The Uber Problem

The continued controversy surrounding Uber over the past few months finally reached a boiling point. CEO Travis Kalanick recently revealed that he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from his role at the company, but subsequently resigned, which is ultimately in the best interest of the company’s future success.

Kalanick’s track record of fostering and enabling a harsh, competitive, and sexually aggressive work environment — at least 215 allegations of sexual harassment have been reported by Uber employees — seems to have caught up to him and his leadership team.  His announcement comes as a result of a 13-page report recently released by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, who was brought in by Uber to investigate the company’s cultural issues.  20 Uber employees have been fired in relation to a separate investigation conducted by law firm Perkins Coie — many of them were among those accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Kalanick isn’t the only high-ranking Uber official to recently step down. Board member David Bonderman resigned after making a sexist joke at a meeting where all Uber board members were present. During the meeting, it was announced that more women would be added to the board, which was shortly followed by Bonderman’s insensitive remark.  SVP of business Emil Michael also left the company earlier this month week. Michael was widely regarded as Kalanick’s second-in-command; he also has been a subject of scrutiny for his own transgressions.

There have been some minor attempts at overhauling the toxic work culture at Uber since the company’s problems were first made public. Some of these changes include renaming the war room the ‘peace room,’ as well as all employees giving each other hugs before meetings.  However, these token changes obviously will not result in an adequate shift in Uber’s overall company attitude.

Perhaps the most unsettling part of Uber’s problems is that it seems as though anyone with even an average level of emotional intelligence could have taken the proper measures to prevent this type of behavior from occurring and then repeating itself.

Now, with Kalanick and the others out of the picture, Uber must take advantage of the opportunity to not only rebrand itself, but win back the trust of its user base.  With a tarnished reputation, and Lyft making its presence felt as a viable competitor, Uber is at a make-or-break point. There is no reason that new leadership can’t right the ship; in fact, new leadership is imperative to bringing about meaningful change.

Uber needs to go back to the basics of treating others with respect – a strong endorsement and demonstration of commitment to civility and teamwork will go a long way.  Focusing on eliminating any instances of harassment and/or discrimination is absolutely necessary; Uber can’t afford another public embarrassment after reshuffling its entire core.

So, what can your company learn from Uber’s shortcomings? Focus on learning optimal communication and team development strategies, which your staff and all higher-ups should be trained in.  Civility and training on sexual and other types of harassment should be required of every employee.  And, make it widely known that you have zero-tolerance policy, and that anything less than appropriate behavior will not be accepted.

Make sure to stress the vitality of your company’s values when you are recruiting, hiring, on-boarding and promoting staff.  Values drive behavior, so you shouldn’t settle for a candidate who embodies some of your values — one wrong hire can drastically affect the entire work environment.  And, don’t forget to recognize and reward employees doing an exceptional job exhibiting your values.  Doing so will yield more of the same behavior.  When transgressions occur, it’s important to address them.  Ignoring them enables continued bad behavior.  Finally, all of this must start from the top – what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so if your leaders aren’t walking the talk, why should your employees?

While Uber will most likely weather this storm with only a few scars, it would be catastrophic for most companies.  Learn from Uber’s mistakes and consider YOUR values and culture.  Are they serving you?  Are they driving you toward your vision?  If not, identify the issues, create an action plan and get to work today!

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