Elon Musk’s Six Rules for Tesla Employees

Elon confirmed on Twitter that he sent the following productivity recommendations to Tesla employees in an email.

  • Stop excessive meetings
  • Stop frequent meetings
  • Exit calls and meetings when you aren’t adding value
  • Stop using acronyms
  • Direct communication is the best
  • Free flow of information in a business is critical
  • Common sense is the best guide
  • Communication for improvement should flow upwards freely in an organization
  • Stop excessive meetings

Let’s take a look at what he said and what I think the underlying business management principles we can learn from his leadership as CEO.

Stop excessive meetings

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

Too many managers and executives create a culture of needless meetings to either justify their jobs or because they have no real work to do their self at the company. Business meetings should be focused, seldom, and brief. In-person meetings should only take place when needed for critical communication to a group that requires more than an email or a phone call.

Stop frequent meetings

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.” – Elon Musk

Frequent meetings are only to be used when needed to quickly understand a problem that requires a quick resolution. As the problem is solved the meetings should decline in frequency and eventually stop all together. Companies should not create a culture of repetitive meetings.

Exit calls and meetings when you aren’t adding value

“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.” – Elon Musk

Musk believes his managers should cut their loss of time short when they realize they are on a call or in a meeting where they are receiving no value and also adding no value. It’s the manager’s responsibility not to continue to waste their own time or waste the time of other employees.

Stop using acronyms

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 work at Tesla.” – Elon Musk

Elon is a big believer in simple and direct communication and calling things what they are. He is not a believer in clever acronyms and complex fancy words to describe things. He wants his people to keep things simple and call things what they are.

Direct communication is the 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.” – Elon Musk

Musk wants the shortest path of direct communication used in his company. He wants people who are directly involved in results talking to each other regardless of where they may be in the official corporate chain of command. This is the only rule accompanied with a threat of unemployment, showing how important this rule is to him and how seriously he takes it.

Free flow of information in a business is critical

A major source of issues is poor communication between departments. The way to solve this is to allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between departments, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a vice president, who talks to another vice president, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be okay for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.” – Elon Musk

Elon again explains that his view of communication is that it must flow both horizontally in the company between employees, vertically up and down the chain of command, and also diagonally across different departments. He wants all communication to flow through the shortest path and with the least resistance possible.

Common sense is the best guide

In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a “company rule” is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change. – Elon Musk

With this advice Musk asks his employees to be thinkers not just blind followers of rules. The number one filter he wants employees using for decision making is common sense, even if it violates company rules. He doesn’t want work situations at Tesla to happen that could be a Dilbert comic or look like a scene in the TV show. The Office or the movie Office Space. This is a very good way to explain his common sense principle rule by comparing it to absurd comical situations.

This principle also shows his confidence in his executives, managers, and employees intelligence and decision making skills. This confidence can only occur because he knows Tesla has a great hiring process to find the right people. He wants his employees to be thinkers, this can have a great effect through the leverage of more perspectives and brain power.

Communication for improvement should flow upwards freely in an organization

“If there is something you think should be done to make Tesla execute better or allow you to look forward to coming to work more (same think in the long-term) please send a note to [redacted].” – Elon Musk

He finishes up with another communication request. He wants all suggestions and brain storming for how to make Tesla operate better and also things that would improve morale.

We can see that the greatest entrepreneur of the 21st century values communication and time management the most in this email. These are the two keys to productivity. Something to consider as priorities in our own business life.

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