• Opinion: HR should be next in line for Uberfication

  • 17 Mar 2016
  • Comments 6 comments

Uber has shaken up the taxi industry, writes Graham White, so isn’t it time its principles revolutionised HR?

In just seven years, taxi app Uber has turned a century-old industry upside down. I recently took my first journey in an Uber car and – as well as being impressed by its service – I quickly realised that HR has a lot to learn from this ‘disruptive’ organisation.

The essence of Uber’s success can be distilled to just one thing: pace. Since 2000, change has become synonymous with pace. Change is happening across all industries and at uncontrollable speeds, hitting HR hard. We need to take a leaf out of Uber’s handbook and embrace change.

Because change is something that HR traditionally struggles with. We have become experts at relaunching ourselves and rebranding our services – without substantially revising what we’re doing. We let anyone write a book about HR and instantly cry ‘eureka’ and alter our name, our direction and our mantra. But how many HR departments have actually successfully repositioned themselves as a credible value-added service?

So what can we learn from Uber? Having a highly polished, clean car used to be a competitive advantage in the taxi industry, but that has changed. Uber drivers use ordinary cars and the firm allows users to rate drivers for their friendliness, cooperation and effectiveness – and provides a service that is priced well below typical cab fares.

Just as polishing the wheels on your traditional taxi is now a waste of energy, so is tweaking an outdated bureaucratic HR model by regularly changing its name. If your personnel department never actually evolved beyond changing its name to HR, it will forever remain a hindrance to managers and staff. And, in the absence of good service, our customers will look elsewhere. Third-party online HR services are continuing to evolve into credible alternatives that will be the in-house HR team’s ‘Uber’ nemesis.

Uber innovated in three ways: it reduced costs, allowed untrained operators into the market and empowered users. These are ways in which online HR services – or an ‘UberHR’ – pose a real threat to the traditional HR function. We cannot wait for the next book or keynote speech to be published; we have to change now because the customer is demanding something different from us and outsourced services are already gaining ground.

HR must see the need for change and adapt to it, while never compromising on the real purpose of modern HR provision. Innovation exists within our profession – now it’s time to set it free.

Crucially, Uber understands the real rationale behind the taxi industry: moving people from A to B, rather than designing sumptuous methods of transport. Similarly, HR needs greater clarity about it’s purpose, and not get distracted by its processes. Having the best-looking taxi fleet – or best-looking HR processes – just isn’t the point anymore.

Fundamentally, Uber is winning market share because it’s on the user’s side. So perhaps we shouldn’t fear UberHR, but look forward to the emergence of a confident HR profession that embraces its users and puts their experiences at its core.

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Comments (6)
  • Are HR resistant to change? That doesn't reflect the people I work with every day or the amount of change that we are constantly managing and guiding. I don't much read People Management magazine any more as I can't relate to the amount of talking we do about ourselves as a function and how 'reluctant' and 'uncredible' we are - where is the evidence that any of that is true on a large scale?

  • The problem with HR is that it is so easy to "fall into" in the first place and requires no formal certification before practicing. There are too many unqualified hacks doing the job presently who give those of us who have degrees and certifications a bad name. Thus, I'd say the HR model is quite like Uber today already, albeit Uber driver's at least need a license to drive whereas HR professionals are free to wreak havoc on an organization without any licensing or certification required.

  • My instincts tell me not to agree with Mr White. HR needs to be about more than just a collection of policies and procedures.

    Then I read some of the other news stories about the Uber approach and I know that adopting the same approach for the HR function would be a step in the wrong direction.

    Anyone it seems can be an Uber driver, in any car, with any level of knowledge of the location in which they are providing a taxi service.

    We need to increase and improve the professionalisation of the HR profession, making entry to it something that is earned and valued, in the same way as London taxi drivers are trying to protect the professionalism of theirs.

  • Ian - I so want to agree with you - but reality is already ahead of us Forbes Magazine 2013 "Today an estimated 50 percent of large companies outsource all or part of their HR needs."

  • Considering it appropriate to compare the employment experience - with all its nuances requiring direction, guidance, support, etc - to a taxi ride worries me not a little!!

  • While I agree that HR needs to be a credible value-added service, I disagree fundamentally that outsourced HR can ever truly provide that. To be truly credible, HR needs to provide a service based on a detailed, in-depth understanding of the ethos of the organisation and its key business drivers. In other words it has to be context-specific while operating within a framework bounded by the requirements of employment law. An outsourced service responding, as it inevitably must, to the requirements of multiple clients of varying size, complexity and sector would be hard pushed to deliver a completely bespoke service to each of its clients unless it had its own workforce of a size which would, most likely, render its cost base so large as to make its operation unsustainable.