Salesforce Turns Its Back on The Work Revolution
Marc Benioff shuts down Future Forum in a revanchist counterrevolution.
Salesforce has shuttered the forward-leaning Future Forum, a research consortium that was supported by Slack, Boston Consulting Group, MillerKnoll, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow.
Considering the angle that Future Forum pursued — advocating for ‘flexible’ work, meaning hybrid/remote — it’s not surprising that CEO Marc Benioff has sunsetted what was increasingly an annoyance to him, since he’s taken the tack of pushing for getting workers back in the office.
In a strategy-planning document circulated in February 2023, after numerous rounds of layoffs, Benioff stated (in Powerpointese):
Wellness culture overpowered high performance culture during pandemic. Fear of escalations for people-related issues (burnout, psychological safety, equality, etc.) can make managers reticent to performance manage their teams.
Leaving aside the jargony verb construction of ‘performance manage’, Benioff’s message was not appreciated within Salesforce.
After employees complained on Slack—“Most disturbing and tone deaf is this sad excuse,” one post said—the line was changed.
The line was changed, but the spirit remains.
The recent departures of Stewart Butterfield (founder of Slack) and once-co-CEO Bret Taylor (founder of Quip) represent the reversion-to-the-mean at Salesforce. The younger, more visionary leaders obviously chafed under Benioff.
Butterfield explained the cultural mismatch, saying he ‘wasn’t very successful’ in integrating Slack and Salesforce’s cultures:
The problem has been, there’s no incorporation of the Slack culture into the Salesforce culture, and unless there is some element of that, then it’s not integration in any sense. It’s just the elimination.
Benioff is responding to a changed world of work in the unsurprising revanchist pattern, trying to regain lost ‘territory’ that remote work caused during the pandemic.
We need a new work culture that relies on the primal drive for autonomy and mastery in our work, the sense of belonging that comes from sharing goals and meeting them, and the impulse to gain the respect of those we respect.
Like many other tech leaders, Benioff is attempting to wrest back control of the ‘flexible’ culture, demanding that butts be in seats.
Revanchists always want revenge, not just the things they demand explicitly.
He’s clawing back the ‘flexibility’ that Future Forum advocated, so, of course, the consortium had to be killed in retribution.
A more considered approach — for example, seeking to support his contentions about the cultural negatives of minimum viable office through research in a reoriented Future Forum — was not adopted. Instead, just a return to the status quo ante, and the hope that Salesforce’s workforce will forget their learned experience of the pandemic.
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Of course, if you fire all the Salesforcers who worked there during the pandemic, and hire new employees, maybe you can reboot the culture. He’s quite focused on new workers, as he stated in a Kara Swisher interview [emphasis mine]:
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