how Elon Musk’s management shook up employees’ corporate culture

Twitter employees knew that the arrival of Elon Musk would disrupt their habits. But many were surprised by how violently the billionaire forced his vision on the company.

Everyone expected a showdown and no one was disappointed: Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter exposed the rift between San Francisco’s corporate culture and the ways of Tesla’s multi-billionaire boss.

“I have the impression that Musk is very fond of humanity but not very much of humans,” comments Emmanuel Cornet, a computer engineer who was among the first fired from the social network in the wake of the October 27 takeover.

True to its reputation

Previously, he was one of many employees who were genuinely curious to see the successful entrepreneur at work, despite his propensity for provocations that delight his many fans.

“I think we had blinders on. Most of the employees tried to give him the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible, also because finding another job isn’t necessarily easy,” he sums up.

But Elon Musk, beyond the big smiles and enthusiastic statements, has lived up to his reputation.

He fired half of the group’s 7,500 employees with a coldness rare, even for the United States, thanked executives and engineers who disagreed with him, and finally imposed an ultimatum: work “fully, unconditionally” or Leave. Hundreds of people have chosen the second option.

“People seem disposable to him”

“He acts like a backyard bully. Any criticism of his grossly inaccurate statements about technology warrants immediate dismissal,” said Sarah Roberts, a social media professor at UCLA.

Emmanuel Cornet was particularly shocked by the lack of “respect” of the richest man in the world: “In the long run, objectively, it seems that he is trying to help the planet, with electric cars, in particular. (…) But the people around him seem disposable”.

Elon Musk “has this swashbuckling, swashbuckling side. He’s the brash, no-holds-barred entrepreneur who builds rockets and cars that impress people. Twitter culture is much more low-key, with a more progressive and social outlook,” he said John Wihbey, a media professor at Northeastern University.

The libertarian entrepreneur has long had close ties to Silicon Valley, where he co-founded Tesla. But he has since disowned the California Democrat, railing against health care restrictions during the pandemic and “racial segregation” charges against his factory.

At the end of 2021, it moved the headquarters of its flagship to Texas, a Republican-majority state with conservative policies.

Goodbye messages on the platform

Twitter was founded by the emblematic Jack Dorsey, “who has everything of a Zen guru in search of spirituality,” recalls John Wihbey. Employees of the tweet network were “proud to work there,” he adds. “They believed in what they were doing.”

Emmanuel Cornet worked 14 years at Google before moving to Twitter, two groups which, at the time of his choice, did not seem “obsessed with profits”.

“The sense of community on Twitter is strong enough to continue after” the layoffs, he marvels.

The ex-“tweeps” (the name given to employees of the social network) wrote farewell messages on the platform with lots of hearts, and then created groups on Discord or Signal to support each other.

Many said it was okay to work hard, but not just with bombastic promises (“building a revolutionary Twitter 2.0”), at the mercy of snap decisions.

Non-Federation Staff

After the ultimatum, dozens of them gathered in an audio room on the platform to reminisce in a “care bear” atmosphere – never criticizing those who chose to stay.

When asked during a meeting by an employee about the risk of losing staff, Elon Musk said he didn’t have a “right answer”. “I can tell you what works at Tesla: being physically present in the office and giving it your all,” he added.

The whimsical leader, who hates teleworking – very popular among computer engineers – likes to tell how he slept on site, at Tesla, when his company was “on the brink of bankruptcy”.

“At Neuralink or Tesla, he’s been able to make life difficult for employees because they are dedicated to the cause, they work on cutting-edge technologies. There is a vision,” explains Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale University.

On Twitter, however, amid massive layoffs, the culture of coercion and its “whims,” ​​it’s probably not about uniting staff around a creative culture, elaborates this corporate governance specialist.

According to Sarah Roberts, for many in Silicon Valley, “being fired by Elon (Musk) has become an honor.”

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