The Culture Killer: 3 Tips to Avoid Becoming the Next Uber

The Culture Killer: 3 Tips to Avoid Becoming the Next Uber

Uber built a name for itself as the company that overhauled and uprooted the traditional taxi industry. The rapid rise and success of Uber made it a household name with companies vying to be the “Uber of X” in their industry and while companies want to copy the business model, there’s one thing no one wants to copy from Uber—its culture.

Building and maintaining a strong corporate culture is hard and Uber is experiencing the struggle first-hand as it publicly reels from the consequences of a poorly managed and misguided culture. We’ve seen its turmoil splashed across the headlines of every business and techpublication for the past 6 months, and it recently reached a boiling point where the founder and CEO was asked to resign. While the company was intensely focused on growth and market share, its leaders seemed to deprioritize the two things that can make or break a business: its culture and its people.

Any strong leader knows that company culture is the foundation for a successful business, yet some companies still can’t figure it out. With Uber top-of-mind, how can you use this high-profile example as a way to ensure your organization doesn’t fall into the same toxic trap?

Build Culture from Day 1

When looking at Uber’s challenges, one of the biggest takeaways is that building the right culture means paying attention to it from Day 1. Recruit, vet, and hire people who are aligned with your core values and embody your culture. And even more important, walk away from people who don’t live out the culture, even if they do deliver results. Short term gain but long term pain. I’ve never regretted walking away from someone who was a bad culture fit or someone who reinforced a toxic culture, even when they were functionally strong. HR and managers play a huge role in the process as you’re often the first line of defense against culture detractors.

However, to attract great talent, you need to be a place where people want to work. Culture plays a large part in making your company attractive to potential new hires, but it’s about more than the salary or the perks—it’s about the employee experience. In fact, according to a study from Fidelity, Millennials would take a $7,600 pay cut for a better work environment showing they would trade in a paycheck for a higher quality employee experience.

The good news is that you’re in a great position to work with leadership to build and maintain the culture through the recruitment and hiring process. Deliver tools that help interview for culture, and help managers gauge cultural detractors or promoters.

Embrace the Challenge

When Liane Hornsey joined Uber as its Chief HR Officer, one of the first things she did was build out her team. She notes that the company had “traditionally underinvested in HR,” but since she joined in January, Uber has doubled the size of her team and now it has more processes in place so people can come to HR quickly. Hornsey commented that “we have a new employee relations team, who are solely dedicated to addressing people’s concerns. We have a zero tolerance for bad behavior at Uber now.”

Unfortunately, not every company has Uber’s financial resources to invest in additional HR hires. If your team is stretched thin, it can be a challenge to make changes within your organization, but sometimes you have to work with the resources you have available. Building culture isn’t about hosting luxury company getaways or catering lunch in the office every day. It’s fostering a sense of community and giving employees a voice.

You can help increase retention and build connections in a variety of ways like internal mentorship or implementing a recognition program that reinforces positive behaviors. Limited budgets and resources can make the task seem daunting, but small changes can ensure employee contributions don’t go unnoticed all while breathing new life into your employee engagement program.


Building a culture of trust leads to higher levels of employee engagement, workplace satisfaction, and retention, but all that can be brought down by poor communication. Lack of communication or communication breakdowns can have severe ramifications from employee mistrust to anxiety within a company to your best talent leaving. This is an area where we can all learn from Uber.

Communication is pivotal for companies to succeed and as HR leaders we need to encourage consistent and timely communication, and support leadership to understand the benefit and impact of direct communication from leaders to all employees about what matters, where the company is headed, and what behaviors, both cultural and functional, it’ll take to get there.

Additionally, HR teams can create the appropriate channels for employees to speak up and have a voice within their organization. Finding the right place to offer feedback—both positive and negative—is important, and doing so proactively and in a constructive manner will make the most impact. By giving employees a voice and responding to let them know they are heard, your company will see positive changes in employee engagement.

Uber has a long way to go on the path to rebuilding their corporate culture, but its struggles have given other companies a valuable lesson on why HR and prioritizing a strong culture is crucial to an organization’s success or failure. As you continue to develop your company culture, I would encourage you to look at other businesses for inspiration on how you can make the employee experience a cornerstone for your company.

Autumn ManningComment