THE NINE WINS TWO AXIOM AWARDS

PHIL SIMON

Award-winning author, dynamic keynote speaker, trusted advisor, & workplace tech expert 

THE WORLD’S FOREMOST INDEPENDENT WORKPLACE COLLABORATION AND TECH EXPERT

On OpenAI and Employee Empowerment

What happens when a dissatisfied board and a loyal workforce with white-hot skills collide? We're about to find out.
Nov | 19 | 2023

 

Updated: November 22, 2023

It’s official. Altman is resuming control. Called it. I can’t recall a more significant display of employee empowerment in my lifetime.


 

Updated: November 20, 2023

It turns out that Altman isn’t returning—at least for now. Still, the mere fact that the board considered the notion undercores the main point of this post. If staffers depart en masse as promised, I could still see it happening.


 

Late Friday, OpenAI announced that it had shitcanned CEO Sam Altman. The word shocking is entirely apropos, but not unheard of. Uber and WeWork are just two recent examples of valuable decacorns whose boards and investors forced their CEOs to walk—although after much more protracted battles.

Evidently, news of the unexpected departure isn’t sitting well with OpenAI’s workforce. Many employees threatened to resign if Altman isn’t reinstated. As Alex Heath and Nilay Patel write on The Verge, “If Altman decides to leave and start a new company, those staffers would assuredly go with him.”

Can OpenAI stand to lose a significant portion of its employees? Hell, no. I suspected that recruiters at Google, Amazon, Anthropic, and Meta are probably trolling these folks on LinkedIn as we speak. I would.

Photo from AI tool Craiyon.

By the time you read these words, who knows where things will stand? Does Altman even want to return? The situation is nothing if not fluid.

I do know, however, that we’re arguably living in an era of unprecedented employee empowerment. (It’s the first of the nine forces I cover in The Nine.) With historically low unemployment, all workers are holding better cards than, say, March of 2020 or January 2009. I’m hard-pressed to think of any employees in greater demand than those crafting the generative artificial intelligence tools that are all the rage.

Simon Says

Stay tuned. My sense is that OpenAI employees will soon win out, not unlike the autoworkers who received some surprising concessions.

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