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Unconventional Leadership Tips From The Inbox of Elon Musk

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Tesla employees are racing against the clock to meet an aggressive production goal set by Elon Musk: 6,000 Model 3s per week by the end of June. Until Tesla recovers 6 months of lost time from production snags, they are running out of time to make their goal by quarter’s end.

Behind this flurry of activity is a lesser known truth about how Tesla’s culture is shaped by these starts of intense productivity. CEO and founder of Tesla Elon Musk is stripping production plants of the trappings of corporate environments like long meetings and traditional chain-of-command communication to get the job done.

In an internal email to Tesla employees Musk details his imperatives for Model 3 production plants:

“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get rid of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

While not all employees work on a production line, the lessons Musk shares are universal. Long meetings can impede productivity through wasted time and groupthink. When progress is on the line, politeness goes out the window for this reason: employees need the autonomy to decide what serves them and mandatory meetings often reinforce comfortable norms over necessity. As the head of Tesla and SpaceX, Musk easily understands how much energy is consumed by meetings and phone calls. In the case of an aggressive production goal, he encourages teams to maintain a singular focus.

Musk’s approach is blunt, but it underlines what it takes for a company like Tesla to achieve groundbreaking wins. He continues to detail other communication pitfalls for Model 3 plants to avoid:

“Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.”

Jargon is a huge temptation for corporate cultures but is one that precipitates confusion and factions. Creating barriers of understanding through sneaky shortcuts like acronyms works against the spirit of productivity. As companies with sleek user experiences like Apple have demonstrated, simple is best.

“Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command”. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.”

Musk’s adaptation of the principle of continuous improvement means production line employees can and should escalate complaints or suggestions directly to the top, without middle management. Musk’s approach is similar to that of “kaizen” Toyota’s productivity tactic adopted by American car manufacturers that gave production line workers power to halt the line to resolve an immediate problem.

Musks’ leadership style may differ from the norm, but who would expect differently from a company like Tesla? As managers and leaders alike, we must try new, risky strategies that will yield better results for our teams. We must get serious about what matters most and cut the rest out of the equation.

To your excellence in leading with boldness,
Coach Greg

 
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