Are we still talking about Uber? Yup, we’re still talking about Uber. And we will be for some time, since allegations of sexual harassment and a toxic culture at the tech company have set of a veritable avalanche of revelations there and elsewhere in the Valley. The only question is whether or not they’ll come to something, a change in the tech industry’s approach to management and human resources. And being as Uber continues to dominate conversation in the HR space, I thought I might as well devote this week’s reading recommendations to it.
Here is your Friday five:
How do you get people to work long hours without complaint? You can employ workers with no other good choice and get not so great work. You can compensate workers well and get better work, but you’ll lose them to other company’s that offer more. Or you can do one of the two while also finding some way to motivate and instil loyalty in them. For many tech startups their strategy is to promise future glory and to build ties between workers with a kind of dorm room work hard, play hard culture. And it works — but is “how to get people to work hard” really the central management question of a company? The focus certainly gets results but it neglects a whole host of legal and personnel considerations — there is more to work and more to a company than working hard and getting results. Nora Jenkins writes that it’s time for Silicon Valley to grow up and recognize this.
Carol Hymowitz looks at the life cycle of Silicon Valley, the ideology and practices that shape companies in their early stages to explain why Silicon Valley just doesn’t care about HR. In the early stages of a company creating an intriguing idea or product that can attract investors is the main focus. As it grows, that focus expands a bit to pleasing investors, improving the product and connecting with users. Good corporate governance and people management don’t seem particularly relevant, and by the time the company has grown far larger, so large that HR is a must, important decisions about hiring, promotions and benefits have already made, and the company culture has already developed.
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When Silicon Valley companies finally hire HR staff, they often do so with a handful of narrow priorities in mind: recruiting and retention. If a top performer bullies colleagues or subordinates, they decide it’s more important to keep him happy than to address the concerns of his targets.
Sean Illing talks to Sarah Lacy of Pando Daily about the revelations of harassment at Uber and elsewhere, and why these stories just keep coming. It’s not simply that Uber and Tesla have toxic company cultures but that the Valley as a whole has a much too high tolerance for toxicity and “bro culture.”
Of course those us in the HR space think that it’s a critical part of every business, small or large, but Kathryn Moody argues that Uber shows just how critical it is. HR is concerned with people management in a way that’s antithetical to how many startups are managed. It’s not “disruptive.” It’s concerned with boring things like compliance and best practices. But well managed and empowered HR department can limit liability, increase employee satisfaction and retention and, hopefully, prevent the kind of abuses that we’re learning are too common in the tech sector.
At Uber, Tesla and many other Silicon Valley companies, HR failed. Although Lisa Haugh says that we shouldn’t blame HR for what goes down at these companies, I think that HR must shoulder its portion of the blame. HR had an opportunity to help employees like Susan Fowler and these departments chose to protect the company at the cost of women’s mental (and sometimes physical) health and well being. All HR departments are bound to work for the good of the company their attached to, but abuse of employees should not be excused or swept under the rug in pursuit of profits, good press or landing “top talent.” So while I do think HR should accept some of the blame, I agree with Haugh that stronger HR departments could improve things in the Valley.
But these stronger HR departments must have as much of a sense of vision as the CEOs that drive the organization to success — because they must communicate to business leaders the importance of the work they do, and the importance of doing it right. HR can help navigate businesses toward longterm sustainable success and healthy company cultures, or they they facilitate abuses from on high. As much as Silicon Valley CEOs need to grow up and do better, so do their HR departments need to step up and commit to doing more.