The board saw Uber's culture problem early.
Could all of Uber’s problems over the last year have been avoided if Travis Kalanick had slept more?
Maybe not, but Arianna Huffington, speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington D.C. Tuesday morning, says the company’s founder and former chief—who still serves on the ride-hailing start-up’s board—didn’t do Uber any favors by running his company “on empty”. When the media pioneer-turned-CEO of corporate wellness company Thrive Global joined the Uber board in April 2016, she sensed burnout. She was ready to roll out, pro bono, wellness programs for the hot Silicon Valley start-up when it became engulfed in crisis less than a year later.
With the benefit of hindsight, the board should have moved faster to address the company’s ticking time bomb of a culture, fueled by overwork (including too little sleep) and a growth-at-all costs mentality.
Uber’s “cultural values had become weaponized,” said Huffington, who notes the expectation that the start-up’s employees were “always on,” was especially ridiculous. “It’s giving people permission to operate at their worst,” said Huffington, a sleep evangelist since suffering her own bout of burnout in 2007.
She also took aim at the company’s “working harder, faster, longer” policy, which she says, in the wake of the company’s troubles, has been edited to reflect real productivity data. “Working longer doesn’t equal working smarter,” she said.
Huffington says Uber has come a long way since its toxic culture first became news last February following the revealing blog post of former employee Susan Fowler. Especially important, says Huffington, was the board’s decision taken two days after Fowler’s post that there’d be “no tolerance for brilliant jerks at Uber.” “That was an incredibly important message to convey to everyone,” as was the firing of Uber employees who had come to “believe they were beyond any kind of rule,” said Huffington.
Other signs of progress, according to Huffington: the board’s unanimity around decisions like the appointment of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and the adoption of all 47 recommendations put forth by Eric Holder, who oversaw the independent investigation of the company, and the fact that two other women have since joined Uber’s board.