ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo Expresses Concern about ByteDance Becoming Mediocre

On the afternoon of January 30th, ByteDance held its annual all-staff meeting for the year 2024. CEO of ByteDance, Liang Rubo, stated that the key theme for ByteDance in 2024 is ‘Always Entrepreneurial, Escaping Mediocrity’s Gravity’.

Liang Rubo mentioned the concept of ‘sense of crisis’ multiple times during his sharing session, and included ‘strengthening the sense of crisis’ as one of the annual goals. He openly admitted that the biggest sense of crisis is the concern that ByteDance, as an organization, is becoming mediocre and unable to achieve new breakthroughs.

From 2019 to 2021, ByteDance expanded rapidly, with the number of employees increasing from over 10,000 to over 100,000. Liang Rubo stated that many people have provided feedback saying that now ByteDance has all the typical problems of a large company.

Liang Rubo uses spacecraft as an example. Spacecraft needs to reach a certain speed in order to escape the Earth’s gravity, otherwise it will fall back down. The same applies to organizational development. He believes that it is necessary to break through complacency mentally, raise standards, maintain a sense of crisis and an entrepreneurial mindset at all times. At the same time, differentiation should be emphasized in motivation efforts to attract the best talents in order to ‘escape the gravity of mediocrity’.

Liang Rubo emphasized the issues of organization and talent at this year’s annual meeting. In contrast, his speech at last year’s ByteDance 11th anniversary conference focused more on business development. Last year, Liang Rubo mentioned in an internal speech that ByteDance considers information platforms and e-commerce as its core businesses, and will focus on investing in these two categories to strengthen its fundamentals.

The greatest sense of crisis is the mediocrity of the organization.

At the company-wide meeting this time, Liang Rubo talked about several trends of organizational mediocrity that he observed, including inefficiency, sluggishness, and low standards.

Liang Rubo first mentioned that the company experienced a decrease in organizational efficiency. A simple requirement for an internal system ended up involving a lot of people. Initially, it was estimated to require 1000 person-days, meaning one person would need to work for 1000 days. However, after further investigation, it was discovered that some people had misunderstood the requirements. Eventually, it was found that only one person needed to work for 15 days to complete the task. Additionally, an employee who left and joined a startup company told their acquaintances that they were able to accomplish six months’ worth of work at ByteDance within just one month at the new company.

‘I am talking about organizational inefficiency here, please do not misunderstand that I am saying everyone is not working hard.’ Liang Rubo said, in fact, in a mediocre and inefficient organization, employees are more likely to feel tired because even if they work hard, the final results are not ideal.

Secondly, there is a lack of agility and sensitivity to opportunities compared to startup companies. He mentioned that the company’s semi-annual technical review did not start discussing GPT until 2023, while well-performing large-scale model startup companies in the industry were established between 2018 and 2021.

Finally, Liang Rubo also mentioned the lowering of standards. He said that although the company has always emphasized concise, accurate, and easily understandable documents, there are still many documents that exceed tens of thousands of words in length on a regular basis. Jargon is rampant and there are countless abbreviations that do not directly address the issues.

Liang Rubo also specifically mentioned that after the company grew larger, sometimes he himself felt that if the efficiency of the company was 30% lower than other excellent teams, he would not be surprised, and even if it was 50% lower, he would not be shocked. But upon reflection, this lack of shock itself made him ‘break out in a cold sweat’ because it meant ‘my own standards are declining’.

Liang Rubo said that in order to address these issues, it is necessary to break complacency, raise standards, and build efficient organizations. Only by doing so can Byte escape the gravity of mediocrity.

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Make every effort to retain and attract outstanding talents.

Liang Rubo mentioned at the meeting that the mediocrity or excellence of an organization is directly related to its attractiveness to outstanding talents.

‘Excellent people vote with their feet. They seek more challenging opportunities, higher potential rewards, and colleagues who can inspire each other. I believe we must aspire to create an environment where these talented individuals choose to vote for us.’ said Liang Rubo.

For this reason, ByteDance will also continue to increase differentiation in incentives and make every effort to retain and attract outstanding talents. After the improvement of talent density, the efficiency and standards of the organization will also be enhanced. Liang Rubo said, ‘I hope that our team can all demand themselves with the standards of excellent entrepreneurial companies.’

At the end of the all-staff meeting, Liang Rubo also shared three goals for ByteDance in 2024. The first is organizational management and cultural aspects, emphasizing the need to strengthen crisis awareness, always maintain an entrepreneurial spirit, and escape mediocrity. The second goal is to continuously increase social trust. Lastly, it is to continue focusing on a few important matters in terms of business.

This is Liang Rubo once again emphasizing ‘always entrepreneurship’ internally.

As early as June 2022, shortly after taking over as CEO of ByteDance, Liang Rubo made adjustments to the internal culture of ByteDance known as ‘ByteDance Style’, elevating ‘Always Entrepreneurial’ to the first position from the fifth. This year marked the 10th anniversary of ByteDance and it had already become a large company with over 100,000 employees. Liang Rubo stated in an internal letter at that time that as the organization gradually grew larger, negative scale effects were also increasing. It was necessary to avoid excessive reliance on resources and falling into the trap of ‘big company syndrome’.