It’s been a difficult last couple of months for Uber. In case you haven’t been following the company as closely as you follow your Uber driver’s arrival, a former employee blogged about issues of sexual harassment in February. The issues she described appear to stem from the culture and values created by the organization’s leaders. The New York Times quickly followed up with their own story that included more details of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.
While we may be wondering what it’s really like at Uber, we can learn from these recent stories. At the least, organizations can avoid this type of negative news coverage by asking these important questions.
Are our values reflecting the culture we want portrayed internally and externally?
According to the New York Times, Uber’s 14 values include making bold bets, being “obsessed” with the customer, and “always be hustlin’.” Those values sounded amazing when the company was in the newspaper for its financial success. Now with stories of harassment and other illegal behavior, those values seemed to drive a toxic work environment.
It’s critical for top leadership to set the tone and expectations for company culture through established values. Even more important is the need to lead by example. Review your values and assess the expectations you’re setting for yourself and others within the organization.
Are we hiring and growing brilliant jerks?
According to the New York Times, Uber emphasizes “meritocracy,” the idea that the best people and ideas win at the end of the day. The employee blog from February further detailed how the best and brightest were comfortable rising to the top, even if it meant they had to fight with their peers to undermine their authority.
Board member Ariana Huffington vowed that the company would change this and stop hiring "brilliant jerks." Are you willing to make this change? How do you value experience and skills versus fit toward your culture and values? Are you allowing jerks to run your company or are you kicking them out? To do this, ensure the values you’ve created not only sit on a wall, but are instilled within how you attract and retain good talent.
Are we and our HR Team willing to stand up to high performers who are instilling negative behaviors in our culture?
Plenty has been written on how ineffective human resources teams can bog down companies. According to the Uber employee who wrote the blog, the HR Department was the only resource available for her to report issues of harassment. HR responded that they didn’t feel comfortable addressing the issue beyond a stern talking to, despite the fact they agreed with her complaint of harassment.
One of the basic functions of HR is to help create a safe environment. HR is worthless if they aren’t willing to advocate for the company or the employees in this area. Review how you and your HR Team are holding to your values, and whether you’re willing to confront those who don’t belong.
Are we paying attention to diversity before we’re in the news?
After the stories broke, Uber acknowledged that only 15% of women and minorities held management or science-focused roles in the company. While reporting on diversity or affirmative action initiatives don’t solve everything, they do help provide confirmation to others that you’re aware and working toward improving those numbers. Unfortunately, change is only happening now because of the recent stories.
It’s important that leaders are open and transparent about diversity in their organizations. Ensure you know how diverse you are, or how diverse you should be. Paying attention to the numbers can help create discussion and movement toward the change you desire to make. It only takes one person to make a change in your organization.
Would you rather it be an exhausted employee who has tried every avenue available to voice their problems? Or would you prefer to be the force that controls the change in your culture? By asking these simple questions, we can ensure a more intentional route to a successful company, backed by happy employees.
Mike Bensi is an advisor at FirstPerson.