Jarring notes from Uber

An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi signHigh quality musical performances are much sought after, mostly for their pleasant, aural experience. They are balm to tired souls, inspiration for the artistically inclined.

However, it does not take much to bring down the quality of the performance a few notches; something as trivial as poor acoustics or quality of equipment, could reduce a heavenly performance to ‘unbearable’. Can we imagine, if in addition to poor acoustics, the performers were out of sync, the lead musician was inconsistent and dominating, female members were side-lined and the performers only performed for their own sake.

Recipe for disaster? Well, yes certainly!

Uber has gone on with its openly discordant, brassy tunes and yet grown its presence to 70 countries and a valuation said to be close to $70b. What might explain the value and continuity of business ascribed to this dysfunctional boy band? Let us hope that the ease of hailing a cab ride does not overshadow the dark footprints of this organisation.

The organisation experiences its moment of truth with the resignation of Travis Kalanick on 20th June, though he still continues as a member of the board. Kalanick was served a letter by his leading investors, requesting for his resignation. He was persuaded to leave after hours of discussion. Several other senior members of his team have also left, and not without controversy.

In the last few months, a lot has been written about various mishaps at Uber. Its aggressive risk-taking incubated by Silicon Valley’s infamous ‘bro’ culture; its ambitious, alpha-male leader and his cohort of similarly minded managers; of various malpractices and mishandling of issues such as the rape case in India.

Some of this has been granted the garb of ‘culture’; a word that has often mystified me.

Yet, not enough to let momentous mishaps at Uber masquerade as ‘cultural’ issues! Some samples:

·             Sexual harassment, discrimination and disrespect for women employees. (On a side note, it is hard to accept that we really are struggling with this; thousands of years after our evolution from pawing apes!)

·             A bold, hands-off, flagrantly irresponsible fine print; that serves neither the drivers nor its clients.

·             Misbehaviour and gross abandon at office parties.

·             Deflecting law enforcers where its services were banned or resisted using technology and violation of privacy guidelines.

Here is a breakdown of the 215 complaints recorded by Uber, post the publication of the blog by Susan Fowler.

I believe that Uber’s multifarious failure stem from poorly defined values. It is the values that guide decisions and shape behaviours. Values which are applauded, encouraged and shared over time, become part of the cultural fabric. ‘If you hire people who lie, cheat, and steal, in time your company culture will be the same’, says Gary Petersen in this write-up.

As per this article, Uber’s employees are asked to sign-up to 14 company values. These include making ‘bold bets’, ‘being obsessed by the customer’, ‘always be hustlin’, and the need to ‘practice a meritocracy’.

Where in the grand scheme of things are the values that speak of  ‘respect for employees, irrespective of gender’, being ‘fair to the customer’ and driving an ‘open and transparent’ work environment? As Susan Fowler, an ex-employee states in her blog: ‘there was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the upper management in the infrastructure engineering organization. It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so they could have their direct supervisor’s job.’

While Uber was a poster child of Silicon Valley, it is hard to ignore the heady fumes of greed. The valley that is home to energetic enterprises that create bold new realities and and disrupt the status quo, rewards its members with wealth and recognition. However, does it have the checks and controls required to mould its clan into responsible businesses?

It is true that disruption abounds and is fuelled by Silicon Valley, we need to be abundantly clear that disruption of human dignity and breach of trust is not welcome and most definitely not part of business model. The lines need to be drawn.

I do hope that Uber has learnt its lesson and will work to renew itself.


© Anu Maakan 2017

(Disclaimer: all views published here are the personal views of the author and do not represent those of any organization).



Author: Anu Maakan

Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read this page. I'm a change specialist, business blogger and art enthusiast. I'm focussed on topics such as corporate governance, compliance & control, metrics, performance management, human capital, financial regulation, leadership. Find me on twitter @AnuGolden, Or email moradocreative@outlook.com

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