Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla, is known for his iconoclastic and unconventional personality and management style. Tesla’s employee handbook, which mirrors Musk’s style, was leaked and then published by Business Intern.
If you’re a Tesla human resources professional or in-house attorney, the employee handbook must be causing great anxiety. For workers, it’s incredible.
The manual offers a disclaimer to all employees:
“If you’re looking for a traditional employee handbook full of policies and rules, you won’t find one. Policies and rules tell you where the bottom is – they tell you how mediocre you can be before they show you the door. It’s not us.
Typically, employee handbooks are long, boring, loaded with jargon, and authoritatively written. It is not clear if anyone in the history of companies has ever fully read and understood their company’s manual. The exception is when there’s a problem, so you look for it, start reading, and quickly give up because it’s incomprehensible, dense, and confusing.
Tesla’s manual is like its founder – no frills, direct and precise, holds people accountable and lays out requirements clearly and concisely.
Musk looks for smart, driven people and holds them accountable. He is open-minded about a person’s background, but demands that people show up on time and produce. Tesla expects a lot of its employees to live up to its standards of excellence.
According to Musk, it is not imperative that employees come from top universities. He believes, “If someone is a graduate of a great university, that may be an indication that they will be capable of great things, but that is not necessarily the case. If you look at, say, people like Bill Gates or Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, those guys aren’t college graduates, but if you had the opportunity to hire them, sure, that would be a good idea. Musk once tweeted, “A PhD definitely isn’t necessary,” and followed that statement up by saying, “It doesn’t matter if you even graduated from high school.”
Musk is looking for people who demonstrate “evidence of exceptional ability. And if there is a record of outstanding achievement, it’s likely to continue into the future.
According to the manual, trust is mission critical. The company offers its employees its full confidence and grants them important responsibilities. It is believed that people with respect and trust will rise to the challenge and maintain the highest level of professionalism.
The most important thing, according to the manual, is that it is everyone’s job to contribute to the success of the company. Each employee must act as if he were an owner. This means that if they have a good idea of how things can be done differently or better, they should share it with the appropriate managers. Employees are free to move up the chain of command, including Musk himself, if they feel they have something of value to offer. This edict allows everyone to take ownership of their work, their career and the future of Tesla.
One of the rules in the playbook is to have fun at work. Employees are encouraged to make new friends, strive to perform at their best and take on exciting new challenges. The company wants everyone to work hard, love what they do and have fun.
The direct tone of the manual is refreshing. You can almost hear Musk’s voice behind the textbook’s warning that coming to work late every Monday morning because you stayed up late watching football is inexcusable because there are people depending on you. “Traffic accidents happen, we understand that, but they don’t happen every Monday during football season.”
It is understood that if you are sick, you stay home. “Let’s not make ourselves sick,” says the manual.
“Our assumption will be that if you don’t call and show up for work, you’re a jerk.”
Ironically, some of the company’s demands were lightly — and sometimes blatantly — ignored by Musk himself. Over the years, he transgressed some of Tesla’s own principles. This includes calling a scuba diving expert who was rescuing children from a cave in Thailand a “pedo”, a remark that landed him in court for defamation. (The jury ultimately found in Musk’s favor.) To be fair, the name-calling isn’t clear in the manual.
When the company was going through tough times, Musk said he secured buyers for the company at $420 per share, which represented a substantial premium to the stock price at that time. It was believed that he had exaggerated slightly about the mysterious buyer. Some claim he completely made up the fictional buyer story. The stock price now trades around $800 per share, so critics have given in somewhat.
Musk caught the eye when he drank whiskey and smoked weed on Joe Rogan’s popular podcast, which has been watched and listened to by millions. His antics have been questioned by experts in corporate ethics.
There is a contingency of short sellers on Twitter who argue that Musk is a modern-day PT Barnum who overstated his company and his stock price. They argue that Tesla shares are worth more than many of the largest automakers combined and that the price cannot stay at that premium and will eventually crash. They allege that Tesla vehicle crashes, spontaneous fires and deaths are caused by software that has yet to be perfected.
Musk allegedly hired investigators to hack an employee’s phone, eavesdrop on his messages and deceive police about a potential mass shooting, according to Sean Gouthro, the company’s former Nevada Gigafactory security manager. Musk claimed in an email that an employee attempted to engage in “harmful sabotage of our operations” and blamed “Wall Street short sellers”, “oil and gas companies” or “the multitude of competitors to the large gasoline/diesel automobile companies”. initiated the activities.
While the manual calls for security and the company wants “you to return home every day in the same condition as you arrived”, there have been allegations of security breaches. Employees reportedly called 911 regularly, citing unsafe working conditions, such as “head injuries from unsecured construction debris blowing off the roof during a windstorm and people falling through holes in floor”.
Tesla and Musk are an anomaly in the business world. Many loyal customers and investors love the company and its flamboyant CEO, who also shows humility at times. They are strong supporters of Tesla and support its continued success.
Their faith remains unshakeable despite the many overstepping of the limits of its founder. The manual should probably contain a passage that allows Musk to engage in questionable behavior as long as he continues to grow the company, increase Tesla’s value for its shareholders, and deliver a great product to its customers.
Human resources staff, corporate lawyers and Tesla’s board of directors will continue to have headaches and endless work to do to keep up with their larger-than-life CEO.