Article: The Uber audit report: Lessons for all companies

Culture

The Uber audit report: Lessons for all companies

Uber appointed management and law firm Covington and Burling LLP to conduct a thorough and objective review of all allegations. And after about 3 months, Uber finally has the detailed report.
The Uber audit report: Lessons for all companies

The Uber saga started in February this year with the former Uber employee Susan Fowler posting a blog detailing allegations of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation during her employment at Uber. Her blog post opened a can of worms for Uber. The management and board appointed law firm Covington and Burling LLP to conduct a thorough and objective review of all allegations. People Matters also wrote about this growing nightmare for Uber. In light of all this negative publicity Uber CEO went on record to admit that he needs leadership help and he intends to get it.  But as per the latest update, Travis Kalanick has now resigned from Uber amid pressure from investors.

After about 3 months, we now have the detailed report submitted by law firm Covington and Burling LLP to Uber leadership and board. This comprehensive report submitted by the law firm details a series of actions that they have recommended to the Uber board & management. The board has unanimously adopted all recommendations to address the issues raised in Susan Fowler’s blog post.

The special committee constituted to oversee the work of the law firm had asked them to evaluate 3 key issues:

  • Workplace environment

  • Companies policies and practices

  • Employee experience of the policies and practices


The process followed by the law firm primarily included the following:

  • Interview of over 200 current and former employees

  • Anonymous online focus group with a statistically significant percentage of employees in USA

  • Document review of over 3 million documents in the database. 

We present here a short summary of the recommendations for your quick review. Even if you are not going through any major storm at your company, reading through this list will surely give you some food for thought and may give you an indication to look at certain areas within your organization and may help you avoid a potential risk. 

I.  Changes to senior leadership

  • Reallocate responsibilities of the CEO, define role of a COO and hire a COO

  • Hire COO who is experienced and capable of implementing all these recommendations

  • Hold senior leadership accountable via performance reviewsElevate head of

  • Elevate head of diversity to – Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and change reporting to CEO/COO

  • HR should take employment actions delegated by the board and the special committee. 

II. Enhance board oversight

  • Restructure the board to include additional independent board seats

  • Appoint an independent Chairperson of the Board

  • Create an oversight committee which would establish and monitor metrics that are intended to measure compliance

  • Incorporate ethical practices, diversity & inclusion and other values from the code of conduct into executive compensation program

  • Appoint a senior executive member, who is viewed positively by employees to oversee implementation of these recommendations. 

III.  Internal controls

  • Take steps to enhance the size, role, and independence of the audit committee

  • Take steps to enhance internal controls with respect to policy compliance

  • Ensure availability of proper tools including complaint tracking software to keep better track of complaints, personnel records, and employee data.

  • All settlement and separation agreements with employees should be logged and tracked to ensure proper record keeping

IV. Reformulate Uber’s fourteen cultural values

  • Reformulate its written cultural values to ensure they reflect more inclusive and positive behavior.
     
  • Restate the values with significant input from employees

  • Define the values in a manner which is more accessible and easily understood by employees

  • Reduce the overall number of values and eliminate those that have been identified as redundant

V.  Training

a.  It is critical that senior leaders at Uber receive leadership coaching on specific areas like

  • Exhibit and model inclusive leadership

  • Combat implicit bias

  • Fundamental skills necessary for effective management as senior leader

  • Goal setting, leading employees, and corporate controls

  • Measure senior leaders on such defined competencies on an annual basis and is part of their performance review process

b.  Mandatory training to all HR personnel on effective handling of complaints. 

c.  Mandatory training for all managers – especially new and first-time managers on areas of 

  • Diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias

  • How to communicate with all employees

  • Maintain proper managerial relationship

  • Provide constructive feedback

  • Evaluate employee performance according to company values

  • Learn how to handle general HR issues

  • Learn how to identify legal issues and how to evaluate them to legal counsel

d.  All employees who routinely interview employees should go through mandatory training on interview skills, how to conduct inclusive interviews and unconscious bias. 

e.  Standardize the interview process including the kind of questions asked, evaluation of candidate and method of providing feedback. 

