WHATEVER you think of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, there’s no denying that he’s a man who can get things done. His car company Tesla launched its first vehicle just 10 years ago and now sells three electric models, all designed and built from scratch in-house, and has another three models in the works, including a lorry and a new version of the Roadster supercar.
Tesla global sales passed 250,000 units in September last year, and in February the company built its 300,000th car.
However, it seems the company isn’t measuring up to Musk’s own high standards, with widely-reported delays in the production of the BMW 3-series-rivalling Model 3 saloon.
To get things back, Musk has told his employees that its assembly plant in California will operate “24/7″ as it attempts to ramp up production to 6,000 units per week by June, and reach profitability.
The full-time production plan will begin after a shutdown for a few days to carry out “extensive upgrades” of the facilities at both the car factory in Fremont and “Gigafactory” battery plant, in Nevada.
But in the letter, obtained by the Jalopnik website, Musk said he has been disappointed by some middle-manager dealings with contractors that are adding cost but little productivity.
“I have been disappointed to discover how many contractor companies are interwoven throughout Tesla,” he wrote. “Often, it is like a Russian nesting doll of contractor, subcontractor, sub-subcontractor, etc. before you finally find someone doing actual work.”
He added: “There is a very wide range of contractor performance, from excellent to worse than a drunken sloth. All contracting companies should consider the coming week to be a final opportunity to demonstrate excellence. Any that fail to meet the Tesla standard of excellence will have their contracts ended on Monday.”
The letter ends with seven rules for increasing productivity; he calls them “recommendations” but as one of them includes the threat of dismissal if it isn’t followed, employees will want to follow them fastidiously.
Notable is the idea that having meetings for meetings’ sake is a waste of time. Musk also wants his managers to find the fastest and most direct solutions to problems, bypassing the chain of command in order to get the job done efficiently. Clearly, Musk is not a fan of red tape.
Here are Musk’s seven productivity “recommendations” in full:
- Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. 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.
- 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.