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Elon Musk doesn't seem to be getting much right at the moment. His takeover of Twitter makes it a private company again but the fallout has been ironically public.
One Daenerys Targaryen sized fail has been his ability to read the temperature of the employees that found themselves under his rule once the takeover was complete.
After firing about half of them rather unceremoniously (over email) he set an ultimatum to the roughly 3,500 remaining workers: “be extremely hardcore, only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.” Anyone who didn’t want to take it to the extreme could put everything they own in a box to the left.
Exact numbers are unclear but it looks as though “at least 1,200” have rejected Elon’s ultimatum, around half of the remaining employees. There are fears Twitter will cease to be operational.
So, shockingly people don’t want to subscribe to “long hours at high intensity”. Even Elon himself says his lifestyle of sleeping less than 6 hours a night and working 120 hours a week will send you “a little bonkers.”
What’s the solution then? How do we build a middle ground between the tech campuses filled with Willy Wonka style benefits built on VC capital steroids, that employees have taken for granted and the dystopian technopolis akin to the Matrix where humans are just batteries for work?
Design for Performance
Elon is right, we should seek “exceptional performance” but it’s not good enough to demand it we need to build business models that are a platform for good performance. What does that look like today? A hybrid work environment, the ability to deliver work flexibly not in a 9 to 5 autocracy, purposeful in-person contact and designing our workspaces for collaboration not sedentary work.
Cater to the Cream of the Crop
The cream will always rise to the top, or rather separate itself from the average cup of Joe. The best talent will always know they’re in demand so ultimatums won’t work on them. Today you need to offer them one of three roles;
A fractional role - one that allows them to build their perfect job by combining a few roles from various employers at one time.
A purposeful role - one with a mission they believe in with totality, B Corps lead the way for purpose-built businesses in 2022. Expect many more to follow.
A beneficial role - one that is so absurdly benefit-filled, financial or otherwise, that they simply can’t say no. Think free canteens, trips to Disneyland and 3 company cars. It's more like being in Candy Land than full employment. It's also not sustainable.
Fractional roles are increasingly more popular as purpose fits won't connect with everyone and benefit-based roles are ripped to shreds by austerity during a recession.
Tech’s loss will be the world’s gain - the recession and consequent layoffs will be the decade's biggest redistributions of talent. Scott Galloway has coined it the Patagonia Vest recession.
Despite his approach being wrong, Musk is right to demand more from people, especially those in tech. Some employees in the sector have certainly been living in a bubble, a work environment only made tenable by the continued injection of VC capital and inflated share prices.
There will be a course correction and the cream of the crop will rise to the top. Great talent will always find good homes, the rest may get a rude awakening. Those ready to welcome them with open arms will be new models of businesses offering fractional roles, startups looking to build a new future and agencies offering a greater range of work.
Fractional roles in particular will be the buzzword of the next half-decade. The concept of a job for life was left behind a half-century ago. Ever since it’s been common to have several roles throughout your career. Now it’ll become common to have several roles at once.