Elon Musk tells Tesla staff to break rules and walk out of meetings. Business revolution or a recipe for corporate chaos?

The Tesla boss has also outlined plans to take production of the Model 3 24/7 in a leaked email sent to staff 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Wednesday 18 April 2018 16:58 BST
The ever newsworthy Tesla boss Elon Musk
The ever newsworthy Tesla boss Elon Musk

Elon Musk is either a certifiable genius or certifiably crazy. He might be both.

Evidence for that can be seen in an email, purportedly sent by him to Tesla employees, which has conveniently found its way into the public domain.

You may be aware that Tesla, his electric car company, has been under a cloud of late, with its shares under pressure such the company’s market value has dipped back below General Motors, which it at one point surpassed despite selling just over 1 vehicle for every 100 shifted by the latter in 2017.

The e-mail needs to be seen against that backdrop.

It seeks to send a message, to make a statement of intent, and to tell the world that Elon’s car company is on the road and motoring. All that and a promise that Tesla’s gong to slay one of the business world’s most sacred of cows: The meeting!

These, it is says, are “the blight of big companies”. Well, duh. As such, managers have been told to get rid of the large ones “unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short”.

You can almost hear the screams of “yeesss” from people who’ve just spent the best part of their day in them.

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

Cue another chorus of huzzahs.

And there’s more: “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.”

Take that corporate politics!

As for company rules, if following them is “obviously ridiculous” in a particular situation “such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon” then the rule must change.

So, an invitation to Mr Musk’s “kickass team” to go ahead and break them if they think it makes sense.

It makes Tesla sounds like some blissful corporate heaven, the sort of place the world’s benighted salarymen and women dream about. The company can expect to be inundated with applications for the 400 or so roles a week that are going to be added “for several weeks” as part of plans to get its Fremont California plant getting working 24/7.

Who knows, it might genuinely create the sort of business where things get done rather than endlessly talked about.

Alternatively it’s a recipe for barely controlled chaos.

There is, however, one rule that can’t be broken: No spending money! Any outlay above $1m will have to be personally approved by Mr Musk.

In going 24/7 to get production of the mass market Model 3 up to 6,000 units a week, Tesla is going to defy corporate norms and auto industry physics (car plants don’t generally run like that not least because while it sounds like a nice idea things have a habit of breaking down).

Mr Musk, meanwhile, might have to try and defy human biology through forsaking the need for sleep. He’s running the risk of spending large parts of his working week resolving inter company disputes and signing off spending requests. And remember, Tesla isn’t his only business interest. There’s SpaceX too.

Future MBA students are either going to be writing about a revolutionary way of doing things or a revolutionary disaster.

Whichever of those it turns out to be, it promises to be fun to watch.

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