Uber’s toxic corporate culture – much more than a PR problem

Uber’s toxic corporate culture has trickled from the top of the organisation and infiltrated the entire company. The company must take the blog post by a former employee that went viral, alleging sexual harassment, as a stark warning that something must change, before something (else) gives.

Competition creates chaos

First, its obvious that competition curbs collaboration at this tech giant. Workers at lower levels are forced to fight for recognition and are pitted against each other as the only way to get ahead. While this strategy might work on a short-term basis to support rapid growth, it is not sustainable and is in fact very dangerous.

Uber’s toxic corporate culture must give way to drive better performance and financial results, which it is clearly eager to do. The two are not mutually exclusive. It needs to flip the switch and encourage employees at lower levels to collaborate in developing ideas and initiatives, rather than working against each other. Leaders at the top must also learn to consider and embrace these ideas, activating them across the company, even on a trial basis, if appropriate.

Top execs are immune to retribution

While staff at the bottom of the hierarchy fight to get ahead, managers at higher levels, particularly those who hit their targets, are immune to retribution. It seems that if someone at a lower level in the organisation reports misconduct by a top exec, the HR function fails to act to provide a safe environment in which employees can report issues.

This problem is evident throughout the business. There have been several lawsuits in various countries in which Uber operates, from former employees alleging sexual harassment or verbal abuse at the hands of managers. According to the reports, these very serious claims of misconduct are pushed aside, or buried, so as not to hinder the performance and position of these higher level employees at the company.

These issues will not, or should not, go away by the HR function disregarding them. Uber must enforce, as a matter of urgency, a proper system that deals with these claims in a fair and reasonable manner, no matter who makes the complaint and who the complaint has been made against. Nobody should be afraid to report serious issues to HR, or Uber’s toxic corporate culture will forever stay.

Out of sight, out of mind

Through a process of regional autonomy and devolution, managers have swerved supervision away from them, in the pursuit of personal gain and to support the rapid growth of the company. This has led to the problem of “out of sight, out of mind” at Uber.

These silos work in isolation without a clear overarching strategy and purpose, that the employees understand and embrace or “own”. While there’s always going to be different functions in large companies, they must be led from the top with a clear and simple collective purpose and narration. The only purpose and narrative that is coming from the top seems to be toxic.

Cultural change is ignited from the top

There is always going to be teething issues with companies that grow rapidly and try to transition from a small startup to a big business with complex parts. This is particularly true in the tech sector and Uber is a prime example of what can go wrong. But all is not lost. Uber’s rapid growth has meant it is one of the most recognised brands in the world. It is in many ways innovative, shaking up the taxi industry with it’s ride sharing proposition that many customers love.

If Uber’s toxic corporate culture is fixed, it can set itself up for many more years of success. The only way to do this is through swift and meaningful action from the top. Leaders of Uber must incite change, rather than acting as a roadblock.

They must embrace a collaborative way of working throughout the company, ensure they and other managers are held accountable for what they do and present a clear and simple strategy, purpose and narrative to the company. They should understand from the events over the past few months, that action from the top leads to reaction.

Atif Sheikh is the chief executive of Business 3.0, the momentum business.

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