Uber began like many of our small businesses. They identified a need and came up with a solution. The idea to tap a button and get a ride was born when trying to hail a taxi cab in Paris in the winter of 2008.
Founded in 2009 by Travis Kalanick, Uber quickly grew to be one of the most valuable startups in the world, estimated to be worth close to $70 billion. But earlier this year, things came crashing down all around them.
What happened and what lessons can we learn?
In case you’re not quite up-to-date on the Uber sitch, here’s a quick rundown of some of the most significant events:
- On February 19th, Susan Fowler, a former engineer with Uber, wrote a tell-all blog post about her experience at Uber. She described situations involving sexual harassment and discrimination. Her post led to a flood of similar complaints from current and former employees of the company.
- On February 21st, the company announced they were launching an investigation into these claims.
- On February 22nd, an article was posted in the NY Times titled “Inside Uber’s Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture,” which led to an even greater influx of press and inquiries into the company’s actions and policies.
- Over the next month, a string of controversies arose:
- Uber got into a heated legal battle with one of their biggest investors, Google, over stolen trade secrets, proprietary information and 14,000 missing files regarding self-driving car technology. They ended up firing the head of the program, Anthony Levandowski.
- CEO Kalanick was caught on camera in a heated argument with an Uber driver over low fares (where he said some not-so-nice things to the driver).
- One social media misstep, in the form of a Tweet, caused a surge in the #BoycottUber movement, following some political issues.
- Controversy arose over Greyball, a software tool that was developed in part to aid entrance into markets where service was prohibited.
- In March, several high-level executives exited the company.
- And in June, five of Uber’s major investors demanded that Travis Kalanick step down as CEO of his own company. He officially resigned his position on June 21, 2017. However, he did retain a position on the Board of Directors.
What went wrong?
I’ve been hesitant to talk about Uber, simply because I’m not inside of that company. There are also many sides to this series of events and what has happened over the past several months and years.
However, looking from the outside in, there are some important lessons we can learn as small business owners about how these incidents unfolded, how they were handled, and what we can do differently to avoid a situation like Uber’s.
Let me start with this: Uber’s problems did not just appear out of nowhere, they didn’t happen overnight.
Even though many of these issues unfolded in the media over a relatively short period of time of 4 – 5 weeks, these issues have been building. The areas I want to focus on today are the HR parts of what happened with Uber. Primarily the sexual harassment and discrimination claims, as well as the aggressive and questionable culture.
Here are 4 tips that you can implement into your small business to avoid ending up in a similar debacle.
4 Lessons for How to Avoid a Situation Like Uber
Don’t wait until you have a problem to figure out how you’re going to address it. If you’re hiring a team, there are things you can do before you hire the first person to set yourself up for success.
Both of these documents will help you set clear expectations with every team member up front. Having policies in place that outline acceptable and unacceptable employee behavior will set the tone for your company. A handbook also outlines the steps an employee can take to address issues that may come up. And it will guide you as their leader on the steps you’ll need to to take if a situation like Susan Fowler’s occurs.
Everyone thinks something like this won’t happen in their business. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap!
Train Your Team and Train Your Managers
Some of the most often overlooked areas of training in many businesses are policies on harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. I know these topics can be a bit uncomfortable to talk about, but these conversations need to happen.
You don’t have to hold an all-day seminar. But your policies around these topics should be reviewed during each employees’ first week with your company. Training on workplace conduct – what to do and what not to do – and how to handle a situation if something’s not right in the workplace are so important.
This training is your responsibility as the leader and CEO of your company. What you allow will become what’s acceptable in your company.
Don’t assume that everyone knows what unacceptable behavior looks or sounds like.
Develop an Intentional Culture
Developing your company culture should be a top priority if you plan on hiring a team. Even if you’re just a team of one right now, this is something you can start working on. Culture is something that you don’t want to “let happen.” Otherwise, you might end up with a culture that’s not quite what you’d hoped it would be!
A great place to start creating the culture you want for your business, is to have:
– a vision statement for the future; what your business will look like when it’s successful
– a mission statement to guide your team; how you are going to achieve the vision together
– core values to set the expectation for how to behave as a company as you work to achieve the vision
If you put some careful thought and consideration into these in the beginning, they will be the guiding principles in your company. You will be able to attract and hire people who align with your vision, mission, and values. You will nurture the kind of culture you want for your business – with purpose and intentionality.
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyways in light of this situation. Don’t instill values that are unethical or that ask people to do questionable things (like stepping on others to get ahead – yes, that really happened). Unless, of course, that’s the type of culture you want to create. Then be prepared to face the consequences! 😉
Take Every Complaint Seriously and Address Immediately
If you create an intentional culture and embrace an “open door” policy, your employees should feel comfortable coming to you. When they do, it’s your job to follow up on every single concern or complaint.
If you find yourself in a sticky situation that you’re not sure how to handle – get help! There are people who can provide guidance and advice on how to handle situations like this (ahem, why hello there friend).
Don’t lose great employees because you failed to address an issue in a timely manner. There are some circumstances that should be grounds for immediate termination. Don’t be too generous during a time when an employee does something really horrible.
You can avoid a situation like Uber’s!
Be proactive, properly train your teams and mangers, set clear expectations, and develop an intentional culture based on core values.
Don’t allow unacceptable behavior to go unaddressed. If you ignore it, trust me, it will not go away. It will only get worse and more difficult to handle.
I’ve dealt with situations just like this before that went unaddressed and they are not pretty, my friend.
It’s important to follow through on your word. It’s your job to ensure that every single employee feels comfortable, valued, and safe at work. Don’t think about the consequences of losing a “high performing” employee, like in the Susan Fowler case, who’s behaving inappropriately. Think about the impact that keeping someone like that on your team will have on your employees and on your company’s culture.
One sure fire way to destroy employee trust, respect, and morale, is to fail to address issues.
I’ll leave you with this last thought:
Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.
— Warren G. Bennis —