We’re All In The Same Boat

Imagine a young assistant bringing a complaint directly to the CEO of a large corporation. An accountant bringing an idea to the VP Sales. Think this doesn’t or even shouldn’t happen? Consider this:

“Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company.”

I found this line in an email that Elon Musk sent out to all his employees a few years ago. He followed it with these words:

“You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens.”

Musk violates the basic bureaucratic communication protocol in most companies with these two simple statements. Forget structure and position and talk to whomever you need to talk to in order to rapidly solve a problem. Not only are you encouraged to do this, this is your obligation.

I imagine that while some of you are thinking that this directive actually makes sense, others are shuddering as they envision it in action. People running around emailing and talking to whomever they want to. How can this possibly work in a large company? Surely chaos will reign.

It takes a confident leader to issue such a directive to everyone within a large company such as Tesla. It also demonstrates something else about the leader. The leader is totally confident in the wisdom of his employees to discern when they should follow the directive in order to solve a problem and to not abuse the privilege. In the language of EOS, the company is composed of all the right people in the right seats fully aligned with the vision and goals of the company.

And everyone is willing to be open and honest about issues and to work to get them solved quickly and efficiently.

Musk goes on to say that “managers should work hard to ensure they are not creating silos within the company that create an us vs them mentality or impede communication in any way.”

How many companies of any size have a leader sending out such an email to every single employee? And how many companies have a leader who means it?

But then how many companies have a leader who ends such an email with the admonition to ”always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept.”

In four short paragraphs Musk has laid out much about the culture of his companies. It can be summed up in his statement: “We are all in the same boat.” Note the “we”. He considers himself one of them.

Again, I’m sure many of you have thought of all the reasons this directive won’t work in your own company. All the ways employees will abuse it. How much chaos this will cause. And what it will do to your ability to manage.

Perhaps this is one reason Elon Musk is a billionaire with multiple disruptive companies and you aren’t. He never dwells on reasons why it won’t work. He only thinks of all the good things that will happen if dedicated people are able to work together to rapidly solve problems and drive the entire company forward…for the good of all.








Commenting area

  1. Challenge perceived authority.
    Challenge assumptions.

  2. Walked into a manager’s office (after knocking) that was five levels up from me at Boeing. We both learned something. His direction to “fail half the time” was being scaled back at every intervening level.
    Fail half the time.
    Try new ideas, but keep it to about 10% to 25%.
    Try new-ish ideas, but don’t lose track of the main goals.
    Try new ideas if they have a good chance of succeeding.
    Try new ideas if they have a good chance of succeeding and as budget allows.
    He wondered what was happening to his message. I wondered if he meant what he said. The only way we completed the communication was by communicating directly.
    Sadly, it didn’t change anything except our understanding of the situation – except that I got a patent for one of my inventions.

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