Uber CEO Takes Leave Of Absence As Internal Report Criticizes “Always Be Hustlin'” Culture

Image courtesy of Elliott Brown

The rumors were correct: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is taking a leave of absence from the company he co-founded, just as Uber publishes the results of an internal investigation that is critical of the company’s ask-questions-later culture.

Uber’s board unanimously voted to adopt all recommendations suggested in a 13-page report [PDF] by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, whose law firm had been hired by Uber to independently investigate allegations of a toxic culture at the company.

“Implementing these recommendations will improve our culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated,” reads the statement from the board. “While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers.”

The Report

Included in those recommendations, among other things:

Rethinking Kalanick’s Role:
The controversial CEO has reportedly been key to all important decisions made at Uber. The company lacks most of the other top executives that you’d find at similar businesses, and Holder’s team says maybe it’s time for that to change.

“The Board should evaluate the extent to which some of the responsibilities that Mr. Kalanick has historically possessed should be shared or given outright to other members of senior management,” the report reads. “The search for a Chief Operating Officer should address this concern to some extent.”

Reformulating Uber’s 14 Cultural Values:
“Uber should reformulate its written cultural values because it is vital that they reflect more inclusive and positive behaviors,” the report suggests, noting that working with an established group that has experience in such organizational changes could be helpful.

Some of those company values should be eliminated entirely, including those that are redundant or have been used to “justify poor behavior,” including “Let Builders Build”, “Always Be Hustlin’”, and “Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping.”

Hold Senior Leaders Accountable:
The report suggests using performance reviews with metrics tied to “improving diversity, responsiveness to employee complaints, employee satisfaction, and compliance.”

Compensation is another way to rein in bad behavior, notes the report: “Experience shows that compensation provides a powerful tool for creating incentives for behavior, and reinforcing a company’s values.”

Enhance Board Oversight:
This could be achieved, in part, by restructuring the board to include additional independent board seats, the report suggests. Uber’s board currently has nine members, including Kalanick. The report also recommends installing an independent chairperson.

Improvements to Human Resources & Complaint Process:
The report recommends providing a “robust and effective complaint process” to address harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace.

Diversity & Inclusion Enhancements:
Uber could create an employee diversity advisory board, which would “ensure consistency across diversity efforts and funnel input and ideas to the Head of Diversity.”

The report also recommends regularly publishing diversity statistics to judge how the company is eating its goals, and targeting diverse sources of talent.

Overall Changes In Employee Policies & Practices: 
Updating Uber’s discrimination and harassment policies “to be clear that any conduct that appears to be based on a person’s protected characteristic is prohibited, even if it is not unlawful,” is one suggestion from the report.

Policies should also be clear that managers must immediately report any instances of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation to HR for further investigation.

A Ban Romantic/Intimate Relationships Between Individuals In A Reporting Relationship
“Uber should develop specific and clear guidance concerning appropriate workplace relationships, including making clear that any type of romantic or intimate relationship between individuals in a reporting relationship (either direct or indirect) is prohibited,” the report recommends.

Clear Guidelines On Alcohol Consumption, Use Of Controlled Substances:
This should include a ban on drinking alcohol during “core” work hours and prohibiting “consumption of non-prescription controlled substances during core work hours, at work events, or at other work-sponsored events.”

These recommendations are a departure from Kalanick’s previous guidelines on sex and partying at the company.

Kalanick Takes A Break

In conjunction with the release of Holder’s report, Kalanick sent an email to employees announcing his decision to step away for a bit, in part to grieve the loss of his mother, who was killed in a boating accident this year.

“The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders,” he wrote in the email, via Buzzfeed News. “There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve. For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.”

While he’s away, the leadership team and his direct reports will be running the company, he says, though he will be available for “the most strategic decisions.”

There’s no timeline on how long he’ll be away, as Kalanick says, “it may be shorter or longer than we might expect.”

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