Jack Dorsey’s Twitter layoff email shows the value of honesty

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twitter layoffDays after taking over as Twitter’s permanent CEO, Jack Dorsey has laid off 336 people. You could learn a lot from the straightforward, honest, and sensitive way he tells his company about it.

The corporate layoff is a communications trap for leaders. It makes them insecure, so they they adopt HR bullshit and talk about “reduction in force”, “rightsizing”, “eliminating positions.” But they don’t have to. Here’s how Jack Dorsey told Twitter he was letting a big chunk of the company go:

From: Jack Dorsey
To: All Employees
Date: October 13, 2015
Subject: A more focused Twitter

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

Here’s what this does right:

  • Be honest. This email promises honesty, and then delivers it.
  • Be short. The whole email is 344 words long. There’s not much space wasted here. Rather than go into detail about the new engineering priorities or the challenges, Dorsey comes directly at the issue — the layoff — and provides just enough context for it.
  • Give a clear reason. This email is very clear about the need to streamline product roadmaps and engineering teams to get rid of efforts that are not central to the experience. You may not agree with this if you’re losing your job, but you can at least understand it.
  • Don’t sugar-coat things. “We plan to part ways with up to 336 people.” I wish this wasn’t “up to,” but I bet something isn’t quite final in the count. That said, this isn’t buried deep in the email, it’s right there with a clear explanation of what’s happening and why.
  • Be appropriately sensitive. The brief parts about exit packages and gratitude and honoring those who left show that Dorsey is not a monster. You can screw this part up by doing it too long, or insincerely. I think Dorsey hits the right balance.

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.

Added later: On this announcement, Quartz tries to be withoutbullshit.com.

Graphic: Pixabay

21 responses to “Jack Dorsey’s Twitter layoff email shows the value of honesty

    1. In most contexts, “up to” is a weasel word. As in “Save up to 20%.” It’s a phrase that immediately clues people into the fact that you’re hedging.

      In this case, “up to” actually is saying “this is the maximum amount we will let go.” So it is actually more honest if you don’t know the number. It would be better to say the actual number, but if you don’t know that, it’s ok.

      I am imagining that an employee losing their job here might read this and assume the number is not set, so perhaps they could make a case to be kept. This might be a problem if enough people do it.

      With all of that said, Dorsey deserves credit for publishing this quickly even if he hadn’t settled on an exact number.

      1. I think it would have been more weasely (is that a word?) if he said “at least.” As you say, “up to” gives an upper limit, which in a retail environment may have negative connotations, but in a layoff announcement is probably a relief.

        New leaders are often judged on their initial actions when taking on the role; while Jack isn’t completely new to Twitter, all eyes are on him during this critical time for the company. And if his approach to the layoffs is any indicator, he’s going to be an effective leader.

  1. I agree Josh that “up to” is a weasel word. (love that term!). As I was reading it, my first reaction was a feeling of skepticism (mostly due to to my own expectations based on past experiences). But as he finishes out that paragraph with “Twitter will go to great lengths to take care of each individual…” I shifted my perception.

    I’m looking forward to see what Dorsey accomplishes.

  2. For me, I like the specific thank and respect for the outgoing people, and being specific about their benefits packages. Sends strong message to those left behind that they, too, are valued and won’t be tossed to the wolves if more layoffs are needed in the future.

  3. Coming from both the HR and the C-Suite worlds, I beamed while reading the email…loved it! I didn’t squirm at the “up to” term because I took it as it was a sense of urgency to get the email out and all of the finalization hasn’t been completed yet. From my experience times like these, employees need honest communication, no matter how incomplete at the time versus dazzle, covert messages. Thank you for sharing! I look forward to seeing their journey.

  4. I guess it would’ve been too cold to do this in a tweet? He could’ve said he was eating his own dogfood…. JK BTW… maybe he can hire some at Square?

