HR Lessons From Uber’s Meltdown

by Patrick Ward
June 16, 2017
HR Lessons From Uber’s Meltdown

As I’m sure you’ve seen in the news this week, it’s been a rough go of it lately for the rideshare pioneer and giant Uber. Their string of self-inflicted public relations and employee nightmares has built up throughout the year and finally came to a head with the leave of absence taken by their CEO, Travis Kalanick, and the resignation of a particularly tone-deaf board member. The list of controversies is long and includes a culture of sexism and sexual harassment, an effort to sabotage its biggest rival, an attempt to wade into immigration politics, and all around terrible behavior of its leadership team.

Your company may have few things in common with Uber’s typical Silicon Valley meteoric rise and juvenile culture but there are still lessons to be learned from Uber to avoid controversy or in their case, a spectacular flameout. Let’s take a look at just a few below.

Walk Before You Run

Uber’s fast rise allowed it to circumvent a lot of the scrutiny and inquiries most companies of their stature would endure. They were a true disrupter in the transportation industry and benefitted from their exciting reputation while their behind-the-scenes culture was generally ignored. if you’re an HR leader looking to build a new culture or reposition your employer brand to attract a new type of candidate, take it slow. Focus on building real Employer Value Propositions that will resonate with candidates and give them a true sense of the culture at your company. Change takes time and can’t be rushed when it affects the quality of life for your employees. Don’t try to turn into Uber or Netflix overnight. Chances are, your company will never be them, so walk before you run.

Culture Doesn’t Mean No Rules

Too often in today’s race to be a cool, attractive employer, companies throw away common sense rules to try and attract top talent they think will be swayed by a stocked beer fridge, pet-friendly workspaces, and other crazy perks. Uber clearly took that to the extreme and put in place few if any rules for their corporate employees. It’s okay to have fun at work and build an attractive culture but there still need to be HR rules, policies, and procedures in place to protect your employees. An employee needs to feel comfortable going to HR to report harassment or bullying and expects those problems to be taken care of in return. You can’t neglect your core HR duties in an attempt to bolster your culture.

Don’t Be A Bully

Let’s face it. Travis Kalanick is the quintessential @$$hole Silicon Valley CEO. Cheered on by a culture of disruption and tech bros who have never known a world where they weren’t worshiped for their contributions, it’s easy to see how Travis and Uber found itself the subject of many self-inflicted controversies. Bullying its drivers, rivals, the media, and even legislative bodies it sought to do business with, it was only a matter of time before the fall came. As an HR leader, it’s important to remember that it’s your responsibility to create a welcoming atmosphere for your employees so they can be productive, happy, and ultimately champion your brand to clients, candidates, and everyone in between. Be inclusive and tolerant and open to suggestions and advice from your employees and others around you.

Most of us will never work at or lead a company like Uber but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at their decisions and mistakes and try to gain knowledge and advice to bring to our own teams. Often times, it’s as simple as knowing right from wrong or being empathetic to the people around you. With such a public flameout, it’s easy to see how Uber made so many mistakes. Follow the advice above to make sure the same doesn’t happen to you.


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