What Uber’s Failings Say About HR’s Partnership with Business Leaders


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Vaya Group

leadership development, HR partnerships, HR executives

Partnership Concept. Button on Modern Computer Keyboard with Word Partners on It..jpeg

Uber’s multitude of problems, CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation, and the bad rap that Uber’s HR has received has prompted a discussion on the topic of HR partnership with business leaders, and leadership development. Uber’s mistakes have also raised an important question: What is the role of HR?

HR’s Place At The Table

In my experience, HR is seen as a “check-the-box”, an administrative function by many business leaders, or worse, as a cover-up for mistakes made by leadership. However, HR should be positioning themselves as true business partners. This would allow HR to have a seat at the table to make strategic decisions and provide opportunity to develop and coach leadership to instill the right behaviors.

Here are some ways HR can start having proactive involvement and avoid situations like Uber experienced.

  • Set up expectations with business unit leaders: Setting expectations should be one of HR’s primary objectives at the onset of any relationship with business unit leaders. The first step for HR should be outlining how they want to be positioned in the business and where would they like more decision-making authority. HR executives should state those expectations immediately when working with each business unit leader, somewhat like signing a contract with those leaders.
  • Follow through on the expectations: Revisiting these expectations at every meeting with the business unit leader is important as well. There may be times when HR will have to renegotiate what was agreed upon, but having those discussions and resolving problems before they hinder the relationship is an important way to establish credibility.
  • When a problem arises, intervene with authority: Helping the leader understand HR is there for the benefit of the business leader and not to throw them “under the bus” is also another way to establish a more strategic partnership. Coaching the leader  on how to be effective in future situations could also establish rapport. In Uber’s instance, HR could have intervened when they saw the problems instead of considering themselves only as a “recruitment” function and possibly shunning their responsibility. Had they  considered themselves as partners, HR would have been in the position to even coach the employee to demonstrate appropriate behaviors in the organization.
    If HR sees a problem – for example, a leader is not demonstrating the core values of the organization or is showing preferences to certain candidates because of his/her own biases – it's important HR intervenes with authority. Objectively talking about the behavior and linking it to the impact it has on the organization is an effective way to make the leader realize their bias. Helping the leader understand HR is there for the benefit of the business leader and not to throw them “under the bus” is also another way to establish a more strategic partnership. Coaching the leader on how to be effective in future situations could also establish rapport. In Uber’s instance, HR could have intervened when they saw the problems instead of considering themselves only as a “recruitment” function and possibly shunning their responsibility. Had they considered themselves as partners, HR would have been in the position to even coach the employee to demonstrate appropriate behaviors in the organization.
  • Be assertive, not aggressive: Approaching difficult conversations can be tricky, and HR may at times be seen as overly aggressive when they enforce certain rules or processes. Communicating the rules and processes, but also asking what the business leaders want from HR, is valuable in setting the right tone for future conversations.
  • Understand the hesitation and deal with it: If HR sees a business leader is not responding to their multiple attempts at correcting the situation, again objectively stating the behavior they are observing of the leader and trying to understand their hesitation is important. If HR lets it go unnoticed, then they lose their chance to make important changes in that leader's behaviors.
  • Come up with a solution together: The core of HR should be to approach all situations with the intent of partnering with business leaders and coming up with a solution together. Engaging business leaders in collaborative conversations would lead to less resistance from business leaders to follow HR processes.
  • Ask for feedback: Finally, asking business leaders directly for feedback on HR processes is essential. What am I doing well? How can I add more value to your business? This allows for open conversations and leads to business partnerships. HR needs to be perceived as open, approachable, and willing to listen in order to be seen as a partner to the organization. This also creates a culture in the organization where individuals will openly engage with HR when they see a problem without feeling intimidated.

To conclude, it’s important HR considers themselves as partners and take a more proactive role at establishing relationships with business leaders so that they can intervene when problems arise and develop effective leadership behaviors in the organization.

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Topics: leadership development HR partnerships HR executives

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