Culture Change and Conflict at Twitter

SAN FRANCISCO — Soon after becoming a member of Twitter in 2019, Dantley Davis gathered his employees in a convention room at the corporate’s San Francisco headquarters. Twitter was too good, he instructed the group, and he was there to alter it.

Mr. Davis, the corporate’s new vice chairman of design, requested staff to go across the room, complimenting and critiquing each other. Tough criticism would assist Twitter enhance, he mentioned. The barbs quickly flew. Several attendees cried through the two-hour assembly, mentioned three individuals who had been there.

Mr. Davis, 43, has performed a key position in a behind-the-scenes effort over the previous two years to remake Twitter’s tradition. The firm had lengthy been sluggish to construct merchandise, and underneath stress from traders and customers, executives landed on a prognosis: Twitter’s collaborative surroundings had calcified, making employees reluctant to criticize each other. Mr. Davis, the corporate believed, was one of many solutions to that drawback.

The turmoil that adopted revealed the trade-offs and conflicts that come up when corporations try dramatic cultural shifts and put the onus on hard-nosed managers to make that change occur.

Mr. Davis repeatedly clashed with staff due to his blunt model. His remedy of employees was additionally the topic of a number of investigations by Twitter’s worker relations division, and of complaints to Jack Dorsey, the chief govt, that too many individuals had been leaving.

Company officers acknowledge that Mr. Davis could have gone too far at instances, and he has promised to tone down the way in which he criticizes folks. But they make no apologies and have even given him a promotion. Employee dissatisfaction, they mentioned, is typically the price of shaking issues up.

“This is actually a Twitter culture change that we’ve been trying to drive,” Jennifer Christie, Twitter’s head of human assets, mentioned in an interview.

A former Facebook and Netflix govt, Mr. Davis, who’s now the corporate’s chief design officer, reviews on to Mr. Dorsey. When employed, he was instructed to revamp Twitter’s design crew and make it extra numerous. His work was thought-about a mannequin for different Twitter executives, and the corporate believes the variety of his division improved underneath his management. Twitter reports its diversity statistics annually however doesn’t get away numbers for particular components of the corporate.

“This was a turnaround role, and that meant changes to staff, changes to our work, changes to how we collaborate,” Mr. Davis mentioned in a current interview.

He steadily spoke along with his employees about challenges he confronted as a Black and Korean man within the know-how business, and received accolades for his design work. He spearheaded forays into new media, like audio tweets and chats, and championed efforts to wash up the dialog on Twitter, together with prompts that encourage folks to read articles earlier than sharing them.

But Mr. Davis’s administration model was a bracing shift for workers at Twitter, which has not often supplied the astronomical salaries which can be regular at different social media outfits. Instead, the corporate has tried to draw employees with a welcoming tradition typified in a hashtag, #LoveWhereYouWork. Fourteen present and former Twitter staff, who weren’t licensed to talk publicly, spoke with uncommon candor to The New York Times in regards to the final two years working with Mr. Davis and the modifications he delivered to their office.

As Twitter executives have pushed towards a feistier model of their firm, pressure has not been restricted to the design division and its adjoining analysis group. Workers have complained, typically bitterly, about being demoralized.

“We’ve got teams across the board that are reporting things like, ‘We’re concerned about our future,’” Ms. Christie mentioned. “They talk about fear or psychological unsafety.

Credit…Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

The conflicts at Twitter have been echoed at different tech corporations the place executives are taking a tougher line with staff who had grown accustomed to accommodating workplaces. Coinbase, a cryptocurrency firm that went public this 12 months, banned political discussions at work and supplied exit packages to staff who disagreed with the rule. And this month, Google faces a trial earlier than an administrative regulation decide after the National Labor Relations Board accused it of wrongfully firing employees who protested firm choices.

“Any kind of major change in blueprint comes with a risk,” mentioned Robert Sutton, a professor of organizational conduct at Stanford University.

Cultural shifts rile staff and typically trigger monetary instability, he mentioned. “There is always this balance between: Do we do it by socialization and having a strong culture, or do we do it with money and cracking down on people?”

Although some Twitter design staff had been rattled by the assembly during which they had been required to critique each other, Mr. Davis mentioned a number of had thanked him for the candid suggestions.

“We’re kind to one another,” he mentioned. “But also being nice means that you might shy away from saying the thing that needs to be said for us to move forward together.”

Mr. Davis instructed his employees that he would push for improved efficiency, and he rapidly criticized, demoted or minimize employees, greater than a dozen employees mentioned. When staff had been let go, he and different managers typically adopted their departures with emails to the employees remarking on their poor work.

Many staff feared they’d be subsequent on the chopping block. Although Mr. Davis, who manages 200 folks, pressured the significance of giving crucial suggestions, he typically lashed out at employees who criticized him, staff mentioned.

