Musk Begins a Culture of Tyranny at Twitter
It’s been a jaw-dropping month watching Elon Musk’s Twitter take-over, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been following in shock and horror like it’s some kind of silicon valley reality TV show. But with the horrifying truth – that it’s reality!
While Musk claimed he would be ‘reorganising’ Twitter’s culture, it has been more like a massacre than a make-over. Within his first week, Musk had laid off 50% of Twitter’s workforce.
Some of Elon’s moves may have been to the point of comedy but watching a culture unravel, and people’s lives changed in the process, is nothing short of watching an ego-maniac dictator invade a small country. The similarities feel all too familiar with other global events we’ve seen this year.
To add insult to injury, most of these firings have been without cause, and even instigated by Musk himself when anyone dares to disagree with him.
One case was available for the entire world to see as Musk appeared to publicly fire a Twitter software engineer on the platform who disagreed with him over why Twitter’s app was slow to function for Android users.
Other cases include, ex-Twitter staff publicly sharing their firing on Twitter, only for Elon to mock them on the platform for the world to see.
It appears Musk is doing everything in the “how to be a bad boss” guide and destroying any possible existence of a high-performing culture.
Twitter’s Culture War Timeline;
October 26th 2022
Elon enter’s Twitter HQ carrying a sink. Tells Twitter employees that there will be layoffs but not at a large scale.
October 27th 2022
Musk immediately fires CEO Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, and general counsel Sean Edgett.
November 1st 2022
Musk reportedly orders Twitter staff to work a 12-hour shift to accomplish his goal of launching the new verification system within a week. A verification system that it’s haphazardly decided upon himself.
November 4th 2022
Musk makes 50% of Twitter employees redundant as part of an alleged cost-cutting measure. Musk’s reasoning is due to a massive drop in company revenue with advertisers leaving Twitter.
November 10th 2022
Musk reveals to Twitter staff that more cuts may be necessary as the company faces bankruptcy.
November 11th 20202
The blue tick verification system gets aborted due to accounts abusing the verification system. (Even though Musk was warned of this by users and fellow Twitter colleagues.)
More top execs at Twitter leave.
November 12th 2022
Under Musk’s request, Twitter fires 80% of contract employees without notice.
November 15th 2022
Musk fires more employees for expressing negative opinions about him in a private Slack channel at the company.
The Musk Reign So Far…
Work Longer hours and HARDER!
The first demands from Musk came in an email to staff declaring that they “will need to be extremely hardcore” to succeed. Saying, “This will mean working longer hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”
Musk is well-known to be an overworker, and encourages this in his other companies SpaceX and Tesla. Many have claimed to have reached the point of burnout before leaving the companies because they couldn’t keep up with the unhealthy demands on their lives.
According to Musk himself and numerous reports, it’s claimed that Musk works 100+ hours per week, sometimes even sleeping in the office. And this is what he expects from his staff too.
From a “forward-thinking” and “innovative” leader, (or so it’s claimed), the archaic overwork mindset doesn’t back up Musk’s persona as a being a leader of the future. Quite the opposite. These demands are something I would expect of a leader in the 1900s. Instead, Musk’s autocratic style only cements the reality that many silicon valley leaders are actually completely out of touch with the future of work.
What’s more distressing is the ‘celebrity’ status that leaders like Musk have created. Which means they are perpetuating the toxic leadership mindset that overwork is a badge of honour.
Remote Working is Over at Twitter
Despite Twitter being a global company that has supported remote work under the leadership of Jack Dorsey, with Musk’s takeover, all remote work has been suspended.
In an email to Twitter staff reported by Bloomberg, Musk said people would be expected in the office for at least 40 hours per week.
Backtracking from Dorsey’s “work at home forever” pledge feels like yet another backward step for Twitter’s culture under Musk’s leadership.
How can Musk expect to hire global talent, and remain agile when he is demanding that an office-first culture is the only one that can exist?
For the Mission, or for Musk?
“Tweeps” – or Twitter people, as they call themselves in the company culture have often claimed that it’s for the mission not for the money as their reason to work for Twitter. Twitter’s mission was to serve the public conversation.
But many have left claiming that since Musk’s ownership of Twitter, people are more enamoured by Musk than the mission.
Across Twitter and the press, Musk has announced that he just wants true believers at Twitter, “People who believe in the vision of Twitter.” Yet, those ‘true believers’ are exactly the ones who are in the firing line as soon as they challenge anything that comes out of Musk’s mouth.
It appears that what Musk is really looking for are people who are fully aligned with what he’s doing. Fanboys of a celebrity rather than partners of a shared mission.
As one ex-Twitter employee revealed to the press, “A lot of people seem tickled by the fact this very person is in their presence.”
The execution of critics happened early in the take-over. Top executives were fired without cause, or for some, causes that would have never been applicable before the days of Musk. One lead engineer at Twitter was fired for not spending all of his waking hour’s engineering.
