"You are obligated to ask" – Elon Musk’s email
Even in the most progressive organisations, sometimes the boss needs to drive a “culture of asking.” Here is how Elon Musk did it.
|Image from wikimedia commons|
Musk’s email is quoted here, and seems to have been sent in response to a dissatisfaction with default communication and knowledge sharing habits at Tesla.
There are 6 things I want to point out regarding this email, which I have highlighted in the text of the email
- Musk is setting the expectation for lateral communication and knowledge flow, rather than the vertical communication seen in many other organisations (which I describe as knowledge hedge-hopping).
- He makes his expectation very clear, and backs it up by spelling out the consequences (“Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company”).
- He places this expectation in the context of problem-solving and asking for help (“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”). Musk is looking to drive a culture of “open asking”.
- He makes this expectation very eplicit. It is not a request, it is an obligation.
- He separates out this behaviour of problem-driven asking from “random chit-chat”, and sees it as key to competitiveness.
- He recognises that the default “hedge-hopper KM” behaviour is driven by a natural human tendencies which needs to be “fought” in support of the corporate good.
Subject: Communication Within Tesla
There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company.
Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding.
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. 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. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well. We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size, so we must do so with intelligence and agility.
One final point is that managers should work hard to ensure that they are not creating silos within the company that create an us vs. them mentality or impede communication in any way. This is unfortunately a natural tendency and needs to be actively fought. How can it possibly help Tesla for depts to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collective? We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept.