Salesforce yields to activist pressure with harsh new policies for engineers, salespeople
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Salesforce is looking at new ways to cut costs as activist investors continue to put pressure on the company. Today, Insider was reporting that the company is implementing much stricter performance measurements for engineering, with some salespeople being put under pressure to quit or succumb to harsh performance policies of their own. This is consistent with what sources have been telling TechCrunch.
This could include performance reviews based on the quantity of code produced for engineers, a flawed way to measure engineering productivity, which encourages quantity over quality. While salespeople are being put between a rock and a hard place, being asked to choose between signing a strict one-month performance improvement plan or taking an exit package.
When asked about this, Salesforce responded with this comment: “Our performance management process drives accountability and rewards excellence.” The company did not elaborate or answer follow-up questions regarding the timing or details of this policy.
TechCrunch has also been hearing that the company is mandating a return to the office, and according to a Salesforce spokesperson, it’s now up to the managers to decide. “Our hybrid approach empowers leaders to make decisions for their teams about which jobs need to be in the office or remote.”
That’s an interesting attitude shift for a company has been promoting the idea of the “all digital, work-from-anywhere workplace” since the pandemic hit in 2020, something they call the Digital HQ. It’s a big part of why the CRM leader spent almost $28 billion to buy Slack in 2020.
But neither is it surprising since CEO and chair Marc Benioff practically telegraphed this at the end of last year, suggesting that folks working from home weren’t as productive.
All of this is probably related to the fact that activist investors — including Elliott Management, Starboard Value, ValueAct and Inclusive Capital — have been circling the company, undoubtedly putting tons of pressure on Benioff to increase productivity and cut costs. These firms are a big part of the reason Salesforce announced that it was cutting 10% of its workforce in January, a process that has been handled badly with layoff notices coming in dribs and drabs, leaving workers anxious and uncertain.
Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, blames Boston Consulting Group, which he says was brought in at the behest of the activists to deal with the cuts and implement new performance review policies. “From what we know, BCG made some significant recommendations on how salespeople and developers should be measured to improve productivity,” Wang told TechCrunch. Update: BCG denies being responsible for the performance review policies.
Wang says that whether you think this approach is a good idea or not depends on your perspective. “If I was an investor, I would advocate for this approach, but if I was the owner-founder, I would want something less harsh and more nuanced,” he said.
Wang isn’t a fan of how the activists have handled this, calling them “vulture firms.” While he does agree with their assertion that Salesforce overpaid for bad acquisitions, he believes these firms lack an understanding of how to run a company like Salesforce, and they are ultimately doing more harm than good.
“The vulture firms do not have a good understanding of the investment levels in R&D that are needed for innovation to continue, nor did they understand what level of marketing spend Salesforce needs to remain top of mind for execs,” Wang said.
“They don’t add any value. They come in to just make money on the arbitrage and they leave the firms more damaged than when they were before they were taken over,” he said.