Many are calling this a form of internal censorship, and fears have been sparked that Musk’s cavalier attitude of axing anyone who disagrees with him has meant that key people of influence who are fundamental to the platform’s technology, are leaving the company in a difficult position. People are concerned that should something go wrong, the right person won’t be there to fix it.
Transparency replaced with Bureaucracy
Before Musk’s reign, Twitter was well-known to be a transparent company culture where information about projects was shared freely. But the tides have turned, and now transparency has been replaced with secrecy and bureaucracy. And we all know how that can destroy a culture, we only have to look at other tech giants Apple and Microsoft.
In one documented account, a Twitter employee had found themselves locked out of slack channels and other documents that before Musk’s take-over were available for any member of staff to read.
Bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation. Musk may be an aspirational leader, but he shouldn’t be anywhere near steering the ship.
A leader we shouldn’t follow
Musk’s attitude is everything that has been documented to cause toxic workplace cultures where low psychological safety exists.
Arrogant and autocratic, his public outbursts to Twitter employees say everything about his attitude towards his team. Unless they’re doing what he’s saying, he isn’t interested. Word on the street is that inside Twitter, the Salute emoji has become the default response to Musk’s demands.
It’s not just what’s going on behind closed doors that is problematic for the culture Musk is creating at Twitter. Anyone would caution a CEO from publicly embarrassing or ridiculing employees. I’m sure there are many entrepreneurs, and Harvard alumni cringing at his actions.
A leader should not be destroying psychological safety but building it.
Musk is creating an environment where people are afraid to flag problems, let alone have the confidence to share ideas. At this point, Musk needs all the ideas he can get if he’s going to bring this dying bird back to life.
The culture errors Musk is making;
People should look at Musk’s leadership of Twitter as an example of ‘how not to lead’. Basically, whatever Musk does, do the opposite. And here’s why…
Performance by hours vs Outcome driven
It’s been continuously proven that hours put in do not equate to quality or ‘exceptional performance.’ Yet Musk seems determined to push this way of working into the Twitter culture.
The truth is, teams should be driven by the outcome.
It’s even idiotic to still believe that putting in a set amount of hours will create the best outcome. This mindset may have worked in the factory setting of the 1900s when you needed to get as many widgets out of the doors as humanly possible, but it no longer works in the era we find ourselves in now. People need time to explore ideas and possibilities, and that doesn’t come from hours put in.
In the hyper-fast world of tech, it seems even more bizarre to use old ways of working that only slow a company down, when competition is literally on the doorstep.
Instead, teams should be focused on the mission and outcomes that they desire. Only by working together, and feeling safe and confident in their environment will new ideas emerge.
40 hours vs Autonomy and flexibility
I shouldn’t need to list the thousands of data sets that are out there which prove a 40+ hour work week slows down productivity. The evidence is out there, but CEOs like Musk continue to ignore it.
True workplace pioneers know that enabling autonomy and flexibility, supports people in creating their best work.
A healthy team, who have ownership over their time, and are aware of what’s needed, are far more likely to outperform any company where overwork, high stress, and clockwatching are the norm.
Any company can work all the hours in the day – it doesn’t mean what they produce is going to be of any use to the world.
Bureaucracy vs Transparency
The stories of Musk bringing in layers of bureaucracy further highlight how backward his mindset is when it comes to high-performing teams.
Bureaucracy builds silos, makes people overly concerned with internal politics and slows companies down. They are no longer agile or collaborative.
Transparency builds awareness, and awareness leads to innovation. Teams are more open to collaborate, understand how their performance impacts the company and can determine where blocks may be occurring that are getting in the way of the work.
Boss bias vs Diversity
Unfortunately due to Musk’s ego-centric leadership style, he is creating an environment where he only rewards those who are most like him. Inadvertently, this ends up creating a culture where inclusion and diversity cannot thrive.
For a global platform, it’s concerning that one bias and one viewpoint is the driving force behind Twitter. How can the company represent a worldwide user base, if its team don’t even have diversity?
Predictions are a fool’s game, but it’s fun to play. So what can we expect to see next from Musk’s reign at Twitter?
Unfortunately, there will be some who will quickly jump into the cold seat of an ex-Tweep just to get close to the Musk-factor. These people will be career climbers, who see this as an opportunity to glamorise their CV before jumping ship to somewhere that’s more comfortable.
You could say, short-term pain for long-term gain. But is this the culture any company wants? One where people are eager to just ‘try it on’ for a while and then leave. Are they committed to doing good work, or just ride the wave to give them the next step?
There are many looming questions about how Twitter’s team will move forward, and just how competitive it may get.
I’m doubtful, but Musk could deliver a new vision for Twitter, hire genuine experts to help with the culture, and let him get on with what he loves best. However, it doesn’t appear that he has any place for culture in his strategy, which means we’re left watching the chaos wondering how it’s all going to end.