Amateur Hour at Uber: Too Many Managers With Too Little Experience

John Hollon Bad HR, Change Management, John Hollon, Leadership

Managers don’t get much respect at Uber.

How else would you explain the fact that 63 percent of the ride-share company’s management team is, according to head of global diversity and inclusion Bernard Coleman, made up of rookie, first time managers ?

In other words, it’s amateur hour when it comes to management practices at Uber, and it probably explains why the company has had so any problems recently with sexual harassment, policing the culture, and a great many other management-related issues.

I’m getting tired of writing about Uber, but just as comedians are having a field day with Donald Trump in the White House, management bloggers should be thanking the Lord for (now former) CEO Travis Kalanick and his merry band of idiots who are making great strides in running a $50 billion dollar company into the ground.

Too many managers, too little experience

Lost in the tidal wave of news about Uber recently is this little fact that cropped up in a couple of stories about the company’s major sexual harassment problem. As The Wall Street Journal noted, briefly:

“Bernard Coleman, Uber’s head of diversity, said … that part of the company’s cultural problems may stem from focusing too much on its ride-sharing service and not on its workplace during its early years. Fixing these problems now is more difficult because of Uber’s size, he said.

“It’s like retrofitting a house,” Mr. Coleman said during an onstage interview at a TechCrunch event. “You are trying to retrofit it to make it the place you know it should be.”

A lack of management experience has also hurt the company, he said. About 63 percent of Uber’s managers have no prior management experience (emphasis added).”

Is it any wonder that Uber has severe cultural issues and a sexual harassment problem to boot when nearly two-thirds of its managers have never managed anyone before?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for promoting promising people into management, but not even an established and well-functioning company like IBM or Microsoft can handle having so many inexperienced managers on deck at any one time.

Doing it at Uber — a company that is in desperate need of adult supervision — is reckless beyond belief.

A bunch of newbie managers is part of the problem

It also kind of explains all the issues Uber has been having internally. Take the sexual harassment problem, for instance, that according to The Wall Street Journal, started when “former software engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti claimed Uber management had ignored multiple complaints from her and other female workers of sexual harassment and sexism by their managers.”

I can’t help but think that with fewer newbie managers and more experienced people in supervisory roles, this sexual harassment issue at Uber gets stamped out a lot earlier — before 200 plus employees get investigated, at least.

In other words, experienced managers would rightly react to the fact that there were sexual harassment complaints popping up all over the place, and “sexism by their managers” gets called out as part of the problem.

You also can’t have a wild, alcohol and drug-fueled, frat-boy culture, as The Wall Street Journal described it, and not expect a lot of HR and management issues. Throw in a boatload of rookie managers and it’s the equivalent of having Barney Fife trying to calm down an anti-Trump rally.

I know something of the high tech culture because I worked in the Bay Area at a tech company back in the Silicon Valley 1.0 era during the great turn of the century dotcom boom. Although my company, Pets.com, eventually failed, it wasn’t because of a lack of seasoned, veteran management.

In fact, people used to remark how unusual it was for a tech company of that era to have cultivated a culture of responsible and experienced managers who were clearly in charge of things, and that’s because it was so much at odds with so many of the other dotcoms that were making headlines back then.

Time for Uber’s Board to grow some cojones

Pets.com didn’t survive, of course, but then again, that may end up being Uber’s fate too.

Yes, it’s fun to have a wild and crazy, break-all-the-rules culture, but that fun runs out pretty quickly when you have a real business to run and the employee head count has grown to the thousands. You need more than a boatload of rookie supervisors to keep things on the straight and narrow — you need responsible and experienced adults who know how to handle people.

Uber has passed the point where they can just wing it and have goofy values such as “toe-stepping” and “principled confrontation.” Senior management needs to get serious about running the big company that they’ve built, and I can’t help but think that having CEO Kalanick finally leave the company is a step in the right direction.

Maybe having him gone will help the Board to grow some cojones and start fixing all the problems he’s left for them to deal with that they simply let fester before. Yes, it’s time for everyone at Uber — from the Board on down — to finally start acting like adults.