You’re Fired: Editing Twitter’s Layoff Memo

When communicating bad news, you must be up front, be honest, be human and be real. On those four measures, I give Jack Dorsey at least three of four stars.

Twitter’s direct and succinct CEO memo divulging plans to “part ways with up to 336 people from across the company” this week drew lots of comments from the business community. Many pundits weren’t focused on what the layoffs might mean to Twitter’s business fortunes but on the words used to convey the downsizing.

Below left you can see Jack Dorsey’s memo sent to employees. On the right is the suggested edits in bold by Gideon Lichfield, global news editor at Quartz.

   Team,

We are moving forward with a restructuring of our workforce so we can put our company on a stronger path to grow. Emails like this are usually riddled with corporate speak so I’m going to give it to you straight.

The team has been working around the clock to produce streamlined roadmap for Twitter, Vine, and Periscope and they are shaping up to be strong. The roadmap is focused on the experiences which will have the greatest impact. We launched the first of these experiences last week with Moments, a great beginning, and a bold peek into the future of how people will see what’s going on in the world.

The roadmap is also a plan to change how we work, and what we need to do that work. Product and Engineering are going to make the most significant structural changes to reflect our plan ahead. We feel strongly that Engineering will move much faster with a smaller and nimbler team, while remaining the biggest percentage of our workforce. And the rest of the organization will be streamlined in parallel.

So we have made an extremely tough decision: we plan to part ways with up to 336 people from across the company. We are doing this with the utmost respect for each and every person. Twitter will go to great lengths to take care of each individual by providing generous exit packages and help finding a new job.

Let’s take this time to express our gratitude to all of those who are leaving us. We will honor them by doing our best to serve all the people that use Twitter. We do so with a more purpose-built team, which we’ll continue to build strength into over time, as we are now enabled to reinvest in our most impactful priorities.

Thank you all for your trust and understanding here. This isn’t easy. But it is right. The world needs a strong Twitter, and this is another step to get there. As always, please reach out to me directly with any ideas or questions.

Jack

Team,

We are moving forward with a restructuring of our workforce cutting our staff so we can put our company on a stronger path to grow spend the money better. Emails like this are usually riddled with corporate speak so I’m going to give it to you straight.

The team has been working around the clock to produce streamlined roadmap for simplify our plans for Twitter, Vine, and Periscope and they are shaping up to be strong. The roadmap is focused on the experiences which will have the greatest impact doing stuff we hope people will like. We launched the first of these experiences last week with Moments, a great beginning, and a bold peek into a pretty big gamble on the future of how people will see what’s going on in the world Twitter.

The roadmap is also a plan to change how we work, and what we need to do that work. Product and Engineering are going to make the most significant structural changes to reflect our plan ahead bear the brunt. We feel strongly that Engineering will move much faster with a smaller and nimbler team We’ve got way too many engineers while remaining the biggest percentage of our workforce. And the rest of the organization will be streamlined in parallel and once we’ve cut that group we’ll have too many of everybody else.

So we have made an extremely tough decision: we plan to part ways with fire up to 336 people from across the company. We are doing this with the utmost respect for each and every person. But it’s not their fault; we hired them when we shouldn’t have. Twitter will go to great lengths to take care of each individual by providing generous exit packages give them decent severance and help finding a new job.

Let’s take this time to express our gratitude to all of those who are leaving us we are firing. We will honor them by doing our best Letting them go will make it easier for us to serve all the people that use Twitter. We do so with a more purpose-built team which we’ll continue to build strength into over time, as we are now enabled to reinvest in our most impactful priorities Having shed the people we don’t need, we’ll have the money to hire the people we really want.

Thank you all for your trust and understanding here. This isn’t easy. But it is right. The world Our shareholders needs a strong Twitter, and this is another step to get there. As always, please reach out to me directly with any ideas or questions.

Jack

“Dorsey’s memo is indeed admirably brief and to the point,” Lichfield wrote. “But it’s still riddled with jargon. Why is it so hard for executives to write in a truly straightforward manner?”

On the other hand, Josh Bernoff, whose Without Bullshit blog often rips into bloated, confusing corporatese, praised the Twitter job cut message for “the straightforward, honest, and sensitive way he (Dorsey) tells his company about it.” The former Forrester Research analyst concluded: ”Next time you have to share bad news with a bunch of people, use this courageous email as a model. Terrible things happen in the business world. If you can hold your head up and talk straight about it, we’ll all be better off.”

No Bull

Since I wrote about the sensitivity of communicating employee downsizing in a 1994 article for IABC’s Communication World, “Good Communication, Bad Morale,” the Twitter memo also caught my scrutinizing eye. In my article, I list four musts when communicating bad news. Be up front, be honest, be human and be real. On those four measures, I give Jack Dorsey at least three of four stars.

I’ll grant that even though Dorsey promises, “to give it to you straight,” there is still some jargon and corporate speak in the message. And to pay homage to Twitter’s 140 character limit, it could also have been significantly shorter than the 1,884 characters here. I also agree the 336 people mention should have been much higher up in the memo as that’s the news everyone is looking for.

But I can forgive much of this because at least Dorsey’s memo comes across as a human being speaking to other humans. That is almost never the takeaway from reading corporate memos, no matter the topic.

I actually take bigger issue with some of Lichfield’s edits of Dorsey’s memo. They may make sense journalistically but as language used to convey what surely must be devastating news to a group of individuals, I’d rather err on the side of sensitivity.

One striking example is Lichfield edit of Dorsey’s, “we plan to part ways with up to 336 people,” to “”we plan to fire up to 336 people.”

Though technically true, when I read that employees have been fired, there’s a subtle jump to conclusion that there was some incompetence or insubordination or wrongdoing that led to the firing. I am betting this was not the case for these Twitter employees, and labeling them “fired” does them a huge disservice.

I also prefer Dorsey’s “Twitter will go to great lengths to take care of each individual by providing generous exit packages and help finding a new job,” to Lichfield’s “Twitter will give them decent severance and help finding a new job.”

Define “decent.”

Being empathetic

I also wince at Lichfield’s edit, “We’ve got too many engineers and once we’ve cut that group we’ll have too many of everybody else.” Though I may not be one of the 336, this sure doesn’t make me feel warm and rosy about my future with the company.

As an employee, current or “fired,” I would also be incensed to read Lichfield’s “… letting them go will make it easier for us to serve all the people that use Twitter.” And “Having shed the people we don’t need, we’ll have the money to hire the people we really want.”

Wow, it was bad enough to be “fired.” Now you’re telling me I will be replaced with someone who can serve Twitter users better. Thanks a lot. That hurts.

Of the two versions of this memo, if I were a Twitter employee or shareholder, I would rather see Dorsey’s rather than Lichfield’s memo.  How about you? How would  you edit this memo, or would you?

By the way, we assume this highly sensitive news was first communicated to employees in person. Shame on Twitter if this memo was the only way employees learned about it.

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October 16, 2015

1 responses on "You're Fired: Editing Twitter's Layoff Memo"

  1. I agree, John. Lichfield’s edit is a spirit killer to everyone, not just those affected immediately. Being gracious to those who will be leaving helps everyone deal with the pain of losing colleagues. Also like your ‘must’ list.

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