Whether you’re a Twitterer or not, it’s impossible to ignore recent news from Elon Musk’s new business. For the World’s richest man, 44bn dollars is apparently an OK price to pay for what he says is ‘protecting democracy’ because he is apparently ‘not interested in the economics of it at all’ …hmm.
Elon may want to create a ‘town square to share our views’ but the tightrope between freedom of speech and protection against hate, is a very big challenge – one that has proven complex for all previous CEOs.
Why then, has he attracted such negative headlines over the last few weeks?
Moving too quickly
Moving quickly is no bad thing, moving so fast that your own staff can’t get into the building anymore, because you’ve laid off everyone that controls entry, is not very smart. One of the first moves Elon Musk made was to axe around 50% of Twitter’s 7,500 workers. That’s a huge number.
Not only does it mean you don’t have the time to assess who is really good, but the message it sends to the staff is offensive.
Make the changes, but to do so in a way that doesn’t alienate your staff and your clients. When Elon made brash moves while at his other companies, Tesla and SpaceX, they weren’t businesses which relied heavily on advertising revenue.
First product launch goes bust
Then Musk rolled out ‘Twitter Blue’ which was a check mark supposed to give users the opportunity to be ‘verified’ by paying $7.99 a month, but instead led to scores of scammers to buy the checkmarks, some of which Tweeted dangerously – bringing down the stock price of huge listed businesses. This led to a massive exodus of advertisers as they disassociated from the site. Musk is now being investigated.
Offending his employees
In one of his first messages to his staff, he gave them an ultimatum: commit to working “extremely hardcore” or resign. “This will mean working long hours at high intensity,” “Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”
The message spurred a mass exodus of employees. It’s hard to imagine a man more out of touch with the way staff are feeling right now, post pandemic.
Clearly, Musk doesn’t care much for a hands on approach.
But Musk will have to make sure he doesn’t come across as not caring at all.
Working at home or sleeping at work?
Did anyone else feel slightly sick when we started to see pictures circulating online of sofas being made into beds, and people sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags at Twitter HQ? Twitter might just be the first company where performance is related to sleeping at work.
What exactly could be so important that it requires you to sleep in your office? Away from your kids? Will these people feel that they have done something great in 10 years, or will they hate that sacrifice, and most probably, Elon, (who by that time will be even richer), too?
Much like his other businesses, the turnaround he’s planning will depend on writing ‘great code’ – the question is whether he will be able to find the staff to do that.
Knowing your place in the market
The issue is whether he can attract the kind of high quality staff from competitors like Facebook and You Tube, who currently can be paid much higher salaries there. Furthermore, you have to ask yourself whether those people will want to work for Elon after everything they have seen.
In a company like SpaceX or Tesla, you might stick around because you really care about Space or Electric cars, at Twitter, it’s much harder to imagine.
This will cost Elon BIG when he comes to hiring.
Elon’s big idea
Elon’s idea is to do less moderation on Twitter – he wants Twitter to be the “global town square,” but in practice, that’s impossible to achieve if Twitter is seen as taking a side on big issues, like Covid, or politics. Elon seems to find it hard not to take sides on any major issue.
As soon as Twitter is seen as having a “side” it will have problems being a place where everybody comes together. This is complicated because even issues like how to support free speech — or even whether to support free speech — have become polarized.
Musk has said that he doesn’t care what people think, but personal brand is nothing but what other people think.
Musk was Time’s person of the year last year, it’s very hard to imagine that again now. Lately he’s even been booed on stages where he has presented.
It’s actually not that hard to do this better.
Good managers explain to the staff what’s about to happen in detail. But great managers make key members of staff responsible for the rollout of what’s about to happen, in a way that keeps all the best people on board.
Staff will talk to other staff, they are much less likely to come and talk to the CEO.
The Worlds richest man will have to learn to start caring, (or at least caring what other people think), if he is going to build a loyal workforce to turn his 44bn dollar toy around.
Rana is a Managing Director of Funds Talent, a Search and Selection Firm for the Funds Industry. Along with being a company director, she is a passionate people person, and an executive recruiter for the funds and asset management industry.