Lessons Learned from Twitter’s Culture Change Process

As we may decide to skip the new episode in the tedious Twitter Transformation serial directed by Elon Musk, let’s not forget the timeless adage: “You can always learn from others.”

So grab your popcorn and settle in for the newest episode in the Twitter serial. Enter: Linda Yaccarino, the newly appointed CEO. Will this be a long-running episode, or just a fleeting cameo? Only time will tell. However, fresh in the job, Lynda already offers a couple of lessons to learn. It’s up to you to decide whether you learn how to run culture change – or how NOT to run culture change.

It appears that certain aspects of Linda’s storyline have been plagiarized from another serial a decade earlier. Having personally participated in it as a “background talent,” I can confidently assert that these lessons continue to serve as a guiding principle for numerous career managers.

Lesson 1: How NOT to Run a Culture Change

The new Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino entered with a big splash: She wrote a soul-uplifting letter to the entire staff. Well, to those who remain. The letter is intended to inspire confidence in the transformation process, while the excessive use of “we,” “us,” and “our” may have been included to foster unity.

To make it more inspirational, the new CEO insists that “literally everything is possible” if you “wrap your arms around this powerful vision.” That’s quite in line with “The Secret” philosophy not so long ago re-introduced by Rhonda Byrne, and therefore may sound like a plausible approach to the younger staff that consumed this concept in their teens.

In addition to deploying this esoteric philosophy, Yaccarino was definitely prompted by an advisor to use the IEEI formula (Inform – Excite – Empower – Involve). This technique works great for meetings facilitation, and this communication was her first all-company meeting, so the idea was altogether correct.

But let’s face it—unity cannot be achieved through an overabundance of vague rhetoric, even when supported by advanced facilitation methodology. However, in order for it to work, it must be supported by more information available to Twitter employees that would provide more substance to Yaccarino’s letter. However, I could not find anything beyond lofty ideals and office-speak. For example, turning Twitter into “the world’s most accurate real-time information source and a global town square for communication” sounds like wishful thinking, akin to “Working together, let’s foster a world free from injustice.” Her rallying cry “The success of Twitter 2.0 is all of our responsibility” is more of a catchy slogan than a well-defined roadmap because nobody knows what Twitter 2.0 is and what success is, as success ultimately means reaching, upholding and living one’s values.

And here’s why most transformation projects cannot reach success: the definition of success is unclear. Moreover, even if the definition is clear, it will differ from employee to employee.

There is no objective or subjective reason to believe that Twitter is a special case. Contrary to that, after the massive layoffs, the team at Twitter is likely less motivated and aligned compared to an average team. Consequently, they are less receptive to change, making the entire concept of Twitter 2.0 unsustainable.

Lesson 2: Mastering Career Management

While Yaccarino may not be the best person to drive cultural change, her vision of success appears to be sharply focused when it comes to her personal aspirations.

In this regard, I can draw a parallel with the infamous “burning platform” letter written by Stephen Elop in early 2011, when he had just started his tenure as CEO of Nokia. That letter, written exactly by the book (by John Kotter’s book that is) was intended to create a sense of urgency and make the entire company feel the need for change. As I personally participated in the Nokia serial as a supernumerary, I was one of the receivers of the letter. The letter sent shockwaves through the company but did not reach the intended effect, and the company almost folded a few months later, becoming an attractive acquisition for Microsoft.

However, despite the questionable achievement of causing Nokia’s share values to reach an all-time low, Elop’s personal accomplishments were undeniable. In addition to his $1.4 Mil annual salary, Elop racked in a $6 million signing bonus – and a €18.8 million bonus after Nokia sold its mobile phone business to Microsoft. That’s not bad at all, and it’s a stark reminder that individual success and organizational performance don’t always align.

Although the anticipated change and transformation never materialized, Yaccarino – like Elop a decade earlier – is getting precisely what she wants as career manager. Both Yaccarino and Elop showcased exceptional strategic skills when it comes to career management. They skillfully navigated the corporate landscape, making strategic moves to further their own careers.

