Last updated: 8 August 2018
You have to admit, there’s a certain irony in the name.
After all, calling something uber means it’s an outstanding example.
Like an uber-chef. Or someone who’s described as uber-cool.
They’re not merely good at what they do, they’re exceptional examples that everyone else wants to try and live up to.
And maybe when they came up with the name Uber, they hoped their company would fall into that category.
That it would be a glowing example of a business model that everyone else would admire and try to emulate.
But as you’ve probably read, Uber’s management has been embroiled in one mis-management after the next causing them to lose credibility… and to become in desperate need of some serious fixing up.
So where did Uber go so wrong?
Below we look at some of the costly mistakes the tech giant made, and the leadership lessons leaders can learn from the rise and fall of Uber.
Where Did Uber Go So Wrong?
There’s no doubt that they offered a premium service that consumers welcomed all over the world – a cheaper, reliable and convenient taxi booking platform.
Everything from their seamless app to their affordable prices made Uber the rising star in the tech world.
Their service just made sense, right? But as their empire grew, reports started to surface in the media that cast a shadow over the buzz.
Uber started to be accused of being market bullies and being too greedy. Reports were coming out saying that staff were being treated badly.
There were also accusations of spying on celebrities, and stealing intellectual property from other tech-based companies.
In 2014, Uber is believed to have booked thousands of fake rides from its competitor Lyft, trying to disrupt its operation. This was followed by repeated attempts to lure Lyft drivers away from the company and recruit them for Uber.
Also in 2014, it was revealed that Uber had gotten their hands on some technology that could track users’ locations.
According to an article published in The Guardian, Uber employees were known to spy regularly on politicians and high-profile individuals, including celebs like Beyoncé.
Jump ahead a couple of years. Uber tested a self-driving vehicle in California that was caught running red lights.
Not only that, but they went ahead with the test despite the fact that they had no permits and despite the fact that the technology was obviously not up to speed.
You can see how a picture of operational calamities is starting to emerge.
2017: The Year Uber’s Underlying Culture Was Exposed
In 2017, the companies management, operations and reputation continued to rapidly decline, with the following stories making the headlines:
- #DeleteUber – approximately 500,000 Uber users deleted their accounts when the company lifted surge pricing during a New York taxi protest against Donald Trump’s travel ban. Uber was seen to be strikebreaking, which prompted the #DeleteUber Twitter campaign, which went viral and must have cost the company a small fortune.
- Uber accused of sexual harassment and misconduct – former engineer Susan Fowler alleged sexual harassment and discrimination, having been propositioned by her manager on her very first day.
- Google’s self-driving car company Waymo sued Uber for stealing its technology with the help of a former Waymo employee, whom Uber subsequently sacked
- Uber was found to have made false advertising claims about how much its drivers could earn, and was fined $20m
- CEO Kalanick was caught on camera yelling at and berating one of his own drivers, after the driver spoke up about how difficult it was to earn a living on the money he made
- Despite Kalanick’s bullying and intimidation, the company admitted to underpaying NYC drivers for a period of at least two years and agreed to rectify the problem at a cost of millions
- Uber was caught using a tool called GreyBall to hide illegal activities from various local law enforcement agencies
- A woman who was raped by an Uber driver sued the company for violating her privacy, after it was reported that an Uber exec got his hands on her medical records, presumably hoping to use them to try and dissuade her from proceeding with the rape case
- Finally, in June 2017 Kalanick was forced to step down as CEO amidst calls for his resignation and demands for a complete overhaul of the company and its workplace culture
“It is absurd that a man should rule others, who cannot rule himself.” – Latin Proverb
How To Avoid The “Uber Trap”: Leadership Lessons From Uber’s Costly Mistakes
Forbes attributed Uber’s trouble largely down to “how the company mishandled it” in their article 6 Ways To Avoid Uber’s Mistakes And Save Your Talent Pipeline.
The article list ways for other organizations to avoid making the same kinds of mistakes, which include the following:
1. Avoid the frat-boy culture
Uber’s workforce was 25% women at one stage, but has since shrunk to single figures. With tech companies desperate to get their hands on the best talent, this seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face.
2. Make everyone accountable
Workplace cultures are established from the top down. If executives encourage managers to bully and compete, then that’s what those managers are going to do. If board members hold sexist or racist attitudes, those sexist or racist attitudes are likely to filter down to the management team.
3. Tackle a crisis head-on
Uber insiders claim the company knew about how its female employees were being treated, but did nothing. Likewise, perhaps they should have been more aggressive and proactive when dealing with the #DeleteUber movement. Ignoring problems isn’t going to solve them, it’s just going to make them pile up.
Did Uber grow too fast and get too big? Is that why its leaders might have claimed to be unaware of what was going on in the lower ranks?
Every company has teething problems, for sure. But in Uber’s case, perhaps they went on past the initial stages. It would seem that the attitudes and cultural issues were not just on the surface, however, but ran deep throughout the company’s upper and middle levels.
But companies who don’t respect their employees or treat them fairly end up losing them. Or worse, those employees turn to social media and technology to bring the company down.
If you’re in a position of leadership, here are some tips from members of Forbes Coaches Council listing things you can do that will keep your employees happy and, in turn, help your business grow and prosper.
- Remember that there’s nowhere to hide – in this hi-tech world, you can’t get away with anything. But rather than trying to in the first place, you should try to use that same technology to be as open and transparent as possible. That’s the kind of attitude that wins people over and inspires loyalty.
- Remember that you are your company – everything you do reflects your company’s image, so you need to do things that put it in a good light. If your standards are high enough, that will filter down through the ranks. That gives you the opportunity to become a role model and set an example by the things you say and do.
- Remember to keep your eyes and ears open – there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on in your company. If staff have grievances, you need to know about them. You need to hear them so you can do something about them. Because when you do, it shows your workforce that you care, that you take their views seriously, and that you have the company’s (and their) best interests at heart.
- Remember to put people before profits – this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s one of the criticisms labeled at Uber. You need to remember that the people working for you are the ones who generate the profits, and without them there wouldn’t be any. Look after your employees and they’ll want to do their best for you. That means they’ll work harder, their work will be of a better quality, and your profits will increase naturally. Oh, and your customers will be happier, meaning your business will likely just keep on growing.
It was in 2017 that Uber hired Frances Frei to try and repair some of the damage caused by its activities and behaviors.
Frei, professor of technology and operations management at the Harvard Business School, was employed as the company’s SVP of Leadership and Strategy. Her remit was to transform the company’s culture by focusing on leadership at all levels of the organization.
Frei is the author of the best-selling book Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business. The title of the book hints at the way 21st century business leaders need to approach management if they want to thrive and prosper.
Put people before profits, whether those people are the customers who use the goods or services, or the staff who help to make or deliver them.
The act of putting people before profits is one of the things that makes a business a success. When your staff and customers feel valued, when they feel like their voices are being heard and their opinions are being taken into consideration, they feel like they’re a part of that business.
They want to engage so they can help to shape the future of the organization for the better. And when that happens, everyone’s a winner.
>>Want to discover more leadership lessons? Check out Timeless Leadership Lessons: 16 Empowering Ways To Inspire Like The Late And Spectacularly Great Martin Luther King, Jr. to get inspired by one of history’s greatest leaders.