The long-awaited investigation by Eric Holder and Tammy Albarrán of law firm Covington & Burling into the workplace culture at Uber has concluded and its recommendations made public. The fact that the report contains twelve pages of recommendations is evidence in and of itself just how broken the corporate culture at Uber has become, and quite how much it needs to change. That change, the recommendations suggest, needs to start at the top with the composition, independence, and responsibilities of the board, and work its way down through the CEO, Travis Kalanick (some of whose responsibilities should be handed over to others), and on from there. The changes recommended are sweeping, which seems appropriate given just how badly things have gone, and importantly they include many layers of accountability with real consequences attached to both good and bad behavior from performance reviews to financial incentives. Travis Kalanick is apparently going to take a leave of absence, partly to grieve for his mother who was killed recently in a boating accident, but partly also to get some time away from his job and reflect on all that’s gone on, which seems very sensible too. But one of the most notable aspects of this whole thing is just how much of a role Kalanick and the culture he has personally created at Uber is responsible for so many of the issues, and one of the biggest questions remains whether he personally can change enough to fit in with all the other changes that will be made both immediately and over time. All that’s gone on at Uber should also serve as a cautionary tale for many other tech firms, some of which will be looking down at Uber at this time but many of which have many of the same cultural flaws, even if to a lesser degree (or merely less publicly). The recommendations in the Holder report would almost all be considered best practice in the fields they cover rather than merely remedies to be applied after a major failure. I suspect every company would be better off by following the majority or even all of them.
The first of two concurrent investigations at Uber has resulted in the termination of over 20 employees over harassment and other inappropriate behavior, while 57 incidents are still under investigation, and some 100 of 215 HR claims have been dismissed without action. That such extensive action should be taken only as a result of an independent investigation by a law firm even though Uber’s own HR department took no such action on these issues is pretty shocking. But in some ways even more shocking is the fact that Uber’s head of HR played down harassment and other similar issues in comments as recently as last week, when she and other executives at Uber must have known this was coming soon. Her comments last week no longer seem merely disingenuous or tone deaf but downright misleading, which raises real questions about why she would make such claims just as they were about to be proven false. The only theory I can come up with to explain it is that Uber’s management disagreed with the action taken this week, and that was their way of saying so, but even that seems pretty far-fetched. Regardless, the other shoe is still to drop in the form of the more wide ranging second investigation and the recommended actions, which are likely to go well beyond action on individual cases.
Uber Press Call Highlights Huffington’s Conflict of Interest (Mar 21, 2017)
One of the more troubling things about the sexual harassment investigation at Uber is that Arianna Huffington, who is helping to lead that investigation, is also currently acting as both Uber and Travis Kalanick’s most visible public defender, undermining claims that the investigation is independent. Either Huffington is committed to getting to the bottom of what has happened (and may still be happening) at Uber, or she can defend it and its leadership, but she can’t do both. That she reiterated those public defenses of Kalanick personally on this press call today just reinforces that point. Meanwhile, the call itself revealed little that was new, by all accounts – a previously promised diversity report is indeed on the way, and both the investigation and the COO search are ongoing, with nothing new to report for now. Meanwhile, Kalanick himself was apparently too busy with that COO search to appear on the call, while Uber’s (female) HR manager was available. (The headline here is mine – the headline on the Axios piece linked below focuses on the diversity report.)
The only Yahoo stories I’ve covered here on Tech Narratives so far are those concerning the breaches and subsequent fallout, which is a great indicator of Yahoo’s current state – the only news it’s capable of making is negative, with no meaningful new features or products produced in recent months, while the damage from the breaches continues to reverberate, with a formal SEC investigation just the latest step. Verizon seems to be leaning towards completing its acquisition despite all this, but at the very least should secure a significant discount in the price it will pay as a result of all this. Though the user fallout will be far less severe than the negative press coverage, Verizon will still have to deal with all the ongoing ripple effects of the breaches, and that’s worth a significant cut in the acquisition price.
via Yahoo reportedly under investigation by SEC over data breaches | VentureBeat (full coverage on Techmeme)
Samsung Electronics Announces Cause of Galaxy Note7 Incidents in Press Conference – Samsung (Jan 23, 2017)
See the Techmeme link below for full coverage of the press conference by reporters; the full press conference can be viewed here, with the conference starting around 29:30; and there’s some more detail on testing and other elements here. The related narrative has also been updated today to reflect the latest news.
My to-do list for Samsung at this press conference was as follows: demonstrate that the company really had found the root causes of both sets of battery fires, in a way that was credible; where possible have third parties involved; and talk through the changes to manufacturing processes to avoid these issues in future. It checked off each of these items at its press conference, so in that sense it did exactly what it needed to do: so far, so good. On the other hand, the results indicate that the manufacturing processes at Samsung’s battery partners were in some cases pretty shoddy, and that its own designs put pressure on batteries. So it’s not just the battery manufacturers at fault here, and a big part of the problem is lack of quality control –Samsung’s third party investigators were able to find faults in batteries that hadn’t caught fire, and replicate the conditions in which devices caught fire. The big question is therefore why Samsung wasn’t able to do so. All this suggests a lack of care around product testing and likely also a rush to market for competitive reasons which then shortchanged the manufacturing process. I have confidence that Samsung will make big process changes going forward, but less confidence that the culture that led to these problems will change in the same way.
via Samsung Electronics Announces Cause of Galaxy Note7 Incidents in Press Conference – Samsung Global Newsroom (full coverage on Techmeme here)