top of page

Twitter, Elon Musk, and (mis)management lessons

It is reasonable to say that nothing regarding Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter has gone well from the beginning. Senior leadership shakeups, widespread employee layoffs and resignations, key advertisers canceling their ads.

Musk took over as the social media giant's new CEO on October 27, just days after concluding his $44 billion purchase of the platform. He immediately fired top management, including his predecessor Parag Agrawal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal, Head of Legal, Policy, Trust, and Safety Vijaya Gadde, and General Counsel Sean Edgett. Additionally, Musk disclosed in a securities filing that Twitter's nine-member board had been disbanded and that he had "become the sole director."

Musk continued after the high executive group. Additionally, he fired half of Twitter's 7,500 employees worldwide. Twitter's chief compliance officer Marianne Fogarty, chief privacy officer Damien Kieran, and chief information security officer Lea Kissner all submitted their resignations in the days that followed the firings and mass layoffs.

According to Andrew Brodsky, assistant professor in the management department at the McCombs School of Business, "These are core components of an organization that, if they’re not functioning for even a small period of time, it can be a massive disaster."

Musk also eliminated the company's human rights team, accessible experience team, and ethical artificial intelligence unit, as suggested by the Twitter statements of other former employees.

In a podcast interview about Twitter, Josh Bersin, president and founder of the talent management company Bersin & Associates, stated that Musk "did what basically any equity investor does: He cut costs; he cut about half the people; and he did it in typical, private-equity fashion—not thinking about the culture, not thinking about the brand, just getting rid of as many people as fast as possible."

"There is an argument that that is a good idea, but I’m very much against it because what it does is it damages the culture, damages the brand, damages the skill set, and creates all sorts of problems."

Musk's management of his acquisition of Twitter serves as a cautionary tale for how not to interact with staff members or run a freshly acquired business. The discussion that follows contrasts what business management professionals characterize as effective vs poor leadership approaches with regard to encouraging an ethical and compliant culture.

Get staff members to unite around a shared vision and become more focused. Musk said, "I don’t know. I don’t have a great answer to that," in response to the question on how he intends to unite his workforce around a shared goal during his first town hall meeting with employees, the transcript of which was obtained by The Verge.   That is not typically the message that people want to hear from leaders.

According to Brodsky, one approach to engage staff members is through intrinsic motivation. This includes pulling everyone together around a same vision to make them feel like they are contributing to an important cause and that their work is significant, as well as inspiring employees through a shared purpose, he said.

Everyone is not suited to a strict system of management. According to Bersin's podcast, "Different companies are different types of societies." Some are hyper-competitive, dog-eat-dog societies, "while others, like the healthcare and education sectors, are "caring, giving, supporting environments They attract people that want that kind of life, that kind of career. You get to decide."

Twitter will fall into the first category under Musk's leadership, he has made that obvious. He cautioned, "The road ahead is arduous and will require intense work to succeed. We are also changing Twitter policy such that remote work is no longer allowed, unless you have a specific exception."

According to the New York Times, he stated that he expected everyone to work "a minimum of 40 hours per week" and gave the staff the option of taking three months' severance pay or working those hours.

"I’m a big believer that a small number of exceptional people can be highly motivated and can do better than a large number of people who are pretty good and moderately motivated. That’s my philosophy. [For] those who go hardcore and play to win, Twitter is a good place. And those who are not, totally understand—but then Twitter is not for you," Musk stated at Twitter's first town hall.

According to Brodsky, the issue with this management style is that "you end up with this reverse selection [of employees] that you ideally want, which can be a real problem in terms of retaining key talent." This is due to the fact that "temployees who are the most talented, the most hirable, are the ones who will choose the three-month severance. The ones who will end up staying are the ones who have no other options."

Constructive criticism promotes innovation and ethical workplace culture. Through his own tweets, Musk gives the impression that he dislikes criticism. Musk announced his termination of a programmer in a since-deleted message on the site after the employee openly questioned him about why the app ran sluggish in some countries.

According to Brodsky, Musk's communication style "seems to be very spontaneous and sometimes not particularly well thought out." Employees may be reluctant to "challenge the status quo or, in terms of someone in compliance, point out when they see something wrong" as a result of this, he added.

"You’re going to end up having a lot of ‘yes’ people," he continued.

Think about the greater good. In the case of Twitter, this focus might entail framing the message around all the positive things the platform has accomplished, such as giving underprivileged people all over the world a stronger voice through social media or playing a crucial part in the safety and security of vulnerable populations.

Musk, however, seems to be delivering the opposite message, as seen by the fact that he fired workers who were devoted to protecting human rights, facilitating user accessibility, and keeping an eye out for hate speech in online posts. The announcement by Musk to grant "amnesty" to Twitter users whose accounts had previously been suspended for propagating hate and violence has alarmed human rights advocacy groups across the world.

More than 60 advocacy organizations pleaded with the 20 CEOs of Twitter's biggest U.S. advertisers in a single open letter to stop using the network for advertising.

"We know that brand safety is of the utmost importance to you. As such, you also have a moral and civic obligation to take a stand against the degradation of one of the world’s most influential communications platforms," according to the letter.

50 of the top 100 Twitter advertisers, per Media Matters' data, have either announced or appear to have stopped using the network to promote. According to the group, "These advertisers have accounted for nearly $2 billion in spending on the platform since 2020 and over $750 million in advertising in 2022 alone."



bottom of page