  5. It’s good, but could be better.

    First, “parting ways with?” Um, you’re laying them off, even firing them if you want to really own it. These are grown-ass adults, not teenagers breaking up over Facebook. Second, how about taking a little responsibility? Management hired too fast, growing before they had a solid business plan, and now over 300 people are the ones who will be paying for it.

    Everything else I agree with, but it’s still quite HR-ish to me.

  6. Thanks for this post, and I think you’re right about the letter’s strengths… but I wasn’t that impressed with the message.

    Dorsey starts off with a promise to give it to the reader straight, but then veers into two paragraphs of “cool things we’re doing” language. I know it’s to provide a narrative frame for the layoffs… but it breaks the promise of the first paragraph.

    The moment you’ve told people to brace for impact, readers are anxious to know what the bad news is. All that framing may make sense to the writer — but the employees aren’t going to read it. They’ll blow past that context to get to the actual news as it affects them and their co-workers.

    I wish he’d come right out in paragraph 2 and said we’re laying up to 350 people off; we don’t want to do it, but building the Twitter we want requires a more streamlined, purpose-built team. Then give all that context.

    Telling people you’re going to give them bad news and then temporizing isn’t doing them any favours, and doesn’t do your message any good.

  7. Are you for real? What a sycophantic article. Dorsey’s email is arrogant, packed full of chickenshit cliches and bullshit jargon:
    “Part ways”- bullshit you’re sacking them. “Leaving us” – bullshit you’re firing them.
    “This isn’t easy” – losing your job isn’t easy, sending an email is.
    “Thank you for your trust and understanding” – sure, I’d be filled with trust and understanding if I’d just relieved that mail. Yeah.
    But the most shitfilled, patronising line of all: “The world needs a strong Twitter.” I mean Christ almighty!!!??!

    1. I see your points. I personally evaluate this email based on having been laid off three times and having lived through about eight other layoffs in 35 years in the working world.

      The CEO — Dorsey in this case — has to balance several perspectives:
      – Be sensitive to those being let go.
      – Be encouraging to those who remain.
      – Acknowledge problems and describe solutions.

      Most emails of this type are highly self-serving and do a poor job of being honest with the employees. There is no way to cushion the blow. But people who work in the industry know these things happen — they are grownups. So the CEO ought to talk to them like grownups.

      Laying people off is not firing them — it’s not for incompetence. So I think words like “part company,” and “leaving us,” while euphemisms, are a reasonable way to talk about it. “We’re firing a bunch of people” doesn’t really serve to motivate the rest of the company that remains. “This isn’t easy” refers to the process the company will have to go through after the layoff, it’s not about whether it’s easy for Dorsey.

      After reading your comment and a lot of discussion about this in various places, I believe that Dorsey’s (and Twitter’s) biggest problem is what comes next. Twitter will continue. But Dorsey has not yet described how to fix its revenue and growth problems, which are serious. As a first step, I think still think this is done well, compared to other layoff notices I’ve observed (or lived through). It’s not a strategic plan. That’s going to be much harder. But you don’t put a strategic plan in the layoff email.

  8. Can’t help thinking that Twitter is this generations Yahoo! The endless ink on this company which may well have passed its sell-by-date just as Yahoo! did many years ago is amazing.

  9. Whatever you think of Jack Dorsey’s letter, the implementation of the layoff was B.S.:
    “Twitter cuts 336 jobs so fast an ex-employee learns fate by “no access” notice”
    http://arstechnica.com/business/2015/10/twitter-cuts-336-jobs-so-fast-an-ex-employee-learns-fate-by-no-access-notice/

    I understand the need to protect an organization’s intellectual property, but deleting employee access to the network without confirming they have been notified of their termination is not very honest.

    1. This is poor execution. I agree it’s awful. But that’s a different question from whether the layoff email was done right.

      I experienced a layoff where the people being laid off figured it out because their access cards no longer worked in the elevator. That was barbaric, too.

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