Stella Joshua, HR Head- Tech, India, Uber, is a driven Human Resources professional with 15 years of demonstrated leadership in several HR Functional areas including strategic HR, People Planning/ Workforce Planning, talent management, leadership development, succession planning, coaching, performance management, employee relations, compensation, change management, operations and communication skills.
Stella's ability to adapt extremely well in high growth, constantly changing complex multi-national organizations. and expertise in software and hi-tech organizations such as Cisco and Yahoo, among others, along with a proven track record of being a highly effective change agent with a history of setting up processes from the ground up and establishing systems for effectiveness and efficiency, has bolstered her capabilities as a leader in the space of human resources.
In this exclusive conversation with People Matters, Stella spoke about how the shift in Uber's business model impacted its people stategies, leveraging cross-functional internal gigs to upskill employees, and adviced leaders to be open to saying and hearing 'no'.
What has been your biggest learning or observation about leaders, managers and employees in the post-COVID workplace?
There have been multiple observations and learnings through these months, but the most striking one was the change in agility of the teams en-masse. Beyond simply transitioning to working from home (WFH), we also increased focus on Delivery as the Mobility vertical was impacted with multiple cities under lockdown across the world. The agility of the teams in transitioning from one role, to another that took precedence, was flawless.
Tasks such as expanding the scope of Eats to Delivery to ensure essential items reached people, and within the Mobility business, ensuring that Uber Medic cars were available to transport healthcare professionals -- all proved that Uber's employees were resilient and had the ability to deliver exceptional results.
How has the shift in business model and priorities impacted the people strategies of Uber?
Uber employees have always believed in staying nimble and innovative. The changes during the lockdown meant engineering and product prioritization of certain strategies, all of which needed people to be realigned.
Transitioning teams and building workable solutions in a matter of weeks, as our employees adjusted to remote working was a massive transition on multiple fronts.
Uber launched assignments to all its employees, and employees volunteered for weekend work to push out solutions in record time to address the rising demand for Eats and Delivery, including the need for essential supplies to be delivered to homes.
People strategies also evolved to solve for the new environment. The annual fitness reimbursement was extended to allow for health focussed options of ergonomic furniture and accessories. Keeping in mind the highly dynamic situation, Uber has extended its WFH option till June 2021. Another aspect that Uber prioritized in this pandemic phase was mental health -- managers and employees were made aware and guided via workshops and online material to handle work and home situations. Doctors handling live COVID cases met employees via webinars to appraise them of practical solutions at work and for families. Counselling sessions are made available to employees and their spouses for mental health related issues. Uber has also been encouraging care-givers to take much needed leave for rest and recuperation.
How are you restructuring your workforce to match the business needs? What are some of the most creative talent management measures you have put in place?
Challenges and work streams were opened out to employees to sign up, cross-functional teams came together organically to address the increased demand for Delivery. Uber gave the platform, the employees made it happen. Innovation is the rockbed of Uber, and programs such as ‘My Innovation Time’ and ‘Light bulb’ help channelize Uber’s much talked about intellectual prowess.
In your opinion, what are the gaps holding people back from making the transition between obsolete roles and in-demand roles? How can these gaps be closed?
Given Uber is dynamic and focussed on change we rarely have obsolete roles. Transitions to new groups or skills are done on the job.
What talent opportunities do you foresee given the greater need for fluid workforce structures and organizations opening up to the concept of a shared talent pool?
The COVID situation underscored Uber's value of hiring for the organization and not just for a team or a role/job. We see an opportunity to continue to build on this model. Our hiring process involves multiple stakeholders and a bar raiser. The bar raiser need not necessarily be part of the hiring team but is from within the organization.
At Uber, we have 'internal gigs' that allow for employees to work cross-functionally and learn additional skills along with exposure to other businesses.
We have created a marketplace of jobs that can be seen and applied for. We have also enabled domestic and international mobility that allows for employees to work and move across Uber, based on the requirements.
Organizations are gradually opening up to the idea of shorter work weeks and allowing employees to have second jobs. Do you see that practice scaling up and being widely accepted in the near future?
Uber allows for flexibility and even allows people to work for the organization part-time. The employee can work with the manager to decide on the time schedule. Managers and employees are more goal driven than time-focussed.
What would your advice be for leaders as they navigate their way through the pandemic and strive to strike the right people and business balance?
The pandemic is a passing phase, how we care for our employees and enable them, weaves our fabric of trust and success. Firstly, recognize all are at different levels of ‘working through the change’ curve; cut some slack for yourself and your teams. Secondly, have open conversations and replicate virtual water cooler chats like ambient meetings and happy hours. Do not leave connects/meets to chance, be intentional about building relationships in this virtual world. Thirdly, we are all humans -- ask for help and stay vulnerable; respect those who are being open and honest in these times.
Lastly, be open to saying no and hearing a 'no’ - families and teams are going through massive change.
Uber understands this and has sensitized the managers and leaders of caregivers and other employees who need to balance where needed.