Remarks from Uber Press Call

Below are remarks, as prepared, from today’s press call with:

  • Arianna Huffington, Uber Board member, who spoke about leadership and accountability, including our search for a COO;
  • Liane Hornsey, Chief Human Resources Officer, who provided an update on our efforts to improve our company culture; and
  • Rachel Holt, head of our US & Canada business, who gave an overview of our business performance so far in 2017 and our plans to improve the driver experience.

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Arianna Huffington: Thank you everyone for joining us this afternoon. My name is Arianna Huffington and I joined Uber’s board of directors a year ago. There’s been no shortage of news about Uber lately, so before we start I wanted to make clear again that the purpose of this call is not to create yet more headlines. Rather it’s to try and explain how we’re thinking about the changes that are necessary to make Uber a truly great company.

As I said at the first All Hands at Uber with Travis when all of this started, that this is very personal for me. I have two daughters who are young adults, just starting out in their careers. I want to make sure that the company that we build at Uber reflects the best of anything in the workplace. So that no woman ever has to choose between advancing her career and completely unacceptable treatment.  

So you’ll be hearing from me about leadership and accountability. You’re going to hear from Liane Hornsey, our Chief HR officer who joined Uber 11 weeks ago, and finally Rachel Holt, who joined Uber five and a half years ago, and now runs the whole US and and Canada business. Liane will focus on Uber’s culture and the changes being made, and Rachel will focus on the business and our work with drivers. After that, we’ll turn it over to questions.

Leadership and Accountability

So let’s start with leadership because it’s the question that seems to be on the top of everyone’s minds. Put simply, change starts at the top. That’s why Travis accepted responsibility from the first All Hands and apologized for leading the company to that point. He also announced a search for a COO two weeks ago: a peer who who can work with him to help him write the next chapter of Uber’s story. Many of you have been asking what qualities we’re looking for in a COO. In short, Uber needs a leader who has significant operational experience and who understands service-related businesses at a local and global scale; who can thrive in a hyper-growth company; and someone with the strength and smarts to work alongside a founder as a true partner.

We know that this skillset is hard to find. But Bill Gurley—who is leading the Board subcommittee effort for the COO search—and I have both been impressed by the caliber of candidates that we’re talking to already: truly world-class leaders who have worked in very complex organizations already. And what’s clear is that whatever Uber’s challenges, the best of the best are coming to the table, excited about the company’s potential, which Rachel will talk about in a moment.  

Having spoken to hundreds of employees either personally or on the phone, and receiving hundreds of emails, it’s also clear that there’s a real appetite for change internally. People want to be part of the solution. People understand that we need to complement the skills which have gotten Uber where we are today, with the expertise and the skills needed to succeed in the years ahead. And they want to be part of that change. Everyone, from Travis downwards, is excited about bringing in a COO from whom the whole team can learn.

Let me finish up by saying that as I’ve told Travis and the management team, I will be holding their feet to the fire. Uber must change if it is to be as successful in the next decade as it has been in the last seven years. And second, as I told employees a few weeks back, creating a great culture will be key to their future success. Going forward there can be no room at Uber for brilliant jerks and zero tolerance for anything but totally respectable behavior in an equitable workplace environment. I will now hand over to Liane.

Culture and Organization

Liane Hornsey: Thanks Arianna. So, I’ve been here at Uber for 11 weeks. For someone like me who deals with changing cultures, being at Uber is exactly where I want to be. Because clearly, there’s a lot of work to be done. But what makes my job enviable is that Travis has given me full license to do what it takes.  

Uber has grown superfast for its already large size. Last year, the number of employees actually doubled. The focus of the company has been on the business not the employees, and too little attention was being paid to the way the things were operating internally.

Now is the time to rectify this balance. This is my primary focus right now—on ensuring we have the right organizational design; the right culture; and the right employee proposition.

My first few days here were spent reading all the people-related data I could lay my hands on. We have also run over 100 listening sessions across the company to help us understand exactly how our employees feel, and what they want to change.

We have nine areas of focus. It is my intention to work on each one, together, with our employees, involving them every step of the way.

For example, many employees don’t find our performance management system transparent or equitable. And too much time is spent looking backward rather than forward. And we need to change it.

We need to change it to be continuous rather than a heavy moment in time; it needs to be more open and development-focused. We are surveying employees to ask them exactly what is important to them and we are involving them in developing a new approach. This is important—it is how we will differentiate ourselves. Our approach to change will not be top-down.

Since I joined we’ve spent a good deal of time reflecting on what will lead to true diversity and inclusion. Clearly, this matters a great deal to all of us and it must underpin everything we do; this is the foundation of positive cultural change.

In January I was pleased to announce that we hired Bernard Coleman to lead our Diversity efforts. He joined us from the Hillary for America campaign, where he served as Chief Diversity & Human Resources Officer. By the end of the month we will publish our first diversity report, something that employees and third parties have been requesting for a long while.

Our focus on diversity and inclusion will be critical to ensuring that Uber is a great place to work. For example, already in recruiting, we’ve updated 1,500 Uber job descriptions to ensure they are free from unconscious bias. In addition we’re focusing on improving candidate experience, ensuring we have diverse panels of trained interviewers. We are running interview training for women in tech to ensure that all our female employees are really well equipped to be involved.

