The organization is corrupt. The strategy is chaotic. Executives are embroiled in legal proceedings, and CEO Travis Kalanick finally got the boot. When it comes to the future of Uber, prospects are looking shaky at best. The team needs an Extreme Makeover: Employer Edition.
These unnerving facts don’t seem to intimidate Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, however. Uber announced today that he will take Kalanick’s position as Uber CEO. Amidst claims of sexism, poor treatment of employees, and breaches of employee privacy (fortune.com), Khosrowshahi is now charged with tackling the beast.
Meanwhile, many wonder if Uber has fallen beyond repair. Is it possible that the giant has become damaged goods in the eyes of its client base? Could it ever reach the healthy, innovative status that it strives for?
If Uber desires to pick itself up by its bootstraps, its new CEO certainly has his hands full. As he begins his journey with the battered and beaten organization, he must address at least five factors for Uber to survive the transition:
According to Shira Ovide of Bloomberg.com, Uber is currently known for “drivers angry about how Uber treats them” and “a workforce demoralized by months of bad headlines and a sick corporate culture.” Meanwhile, Mike Isaac of nytimes.com cites a culture “in which workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers.” Uber publicity remains both prevalent and negative; in order for Khosrowshahi to grab the reins of the organization and lead it to victory in the long run, he must address company culture the moment he steps in the door. This begins with restructuring management, creating a sense of accountability, and receiving employee feedback. Together, these could produce a more positive brand and favorable press.
It is no secret that Uber has struggled with honing its strategy. Ovide writes,
Uber needs to decide whether it’s a grown-up company that will start building a sustainable, profitable business suitable for a public company, or if it’s still in a teenage phase of spending like mad to push into every country and new area of business it can.
-Shira Ovide, Bloomberg
Because Kalanick and his investors couldn’t agree on a recklessly global approach or a slower, cautious approach, divisions have already infiltrated the company’s board. If Khosrowshahi plans to keep the company intact, he must form a solid, unified plan in which all decision makers take stock. Infighting and grumbling have no place in an innovative company strategy.
Uber’s workplace culture extends beyond negativity; it has entered the zone of corruption. Ray Zinn of fortune.com notes that Uber has been involved in “improper access of driver medical records,” while also being accused of “illegal spycraft” and “theft of intellectual property.” Executives have also been accused of groping, physical threats, discrimination, and sexual harassment (nytimes.com). Worse, employees have filed hundreds of cases regarding such acts, often with no result. At one point, Kalanick himself was “caught on video berating an Uber driver” (nytimes.com). The evidence of corruption abounds, but Khosrowshahi is now responsible for cleaning up his predecessor’s mess. He must do so quickly and vigorously in order to retain any of the organization’s talent and reputation.
Engaging Young Engineers:
While Uber presents some of the most intriguing opportunities for young engineers looking to hone their craft and utilize their skills, many refuse to join the organization for moral reasons. In fact, Uber has earned such a terrible reputation for its sexist behavior that women engineers have resulted to posting their “rejections of Uber’s unsolicited recruitment attempts,” often receiving social media harassment in return (washingtonpost.com). It probably doesn’t help that 33-year-old Zecole Thomas committed suicide after five months of becoming a software developing at the organization. His family partially blames Uber’s “workplace stress and racism” for the event, noting that he “toiled long hours and was in in constant fear of losing his job” (mashable.com). While nobody can determine Uber’s role in Thomas’s death, such events have deterred young engineers from joining the company. Khosrowshahi must address the organization’s reputation as sexist, racist, and immoral before young, qualified talent can be persuaded to team up.
As Uber grew from a startup to a giant in just eight years, the firm needed to fill open requisitions as quickly as possible. As Zaleski and Newcomer of Bloomberg.com note, recruiters “were denied access to information about the company’s diversity makeup” in the process. Therefore, urgency led to a “homogeneous work environment,” where recruitment has been quite uniform. Furthermore, this urgency has led to poor management decisions. Former software engineer Susan Fowler recently claimed that “her boss at Uber propositioned her for sex and was protected by HR.” This not only implies that Fowler’s boss possessed poor character, but the entire HR department was of the same mind. These types of patterns indicate that recruitment has been handled carelessly and resulted in poor hires on a department-wide level. Lastly, with low diversity levels and high levels of inappropriate behavior, the company’s brand will continue to suffer. This presents a problem for recruiting top talent, which generally prefers organizations with a noble mission and unified talent force. Unless Khosrowshahi can salvage Uber’s brand in record time, the company will continue to recruit poor leaders, which in turn influence poor employees.
All right, Khosrowshahi, you’re up. If anybody has his work cut out for him, it’s you.