Even though all the success and growth Uber has achieved to date, they have a reported 'toxic culture' that’s been extremely damaging for the brand and its employees and shareholders. 

For any business owner, gaining a deep understanding of what happened to Uber's culture and what they didn’t do to avoid it is crucial. 

In June 2017, Uber’s Founder, Travis Klanick, resigned after multiple reports emerged of its "toxic" culture, including many alleged sexual harassment cases. 

Here are some powerful lessons from Uber’s toxic work culture. 

LESSON 1: Make culture a priority

Uber's leadership focused entirely on growth and, in the process, neglected it's employees. Whilst this was fine for the first few years, the lack of focus on people and culture snowballed into a monster issue for the company.

Entrepreneurs do not build businesses, but rather, their job is to create a team of talented people and then give them the tools and work environment to flourish. 

Uber ignored this fact and failed to adequately care for its employees and create a stable work environment for them. 

LESSON 2: Don’t stick your head in the sand 

Often changes in culture, either good or bad, happen slowly in the background and can easily be overlooked. But Uber had several red flags between 2010 and 2017 in the form of employee complaints and litigation. 

Rather than use these moments to stop and reassess their culture, Uber stuck their head in the sand and kept going on the same path, hoping issues would go away by themselves.

Cultural problems don’t go away on their own and need constant monitoring and improvement by leadership when warning signs appear. 

LESSON 3: Listen to your staff

Unfortunately, you can’t generate a “cultural P+L” from your accounting software and deliver a "cultural score" every quarter to understand its health. 

The only way to truly understand a culture is by closely listening and observing the stories people tell about your company. 

Management needs to talk to employees about their experience and then reflect on their feedback. 

LESSON 4: Think carefully about hiring, firing and promotions.

One of the most effective ways to improve culture is hiring, firing and promotion decisions, as these are potent mechanisms of culture formation.

Unfortunately, despite all the issues brewing, Uber didn’t think, until it was almost too late, to bring in fresh people into senior positions who reflected the change in culture the company urgently needed.

LESSON 5: Culture starts from the top 

The reality is, most business problems, including cultural ones, typically start with the person in charge. 

Unless the person at the top of an organisation embraces and demonstrates daily the behaviours needed for healthy company culture, the business is doomed. 

No amount of HR consultants, new hires or restructuring will make an ounce of difference. In Uber’s case, Travis was at the top, and the cultural issues started with him.

Following Travis Klanick’s resignation, Dara Khosrowshahi stepped in as the company's new CEO. Stories like this ofter all business owners and managers some powerful lessons about the vital importance of culture and its implications if ignored. 

For more helpful reading on avoiding toxic culture, check out how to build a positive workplace on the blog! 

Make sure to stay tuned for more helpful management tips.