But others believed Mr. Davis’s modifications had been important to Twitter’s survival. The firm wanted to toughen up, one worker mentioned.

By late 2019, complaints surfaced to Twitter’s worker relations unit, which is staffed by attorneys who examine office points. The unit appeared into accusations that Mr. Davis had created a tradition of worry. Among the issues was that he had made a biased comment to a different govt.

The remark occurred throughout a gathering during which Liz Ferrall-Nunge, who led Twitter’s analysis crew, shared issues about variety at Twitter and referred to her expertise as a lady of colour. Mr. Davis appeared to dismiss her, telling Ms. Ferrall-Nunge, who’s Asian American, that if she wore sun shades, she would go as white, three folks aware of the investigation mentioned.

Ms. Ferrall-Nunge, who left Twitter in 2020, declined to remark. Twitter declined to touch upon the document in regards to the episode, citing worker privateness.

Twitter staff who had been conscious of the episode mentioned they anticipated higher from Mr. Davis due to his outspokenness about variety. Others defended his monitor document on variety, noting that white executives got extra slack whereas making much less effort on variety points.

In a prolonged Google doc despatched in February 2020, Mr. Davis praised Twitter’s pleasant tradition. But he criticized the standard of design and argued that staff had been too fast to say sure to tasks when they need to as a substitute present criticism. The overly form environment stifled sincere suggestions, he argued.

Employees who obtained the memo seen that, within the margins, they had been in a position to view feedback from human assets representatives and managers who had edited the doc. They had been asking Mr. Davis to tone it down. He mentioned different folks had instructed him that it had the correct steadiness of “tough love.”

That summer time, Mr. Davis grew to become the goal of on-line harassment. Extremist teams believed he was concerned in kicking them off Twitter, he mentioned. He obtained loss of life threats, and his private data was printed on-line.

“I would get a death threat at 12 o’clock, and then at 12:05 I would have a meeting,” Mr. Davis mentioned.

By early 2021, one other worker relations investigation into his conduct was underway, in response to complaints that the tradition of worry continued. Ms. Christie mentioned that worker relations appeared into each worker grievance and that Mr. Davis was making an attempt to alter his conduct.

“We’ve got to find our own Twitter way of direct feedback that’s still empathetic, that’s still respectful,” she mentioned. “That’s not an easy combination.” Mr. Davis was “heartbroken” by the worker complaints, she added.

Company information was starting to disclose widespread discontent on the design and analysis groups. Attrition underneath Mr. Davis had risen and was about double the speed of general attrition at Twitter, staff mentioned. In annual surveys, staff who labored for Mr. Davis constantly mentioned at a better charge than different Twitter staff that they felt “psychologically unsafe.”

“I’ve been hearing and absorbing feedback about the culture and morale,” Mr. Davis wrote in a observe shared along with his administration crew that was seen by The Times. “I love and deeply respect this team, it’s the strongest team I’ve ever worked with, and yet it’s clear that many of you aren’t feeling that from me. I’m taking a step back to think about my style and approach.”

In March, after a 12 months of battling election and coronavirus misinformation, many staff struggled with burnout. Mr. Davis introduced that he deliberate to maneuver away from the efficiency tradition that had been his mandate.

“My goal is for us to transition to a team of belonging, which is less transactional and more focused on care and support,” Mr. Davis wrote in an electronic mail to staff. He cited the harassment he had obtained, and requested staff to be affected person in the event that they felt he had not performed sufficient to assist them.

“I was not celebrating wins, I was focused entirely on what was wrong,” Mr. Davis mentioned, describing suggestions he obtained from his employees. “Since then, I spent some time working on this. We have been celebrating wins, we have been finding ways for the team to come together.”

Current staff mentioned sudden firings and harsh suggestions continued. They discovered proof for his or her issues in Nikkia Reveillac, the top of Twitter’s analysis division.

Ms. Reveillac instructed Mr. Davis and different staff that his defensiveness made it intimidating for workers to supply him suggestions. In May, she went to Mr. Dorsey. In a message she described to her co-workers, she instructed him that the tradition underneath Mr. Davis was poisonous and inflicting untenable attrition. Mr. Dorsey didn’t reply.

Weeks later, Ms. Reveillac was abruptly pushed out of the corporate and locked out of her work accounts. “Team, I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. I love and miss you,” she tweeted. Ms. Reveillac and Twitter declined to touch upon her departure.

In a employees assembly shortly after, two individuals who attended mentioned, Mr. Davis instructed staff that they need to not assume Ms. Reveillac had left the corporate due to conflicts with him. But with out a clear clarification, staff had been left questioning about whether or not her sudden departure was a response to going to Mr. Dorsey together with her issues.

Mike Isaac contributed reporting.

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