Bonus Lesson: Reading between their tweets

Perhaps you’re familiar with the timeless wisdom: ‘Every activity and every plan is driven by two objectives: a noble goal – and the genuine goal.’

Elon must have selected Yaccarino for a reason. Whatever his dreams are about the “global town square” may be, above all he wants to get his money back. And the fastest way to achieve that, in his opinion, is through advertising.  Linda’s track record in advertising sales makes her a suitable choice.

So do not expect Twitter to change our society and improve the way we communicate globally. This is unquestionably a noble goal. However, it may materialize as a goal only after the genuine goal of generating profit has been accomplished.

In the end, it’s a matter of personal choice—whether you aspire to create genuine change and transformation within an organization or pursue individual success at all costs. I don’t think the two bode together well, do you? Hence, the lessons you glean depend on your own goals, values, and integrity. Whether you’re seeking to navigate the turbulent waters of culture change or looking for career management inspiration, observing her journey is worth your while.  


If you are reading this, you are most probably thinking about the need to improve your organization’s performance, and you realize that the most effective way to significantly outperform competitors in the knowledge economy is through cultural transformation. Up until now, this article has only confirmed your doubts and concerns but has not offered a better way forward.

If this is your case, you are in the right place. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Clarify the Goal:

Define your goal. If you are running the company, start by making the goal clear to yourself and make a quick assessment of how far your genuine goal (a.k.a. your dominant values) is from your noble (official) goal. If you are honest with yourself, you will have to admit that there are two goals. Ensure that they are not too far apart. If they are, you may have to find someone else to run your organization.

Recognize that every organization is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all methodology that guarantees success. Embrace the complexity and adaptability required for effective cultural transformation.

2. Align the Team:

When the noble goal is clear and aligned with your values, start talking to your team. In the case of a start-up, open communication with the entire team is the natural way to proceed. In a larger company, focus on your immediate subordinates—the two-pizza team. Use tools like the Q7 tool to initiate discussions and align the team. It’s important to recognize that no real change can be achieved until the top team is aligned. Be prepared for potential adjustments and changes within your team, even if they may be uncomfortable (but not Twitter-style).

3. Share the Goal:

If you are fortunate to have a team of confederates (a.k.a. congruent team), share your goal(s) with them. Collaboratively formulate your Purpose, Vision, and Mission. Define and agree upon the criteria of success, taking into account the unique context and challenges of your organization.

4. PDCA:

Next, embrace a practical approach that combines the good old Deming Cycle (a.k.a. the PDCA cycle), basic project management, and common sense. Avoid relying solely on popular “change management methodologies” like Prosci, ADKAR, or Kotter’s 8 steps, as well as new concoctions promoting Lean, Agile, or Six Sigma as change management methodologies. Instead, focus on the fundamental principles of the PDCA cycle and project management. If you lack expertise in these areas, consider hiring someone who possesses the necessary knowledge and experience. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone like Linda Yaccarino or Stephen Elop.

5. Continuous Learning and Adaptation:

Recognize that cultural transformation is an ongoing process that requires continuous learning and adaptation. Encourage a culture of experimentation, innovation, and feedback. Learn from both successes and failures, and be open to refining and adjusting your strategies as you progress. By following the Plan, Do, Check (and Learn), and Act (or Adjust) cycle, you will find yourself continuously moving closer to your Purpose while looking forward to the next cycle.

By fostering a culture of continuous improvement, you will embark on a transformational journey that aligns with your unique organizational context and goals. Remember, true transformation requires a deep understanding of your organization and a willingness to adapt and evolve along the way.

In conclusion, whether you aspire to drive genuine change and transformation within an organization or focus on individual success, observing the journey of leaders like Linda Yaccarino and Stephen Elop can offer valuable insights and inspiration. However, the path you choose depends on your own goals, values, and integrity. So, take charge of your own transformational journey, invite your team to share the ride, and together, make a lasting impact in the world.