Elon Musk & Twitter – lessons on talent management

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Twitter - Elon Musk - talent management

Elon Musk & Twitter – lessons on talent management

Whatever the future of Twitter, Elon Musk’s approach to management is unlikely to work for your average CEO, and so the ongoing Twitter saga can teach us a little about the do’s and don’ts of talent management.
Twitter - Elon Musk - talent management

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has certainly been eventful. So far, he has reportedly made nearly half the workforce redundant (and informed said staff by ‘bcc’ email, or by locking them out of their work laptops) and demanded ‘long hours at high intensity’ of remaining staff, which has prompted large scale resignations. As Kylie Robison, technology reporter at Fortune, tweeted “at the beginning of this month, Twitter had 7,400 employees. Barely half way through the month, if 75% do actually stick to their decision today, the company will have shrunk by a whopping 88%”. Musk has also sacked staff via Twitter, changed working policies to demand 100% office attendance, and temporarily closed offices and disabled staff badges. And that’s just the staff management side, not to mention blue ticks and advertisers’ reactions. Now the odds on Twitter breaking are reported to be very high, and many leading firms and users are giving followers alternative ways to stay in touch on other platforms.

It’s possible, of course, that Twitter really was that overstaffed, and at any rate Musk’s record should prevent us from jumping to too many conclusions on Twitter’s long term prospects. Nevertheless, Musk’s approach is unlikely to work for your average CEO, and so perhaps the story teaches us a little about the do’s and don’ts of talent management.

Make staff buy into your vision

Visionaries have a history of inspiring people to work long hours at high intensity, and this is a business model that has worked well for Musk at Tesla and SpaceX. By all accounts he leads by example. However, as a job ad, it isn’t an overly appealing proposition for most. We live in the day and age mental health awareness and focus on work life balance, after all. Musk’s approach at Twitter appears to have skipped the staff buy in part. Perhaps staff were given good reasons for adopting an ‘extremely hardcore’ working culture, whether through the excitement of building a new Twitter or by personal reward, but the resignations would suggest otherwise.
Lesson: Making people work hard and willingly going the extra mile starts with sharing a vision they believe in, and the sense of building something great together.

Motivation matters

Elon Musk is all chaotic energy, and actions ideas at lightning speed, quite happy to break some eggs as he goes along. The sale of blue ticks is a good example (currently suspended, to be relaunched), as is his redundancy process (or lack of). This is high risk from a management perspective, as you are more likely to lose people along the way, causing disillusionment and disengagement. The quiet quitting wave is ultimately a disengagement crisis.
Lesson: Take time to share your long-term goals, your reasoning and your vision. Motivating and engaging staff matters.

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The bad and the worse way to make redundancies

Redundancies can cause a great deal of distress in a workforce, even amongst those ultimately not affected. Whilst it will never be a pleasant process, there is a good and bad way to go about it, and emails and force lockouts are not it. Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz outlined 5 steps in his guide for startup founders The Hard Thing About Hard Things: get your head right; don’t delay; be clear in about why you’re firing people; train your managers; and address the whole company. Other experts stress the importance of empathy. Redundancies affect people’s lives in a very real way, and there is also the issue of morale amongst those who stay.
Lesson: Redundancies are sometimes necessary, but the process matters, and empathy is essential.

Criticism is valid

Undoubtedly, there is a good and a bad way to share criticism with your manager and airing it on Twitter (or on Piers Morgan, in Cristiano Ronaldo’s case), is not the right way. It’s not surprising Musk took objection to his staff’s tweeted criticisms, and it’s very possible he is open to negative feedback in private. Either way, there needs to be an avenue for feedback and criticism, and firms benefit from listening to their staff.
Lesson: Create a forum for ideas, feedback and constructive criticism, and be receptive to hearing them. If you are an employee, choose the right forum.

The value of staff consultation

Elon Musk ripped up Twitter’s flexible working policies and demanded 100% office attendance overnight, a change that did not go down well, and has resulted in a discrimination lawsuit from a disabled employee.
Lesson: Heavy-handed management rarely goes down well. Even if you are decided on the end result, a process that brings staff along gives a better outcome.

Resignations are contagious

All of the above might play into the current wave of resignations at Twitter. The problem with resignations is that they often snowball – recent Visier research suggests that employees on the same team are 9.1% more likely to resign soon after a colleague leaves. Our MD Simon said he “was once taught that teams “form, norm, perform, and storm” so one resignation often leads to many. Firms, managers, teams often lose their way and sometimes wholesale change is the only way to get stability back.” It seems Elon Musk has embraced this philosophy.
Lesson: Staff turnover doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but being prepared and having a plan in place is key to success.

People thrive on stability

One of the issues business owners and employees struggled with during the pandemic was the unpredictable, ever-changing landscape. How can you plan ahead or build security with no idea of what tomorrow brings? A management team who implement unpredictable, seemingly improvised and badly communicated changes are unlikely to get the most out of their workers.
Lesson: Change can be a force for good, but people need a degree of stability and sense of security to perform well.

About Fram Search

Established in 2010, Fram Search is a specialist financial services recruitment consultancy. We focus on mid-to-senior hires in the UK and internationally.

We provide high quality contingent and retained recruitment services to boutiques and global brands. We have long established relationships, outstanding market knowledge, and access to deep talent pools. Fram takes a highly consultative approach, combining outstanding tech with a human approach. We are proud that our contingent fill rate is nearly three the industry average and we augment our retained search methodology with rigorous psychometric testing. We take ESG seriously, we are champions of diversity and all staff have undertaken unconscious bias training, we also carbon offset.

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