Elon Musk’s terrible week can have a positive impact on the rest of us
It was an interesting week to be the world’s richest man. We all know the back story … a sort of American Dream for Ayn Rand readers. Genius boy turns man, does family proud, builds future car, launches present spaceship, and acquires past hottest new company that he tries but fails to get rid of. Also, finds time to host Saturday Night Live! Musk had it all, it seemed. But the rich do not have abundance in all areas. For example, Musk does not know how to manage.
As the week wore on, this unfortunate truth became more obvious. First, there was the ultimatum (I could end there because those never go over well with adults, but I’ll elaborate). The ultimatum was something like: Get back in the office 40 hours a week or take your severance! Do it this week!
“That’s ridiculous!” said anyone who had a sense of autonomy.
“That’s impossible!” said anyone who had a hard stop for daycare that a commute would eviscerate.
“That’s physically impossible!” said anyone who needed a disability accommodation (don’t worry, the lawyers helped Mr. Musk clarify on that final point).
“That’s not a bad deal …” said anyone who didn’t want to work for Musk anyway.
As if ending remote work – my favorite culture shift since recycling – was not bad enough, Musk continued to issue ultimatums. The next one was as bizarre as those falcon doors on his Teslas. While I paraphrase, it was something like: Care about this company as much as I do!
Basically, Musk asked his employees to work long hours, at high intensity, or walk out the door (the door of the Twitter lobby, since remote work had already ended). In doing so, Musk lost even more people. Like, lots of them.
What We Can Learn from Musk
Without diminishing how bad this week was for so many Twitter employees, there are some hard truths Musk (and the rest of us) can take from his actions.
Prepare for People. If you purchase a company with 10,000 (or 10) employees, make the time to truly understand the culture. If you are desperately trying to understand the “most salient lines of code“, you should also dig in to understand the people. What do they love about working at the company? Why do the longest tenured among them stay? What motivates them? What makes them proud? How far does the average person commute? Oh, it’s that expensive in the Bay Area? No kidding!? Maybe there IS an advantage to remote work, after all!
Step in Shoes. Never assume your employees are as motivated to grow a company as you – the boss, majority shareholder, or major investor – are. They are not. They are motivated by the upside, for sure, but the company is not their baby. Their baby is their baby.
Lead with Compassion. By not preparing, and therefore not understanding, his employees, Musk looks callous. People join companies and leave leaders. By failing to acknowledge that his wish list would shake up family routines and personal preferences established circa March 2020, Musk failed to show compassion and failed to lead.
Don’t Disrupt. Yeah, I hear that people like Musk love the word disruption, but keep it limited to markets. Remember, the last thing you want is your employees to think you don’t respect their lives.
Be Realistic. Finally, don’t take away remote work. People love remote work, and now they are used to it. In fact, they have built their lives around it. Ending it completely alienates some of your best employees. I wonder if Musk has even heard of Hybrid? After all, it’s not just for cars.
Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.