Finally, we’re rolling out training to educate and empower employees, including: Why Diversity Matters; How to be an Ally; and Building Inclusive Teams. Training of course is not a panacea but it will set the standard of behavior that we require.

Looking closely at our culture: it’s absolutely a truism that every strength in excess can become a weakness.

Uber is disruptive—and disruption demands the confidence to be bold. What I have seen though, is that this has translated internally to what I would call a cult of the individual. We now need to expend genuine effort ensuring the individual is never more important than the team—not ever. We need to work more closely as a team, and at this point over-index on making room to ensure that everyone can be heard and that everyone feels valued.

We have already started the process of determining the behaviors that we want, and contrasting them to what we have now. That gap analysis will underpin all of our change activity.

Change starts with action. And while it is still early days, we’re starting to put in place programs that will help change our culture and the workplace environment at Uber. I am exceptionally upbeat about what we can achieve. And now I will pass over to Rachel.

Business & Drivers

Rachel Holt: Hi everyone. Thanks so much. My name is Rachel Holt and I run our operations and marketing teams in the U.S. and Canada. I’ve been at Uber for five and a half years. There’s no question my job has changed dramatically in that time. For my first few months as the general manager in Washington, D.C., I was cold-calling and pitching towncar drivers—driver after driver. It’s key to how we get started in cities, even today. Over time that changes dramatically as more passengers attract more drivers to the platform, and our technology kicks in.

The last two months have been incredibly challenging. We all understand that things fundamentally need to change—and you’ve heard from Arianna and Liane about some of those changes within our leadership and our culture. The most important change in my view, though, is how we work with drivers.

Our riders and drivers have been what has kept me and so many others on our team motivated. It’s clear that they value the freedom Uber offers—the ability to get around their cities easily at the push of a button; or the flexibility that comes from being their own boss.

We are in the fortunate position that the business remains healthy, allowing us the time to focus on all the changes that are necessary. Last week, riders in the U.S. took more trips with Uber than ever before. In fact, in our most mature country we’ve grown faster in the first 10 weeks of 2017 than in the first 10 weeks of 2016. Looking at less mature regions like Latin America, trips were up up 600 percent in February, year on year.

I remember when I first used Uber as a passenger, even before joining the company, and drivers would tell me how much they loved the service. It was transforming their lives. Across our product, operations and customer support teams, we’ve underinvested in the driver experience and relationships with many drivers are frayed. We are now re-examining everything we do in order to rebuild that love.

Drivers are at the center of the Uber experience, and the app they use to go online and earn money is at the center of theirs. It’s about more stable earnings, a better product to take the stress out of driving, providing more human and understandable communications, and support so that drivers are true “partners.”

Last week, for example, we announced that we’ve rebuilt our in-app navigation from the ground up. A total redesign. And this week we’re starting to rollout a new feature that will allow riders to correct their pick-up location (instead of having to cancel and re-request). This is a real headache for drivers and should help them make far better use of their valuable time. We all know that our earnings statements are far too confusing and we’re working to make them much simpler so that drivers can more easily understand how much they make.

While we have a lot more in store, technology is only one part of the experience. We also know we also need to bring more humanity to the way we interact with drivers. One way we’re doing that is by improving the training of our support agents and expanding our network of Greenlight Hubs. This will give drivers the support they need, while ensuring that they feel heard and respected. In addition, we’re updating many customer support policies in the coming days that were unintentionally stacked against drivers. For example:

  • When looking into rider complaints, we’ll now take into account driver history. Going forward someone with three rider complaints but just 100 trips under their belt will be treated very differently than a driver who has received three complaints but completed 10,000 trips. For example: Nyima is a driver in Toronto who had received plenty of stellar feedback over 8,000 trips. But simply because three riders had complained about him during that entire time, he was suspended. He’s now back on the road, but he had to waste valuable time going into Greenlight Hub to make his case.  These kind of policies misses are unacceptable and are now being fixed.
  • We also need to give drivers a say in fare adjustments, instead of solely relying on what a rider tells us. For example, there are times when riders accidentally cancel a trip while they’re actually still on the way to their destination. When this happens, the driver is only paid out up to the point of cancellation, even if they complete the trip. We had made the bar higher for drivers than riders on fare adjustments. But going forward, we will make sure they are fully compensated for their time.
  • And in addition to relying solely on rider feedback when suspending a driverfor example, a rider writes in saying that their driver didn’t look like the picture in the app we will use technology like Real-Time ID Check to validate the driver is who they say they are and get them back on the road quickly. This will mean less unnecessary—and unfair—time off the road for our driver partners.

These examples are just a start in our effort to overhaul our relationship with drivers and we know we have a long way to go. We have listened and we’ve heard that the major pain points from drivers are earnings, stress, support, and communications. We are committed to making progress on core driver issues this issues this year.

Let me end by starting where Arianna began: I’m excited for us to bring in leadership that I can continue to learn from. Everyone at Uber, including Travis, knows that we must change and is excited about learning from a COO who can complement our company’s leadership with the new skills that will be needed in the years ahead. I’m committed to ensuring that everyone in the Uber community—employees, riders, drivers, and the cities that we serve—feels proud of our progress.

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