Twitter seems to be in a mess with its mercurial but maverick owner Elon Musk’s flip-flops in helming the micro-blogging site. Musk, an ingenious innovator never ceases to surprise you with his moves, which may not appear right all the time.
SpaceX has seen a meteoric rise under charismatic Musk, but he may not be ‘infallible.' Musk’s detractors say his Tesla-type innovation is coming a cropper at Twitter.
Twitter requires a ‘fixer’, someone who can identify the most pressing issues such as cash burn and the declining morale and provide quick solutions. The trademark of a fixer is also their ability to listen.
Robert Jordan, co-founder, and CEO of US-based InterimExecs, an interim executive search firm that helps companies accomplish more with interim management, says Musk broke the four cardinal rules of the fixer leader.
- He didn’t listen: You have to be incredibly tone-deaf to tweet “the bird is freed” and not understand the concerns of governments, Twits, and advertisers who would then respond with alarm that the controls instituted painstakingly over the years by Twitter’s board and management, vital guardrails, could be thrown out overnight. Liz Truss forgot she doesn’t control the world’s reserve currency. Musk has so far forgotten that this is not an engineering problem, like Tesla, SpaceX, or the Boring Company. It’s a messy, complicated forum at the heart of a very human exercise. Take away the humans, and Twitter is nothing. No tweets. Take away the human, and you can still build a better car (and see how it becomes robotic). Cars and spaceships need no humans to prove their perfection, their elegance of engineering.
- He has no mission with Twitter: Musk pays attention to physics, which is how he engineered the best electric car on the planet. He has almost single-handedly caused the growing revolution in EV, moving away from combustion engines. Thanks to Musk, the concept of private investment and initiative in space exploration is real, not just talk. But with Twitter – free speech is messy. Could Twitter be improved? I suppose so, in the same way, you could say any tech can keep getting better. Musk wonders why advertisers are on pause – but not the rest of us. If he has a mission – the sooner he tells everyone, the faster he gets to something better.
- He is surrounded by yes men: Bringing in his 50 or so most trusted guys from Tesla, his family office, and other organisations – never mind none having direct experience at Twitter – is summed up best by this text to Musk from his acolyte Jason Calacanis: “You have my sword.” It goes with the old saying, you take the king’s coin, you do the king’s bidding.
- Slash and burn went out 30 years ago: If an organisation was truly dead, sure, the solution is dire. That’s not the case with Twitter, which was more of a self-inflicted wound given Musk’s incendiary tweets, which could cause lots of advertisers to pause, regardless of outside influences.
The age of Chainsaw Al (Al Dunlap is the poster child famous for axing thousands of employees in order to save Sunbeam) proved to be a short-term illusion to impress investors while behind-the-scenes accounting was being manipulated.
Jordan says sometimes going too far is…going too far. As evidenced by Musk slashing 3,000 jobs, then figuring out they likely made the wrong cuts. There is a vital reason that the vaunted world of private equity shuns a certain phrase from its roots: leveraged buyout. Because “leveraged buyout” stank so thoroughly of overly indebted companies that had to destroy jobs in order to enrich investors, it didn’t sit well in the modern world. Times changed and investors adapted. Sure, there’s still massive leverage, but it's hopefully the kinder, gentler model.
What will it take to save Twitter/an organisation in crisis?
None of this playbook works for the modern-day fixer leader, who is usually working on behalf of multiple stakeholders, says Jordan.
As per Jordan, the Fixer’s playbook include the following :
- First, listen: And not just to the board of directors – but dig down deep. Listen to the workers on the shop floor. Suss out the admins. Most of the solution lies buried in the organisation, lower level in rank. One of the biggest reasons organizations fail is the inability to communicate well. The Fixer’s first magic item in the toolbox is: to listen hard to the genius around you, ignored by prior management, ignored by the board.
- The go-forward team is usually organic, and additionally, acquired: If something was truly shattered, sure, you need trusted outsiders and maybe they comprise 100% of the brainpower. In Twitter’s case, no way. The fixer leader figures out who is engaged for a new fight, and who is never coming on board. Twitter wasn’t really broken, it’s just that a brilliant visionary wanted a shot at making it better, but that didn’t necessitate slaughter from the get-go. I guess shock and awe was the goal.
- Non-stop communication is a must: Mission, purpose, and team cohesion gain momentum over time, but it requires non-stop communication to get there. Axing thousands without any vision or hope for a bright future – for every Fixer who is accountable to stakeholders – is a one-way ticket to failure.
What does the future of Twitter look like?
Jordan says no other leader could come into Twitter and get away with what Musk did.
“Tesla and SpaceX mark him as one of the greatest innovators (Artist leaders in our book) of all time. If you’re the richest guy on the planet and you buy the company, you get to do what you want to do in the short term. If you happen to have purchased the world’s leading forum for public discussion, maybe not so much,” he adds.
As per Jordan, Musk will not fail with Twitter and will ultimately make it better, but he won’t hold onto it for very long, maybe two years maximum.
He will face a massive backlash from the European Union, where free speech laws have more teeth than in the US. With the Digital Services Act, the EU has strict guardrails around free speech on social media platforms.
“Keep an eye out for a new Twitter IPO before Christmas 2024 - It’s a great face-saving way to exit a company. Musk will likely sell Twitter for a profit when the time comes,” he sums up.
Musk's hard ways created some discomfort for Twitter employees. On Wednesday, he emailed his workers, asking them to get prepared for “difficult times ahead” and ban remote work unless he personally approved it.
He reasoned his move by saying there's “no way to sugarcoat the message” about the economic outlook and how it will affect an advertising-dependent company like Twitter, Bloomberg News reported. The new rules stipulate expect employees to be in the office for at least 40 hours per week.