The Washington Post offers this management style as news, and these days it certainly seems to be. After pushing half of his payroll out the door, Elon Musk has decided to allow the remaining half to whittle it down even further. If Twitter staffers want to keep their high-paying salaries, they had to sign a pledge to actually work for them in the new “extremely hard-core Twitter” future.
Elon Musk issued an ultimatum to Twitter employees Wednesday morning: commit to a new “hardcore” Twitter or leave the company with severance pay.
Employees were told they had to a sign a pledge to stay on with the company. “If you are sure that you want to be part of the new Twitter, please click yes on the link below,” read the email to all staff, which linked to an online form.
Anyone who did not sign the pledge by 5 p.m. Eastern time Thursday would receive three months of severance pay, the message said.
In the midnight email, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Musk said Twitter “will need to be extremely hardcore” going forward. “This will mean working long hours at high intensity,” he said. “Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”
Welcome to corporate America, circa 2019. Or for that matter, any time before the pandemic, and not just corporate America. All of the jobs I’ve ever held expected me to work at “high intensity” in the office or elsewhere to keep my job. Believe me, once you’ve worked at a pizza place owned by a Brooklyn ex-pat in the suburbs of Los Angeles whose mode of communication was shouting expletives at decibels approaching jet-engine levels, you have gotten prepared for earning a living anywhere. (And, might I add, that was when the owner was in a good mood. We had to really worry when he spoke softly.) We were expected to make “extremely hardcore pizza,” I suppose, even though as teenagers we goldbricked when we could, too.
It only got worse when adulthood came, especially in salaried corporate positions. Who among us in such jobs hasn’t typically put in 50 hours a week or so to remain competitive and deliver on results? Most grown-ups have to actually produce for a solid 40 in an office, at least, even these days. And almost none of us get catered meals, sad rooms, etc. Musk’s line that “only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade” is a cliché that any cubicle denizen has heard every performance-review cycle since the 1980s. Scott Adams no doubt has more than one Dilbert panel on that.
So basically, all Musk wants to do is impose typical corporate-America work expectations on Twitter, which is only news because Twitter was a bloated exception to the market. Lacking a clear direct competitor, Twitter had grown so bloated that its previous ownership was delighted to dump its stock when Musk bid on it. They had the same problem facing Musk — profitability — but without the acute pressure of the leverage that Musk used to buy it up. Either way, the gravy-train days of Twitter were coming to a rapid end; previous management just managed to get out before they were forced to restructure.
The immediate result of this demand will be more attrition, particularly in the areas where commitment to profitability is most lacking. Those will get handled as layoffs, apparently, as Musk will provide the three-month severance to keep from running afoul of federal and state labor laws. Musk doesn’t seem particularly concerned about brain drains, since he envisions Twitter as basically an engineering enterprise. More attrition seems to be the point, in fact:
Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore. This will mean working long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.
Twitter will also be much more engineering-driven. Design and product management will still be very important and report to me, but those writing great code will constitute the majority of our team and have the greatest sway.
At its heart, Twitter is a software and servers company, so l think this makes sense.
If that’s the model Musk wants to pursue, then pushing for significantly more attrition makes sense, too. Rather than just chop for chopping’s sake again, as Musk did at first, this time he wants the low-motivation brigades to self-identify to clear out more of the deadwood, as he would see it. This kind of approach has its risks, though: usually the people who have the most marketable skills leave first, and the deadwood sticks around. However, right now the tech industry is shedding lots of jobs and perhaps is on the cusp of a bubble burst, which means the marketable Twitter employees may not have many options at the moment.
What’s been remarkable — and what undergirds Musk’s actions — is how little impact the loss of half the staff of Twitter has had on the product. Even the moderation regimes that conservatives despise haven’t really hiccuped yet. Either this platform can run on autopilot for a long time before crashing, or it takes a lot fewer people to run it effectively — especially when they work 40 hours a week in the office instead of 10-15 hours a week, wherever. Musk’s cost-control needs has revealed that much already, and is certainly informing him of the value of coders … and the lack of such in most other areas of the company.
Will Musk succeed in launching a new, “hardcore” Twitter 2.0 with this kind of focus? It’s tough to say, but it will be interesting to observe the process — and the results.
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