VI. Improvements to HR and complaint process

a.  Identify or hire an owner for all HR policies who is responsible for drafting new and updating existing policies 

b.  Senior leadership to publicly support and embrace HR not just as a recruiting organization but an organization that works to protect and retain people. 

  • Follow through on recommendations of HR to ensure that it’s seen as vested with true authority. 

  • Adopt zero tolerance against sustained complaints of discrimination and harassment.

c.  Ensure appropriate processing and tracking of complaints. Invest in HR tools including complaint tracking software which is robust, secure and accessible 

d.  Establish protocols for escalations of complaints to ensure legal risk is being managed properly. 

e.  Create appropriate structure and size of HR department. Improve headcount of HR business partners across various regions

VII.  Diversity and inclusion enhancements

a.  Establish employee diversity advisory board

b.  Regularly publish diversity statistics

c.  Target diverse sources of talent

d.  Utilize blind resume review – where information about gender, ethnic background including name and

e.  Personal information is not available to the reviewer. 

f.  Adopt a version of the “Rooney rule” – where ensure that at least one member of the currently underrepresented population is included on each applicant review panel

g.  Adopt sponsorship program where an employee who is in a position to promote the success of a junior employee, does so. 

  • Develop the program structure and implement active program administration including continued education and oversight. 

  • Incorporate the sponsorship program in performance goals and incentive compensation

h.  Recognize and support employees who undertake efforts to improve diversity, through performance review process. 

i.  Recognize managers for their diversity efforts

j.  Adopt benefits and policies that are known to attract and retain more diverse workforce

k.  Review company communications and materials used in the hiring process or otherwise to reduce bias in written company materials. 

l.  Coordinate diversity and inclusion efforts throughout the organizations and conduct a legal review of any independent initiative. 

m.  Repeat online anonymous focused groups on a regular basis to provide a forum to employees to broadly share their feedback outside of static surveys. 

VIII. Changes in Employee policies and practices

  • Update discrimination and harassment policies

  • Prohibit romantic or intimate relationships between individuals in a reporting relationship

  • Institute and enforce clear guidelines on alcohol consumption and use of controlled substance

  • To prevent abuse of transfer process take several steps including making all jobs known to all employees, review each transfer by an independent evaluator etc. 

  • Modify the performance review process by eliminating the current practice of calibration while striving to eliminate subjectivity and bias from the process. 
     
  • Make promotion requirements clearer – consider including self-nomination and peer/manager nomination being reviewed by the independent committee. 

  • Make promotion requirements clearer – consider including self-nomination and peer/manager nomination being reviewed by the independent committee. 

  • Consider adopting flexible work arrangements 

  • Move time for the catered dinner offered to suit a more broader group of employees

  • Ensure policies are applied consistently across the organization and no special treatment given to anyone regardless of tenure, level or past performance. 

IX. Address employee retention

  • Address attrition that is higher than expected across the company or within specific organizations 

  • Evaluate reasons for employee exit and address key drivers of employee turnover

X.  Review and access pay practices

  • Comprehensively audit pay practices to ensure compliance with state and federal equal pay laws.

  • Ensure members of the senior management and compensation committee of the board, oversees and responds to recommendations. 

Conclusion

Uber seems to be getting back on track. While it’s surprising and shocking even to note that a company that is valued at USD 68 billion has certain basic policies and processes missing, it’s heartening to see the holistic approach now taken to address all People and Process issues. 

This can go down as a case study of what can go wrong when you forget some simple basics in pursuit of growth. This could also become a great case study for HR professionals to look at what aspects of their role have a direct & indirect impact on business. One can see an overwhelming majority of actions defined here which are mostly asked from HR. 

Most companies can use these actions to evaluate if and what they need to do more to ensure that diversity and inclusion is addressed effectively in their organization. It is no longer just a fad but a clear business reality which if not addressed via a holistic approach can impact your business and put you in the news for all the wrong reasons. 

References:

Uber CEO promises probe over harassment allegations

I need leadership help & I intend to get it: Uber CEO

Uber's growing HR nightmare

Uber Covington

What are Uber's 14 core cultural values

Liana Horsney, Uber's CHRO thanks HR community

Read full story

Topics: Culture, Employee Relations, Diversity

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