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Uber Leadership An Example of Not Focusing On People First

Uber Can Be Pioneers of a People First Approach in Technology

Uber Leadership An Example of Not Focusing On People First

Uber has been in the news a lot recently – often Uber is used as an example of a ‘hot’ tech firm making progress however there are ‘holes’ in Uber’s leadership. Uber is an example of a tech firm not focusing on people first – they have focused on technology and growth at the expense of their people and that approach is not sustainable long term for business.

Uber needs to focus on their people first!

Uber has taken steps towards making improvements such as hiring Frances Frei a well regarded HBS academic who focuses on gender and diversity in the workplace.

The culture of Uber is a reflection of the senior leadership, CEO Travis Kalanick has a reputation of being aggressive and dismissive of rules and regulations. When senior leadership models an aggressive style it leads to people in the company copying the behaviour that they see rewarded.

An attitude of being superior or ‘above the rules’ creates a culture of entitlement and superiority that then filters down throughout the organization. An example of how aggressive and rule breaker behaviour plays out is in the recent firing of 20 employees amid rampant sexual harassment claims within the company. 

The hiring of Frances Frei and the confirmed hire of Bozoma St. John, a former Apple executive,  into the newly created position of chief brand officer are actions taken as a response to the recent troubles happening at Uber.

Both of these women will likely bring attention to the culture fixes that need to be made within Uber to build sustainable long term growth as a business. I look forward to watching for the changes and the influence that they will make within Uber.

How did Uber’s culture end up in this current predicament and what could have been done to prevent it?

  1. The focus needed to be on ‘people first’ and the service through technology second – although Uber has had fantastic focus on the customer as part of the people equation they did not have equal focus on the worker experience and in creating a safe and dynamic workplace. Uber could have prevented a lot of their challenges by truly valuing and honouring the worker and worker experience as much as they valued the customer and the technology. The strategic vision and plan would be around the worker and customer experiences as primary drivers of the business.
  2. The CEO’s behaviour filters through the senior executive team and down from there – aggressive CEO’s do drive the business (think Steve Jobs) and some level of agressiveness is of course needed for massive growth however that behaviour then is seen as what is needed to be successful within the company and guess what? Other people take on the same behaviours in order to win favour with the senior leadership. A highly self aware CEO and senior executive team would have created a culture of ‘holding each other accountable’ to high standards of conduct and human behaviour.
  3. If it has taken this long to deal with the sexual harassment claims in a way that honours people then you can bet that there was a culture of fear that has been prevalent within Uber. A culture of fear prevents people from speaking up or from talking to his or her supervisor out of fear of retaliation or even firing. A strong HR executive would have seen the signs of bullying, aggressive and unacceptable behaviour and would have immediately set up coaching, leadership support training and team meetings to openly discuss and share opportunities to create a ‘shared leadership’ and respectful workplace. (Unless of course the culture of fear caused HR to participate in the culture of fear as well which would indicate a systemic problem).

Uber as a service provider has done so many things to pioneer the merging of customer experience with technology and they now have the opportunity to focus on building the worker experience and the workplace culture to be a pioneer of ‘people first strategy’  in the technology industry.