Elon Musk gets a lot done.
The 49-year-old entrepreneur and CEO is revolutionizing the spaceflight industry with SpaceX, transforming the world of the electric car at Tesla, and pushing neuroscience and transportation forward at Neuralink and the Boring Company.
The billionaire expects similar standards from his employees, and an email Musk sent to Tesla employees in 2018, as well as other reports, provide a window on the rules he likes his people to observe in the workplace.
It’s clear that Musk is clearly not a fan of meetings, bureaucracy, hierarchy, or any system that impedes immediate communication. He prefers people apply common sense to the task at hand. And if employees don’t meet his expectations, he can be ruthless.
Read on for some of the strict rules Musk sets for his employees.
Large-format meetings waste people’s time.
“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,” he said in 2018 in an email obtained by Jalopnik.
Meetings should be infrequent unless a matter is urgent.
“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,” Musk told staff.
If you don’t need to be in a meeting, leave.
“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,” Musk’s email said.
Avoid confusing jargon.
“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,” he said.
Don’t let hierarchical structures make things less efficient.
“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 said in his internal letter.
If you need to get in touch with someone, do so directly.
“A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels,” he said.
“If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, 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 ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.”
Don’t waste time following silly rules.
“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.”
Don’t leak to the press under any circumstances.
In an email leaked to the press May 2019, Musk rallied against leaking to the press — under any circumstances.
“As an employee and a shareholder, each of us has a responsibility to safeguard all information and technology we use and generate every day,” Musk said.
“Tesla will take action against those who improperly leak proprietary business information or violate the non-disclosure obligations to which we all agreed. This includes termination of employment, claims for damages, and even criminal charges.”
He went on to list a bunch of examples in which Tesla staff were fired for leaking, including on social media.
Musk is known to be ruthless.
Elon Musk was so prone to firing sprees that Tesla employees were told not to walk past his desk in case it jeopardized their career, according to an explosive Wired article published in 2018. One source told Wired that they coined a term for Musk’s outbursts: “Elon’s rage firings.”
Tesla disputed Wired’s reporting as “overly-dramatic and sensationalized,” but did say that “Elon and the company’s leadership will sometimes take the difficult step of letting people go who are not performing.”