Friday, March 10, 2017

Do the (Uber) Hustle

There was CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick’s close and video’d encounter with one of his drivers. Then there was the Greyball “scandal-een”, in which Uber was found to have used an app (of course) to avoid ticket-giving cops. And let’s not forget the sexual discrimination charges. But from where I stand, the best Uber story of late was the one I saw this week on The Guardian.

It turns out that the “Uber way” – that “take-no-prisoners, win-at-any-cost mentality [which] has helped the company soar to market domination and a $70bn valuation” – has a downside beyond revelations about things like Greyball. It turns out that a lot of Uber employees – the real employees, not the drivers: oh, pardon, me the partners – are looking to leave. And they’re having a hard time finding new companies willing to hire them.

“People are looking to get out because they’re just sick of working for that company,” said a former Uber employee, who asked not to be identified. “A lot of them have told me that they’re having a hard time finding something new.”

At job interviews, the employee said, recruiters seem wary of Uber’s “hustle-oriented” workplace. “They have to defend themselves and say, ‘Oh, I’m not an asshole.’”

The “asshole” reputation stems directly from Uber’s corporate values, former employees and others in the tech industry said. For many, company “values” are the kind of corporate speak that rarely interferes with one’s day to day work environment. But at Uber, the emphasis on hustling, toe-stepping and meritocracy took on a more sinister aspect in the workplace (Source: The Guardian)

Well, while I have no idea how employees are compensated, I’m guessing that, with the possibility of an IPO this year, and with that cra $70B valuation, I’m sure that any employee with options is going to be hanging on. However lousy the working conditions, money does tend to talk.

But it doesn’t surprise me that employers may be a bit skittish about hiring someone from a company that has “always be hustlin’” as one of its core values.

This, of course, made me curious about what the other values are that Uber holds dear. According to a post by Sarah Shull on Sum Total:

Uber has 14 core cultural values, including vision, quality obsession, innovation, “going toe to toe with colleagues,” fierceness, execution, communication, and “super-pumpedness.” Essentially, Uber employees must have a “hustle” mindset and a do-whatever-it-takes attitude to move the company in the right direction. (Source: Sum Total)

Shull seems prety enthusiastic – pumped and fierce – about these values making Uber great, but I’m exhausted just reading them. I’m okay with having vision, and, if you take out the “obsession” bit, who can argue with quality?. Communication. Innovation. Execution. Check, check, check.

But “going toe to toe with colleagues?” I’ve certainly worked in environments where we went toe to toe on occasion. Toe-to-toed-ness builds strength! Plus it’s more or less inevitable every once in a while. But I’ll take a pass on a corporate culture that promotes it as a core value. Way too easy to turn into pure, unadulterated asshole-ishness. Ditto for fierceness. (A workplace full of Xena, Woman Warriors? No, thanks.) And super-pumpedness? I prefer a more chill place, one that has tea bags in the kitchen, not just cans of Jolt.

An employee cited in The Guardian article categorized Uber as a “Hobbesian jungle,” where getting ahead meant that someone else has to die.

Who wants to work in place where every work day is nasty, brutish and too damned long?

As with the toe-to-toe value, this kind of behavior happens even in companies that don’t encourage it. At the last company I worked at full time, during my final months, there was a really wild battle between two teams of senior execs, The Tall Guys and The Short Guys. I reported to one of The Tall Guys, and The Tall Guys were pretty much the guys I liked. (Yes, it was all guys who were playing this particular war.) And I actively disliked a couple of The Short Guys, fellows who were nasty, brutish, and short. (For those in the know, I’m thinking here of DM in particular and, to lesser degree, SP.) Alas, The Tall Guys lost, and most of them (and their loyal direct reports, self-included) were shown the door.

Back to Uber, a hiring manager interviewed in the article said that, while he would talk to candidates from Uber, he would be eyes wide open when it came to figuring out whether they were going to fit in a different type of culture.

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to work with  someone who did well in that environment,” he said. “If you did well in that environment upholding those values, I probably don’t want to work with you.”

This guy wasn’t the only one. Caveat, hiring managers.

I’m not hiring, and I’m not looking. So I won’t be interviewing any Uber employees any time soon. Nor will I be applying for a job there and risk being asked how I feel about super-pumpedness. But it’s just another reason why I’m happy to be out of the game, not being fierce, not doing anyone’s corporate hustle.

Me? I’ll stick with the app on my phone, happy knowing that someone from Uber will be here shortly, and take me where I want to go for cheap.

The drivers are hustling, but, fortunately, I haven’t run into any who seemed especially super-pumped and fierce.

Thank Travis Kalanick for small blessings?

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