressing concern into how Uber’s changing policies were making it difficult for drivers to earn a profit.

How the CEO communicates and carries him or herself sets the tone for the rest of the organisation. If Kalanick, the CEO of the organisation is responding in such a manner, then this sets the standard of behaviour for lower management and employees.

Core values are a revolving door.

Put thought into your core values. They are not simply a “nice to have” or a corporate obligation. They are a code by which to conduct internal and external business affairs. Uber’s core values contained phrases like “always be hustlin’” and “toe-stepping”. While this may have been intended refer to how to conduct the business in a competitive marketplace (with taxis for example), the values clearly had an effect internally too. Business is conducted through dealing with people, so your core values should reflect how members of your company intend to treat all people, colleague to competitor to client.

Compliant HR procedures are a must.

As an HR professional or business owner, it is next to impossible to focus on strategy when bogged down in the administrative side of HR. On-boarding paperwork, managing employee profiles, handling complaints and filing termination processes are all ESSENTIAL but extremely time consuming. And yet, you can look great on paper, but that is not enough to ensure the well-being of your employees.

While you can’t have someone create the culture for you, you can maximise time by using an HRIS System, like HRA Cloud, to help manage your workforce. Better yet, HRA Cloud offers a number of workflows which provide step by step checklists to guide line managers through any people management issue, including workplace grievances and complaints to effectively handle any instances of harassment or discrimination. Utilising a cloud-based HRIS system to will empower HR leadership and management to focus on what matters, your people.

To discuss the ways in which HR Assured can assist you contact us today for a free initial consultation.