If you're running a big organization, there are really only a handful of tools you can use to lead effectively.

The biggest is to design and reinforce the right kind of culture. At Tesla, that's Elon Musk's No. 1 job.

This week, Tesla's internal Anti-Handbook Handbook, which is apparently provided to every new employee at Tesla, leaked via an article by Mark Matousek on Business Insider.

It's a unique document, and it's pure Musk, preaching to employees about intense ambition, work ethic, and company culture.

It's also fun for outsiders to read, and it might be the kind of thing your business should copy. Here are its key takeaways:

1. It establishes and reflects culture.

Let's assume this four-page handbook is among the first official "welcome to Tesla!" documents that new employees receive. If so, it's on point for the culture that Tesla tries to project as a company. 

The first line reads: "We're Tesla. We're changing the world. We're willing to rethink everything."

A lot of companies might say something like that, but the Tesla handbook at least keeps up the theme.

It goes on to explain that this won't be a traditional employee handbook, because employee handbooks "tell you how poorly you can behave before you get shown the door."

Instead, Tesla says, "We prefer to have incredibly high standards and to hire exceptional people."

If you want the other model, where they show you the lowest acceptable standard, the handbook says, "you'll be more successful somewhere else. We don't mean to sound harsh; it's just the truth."

You might like that, you might not. But it's pretty clear the culture that it's trying to portray.

2. It has a consistent and fitting tone.

This is a very conversational handbook. But it doesn't fall into the trap of thinking that conversational has to be funny.

When I found myself smiling or laughing while reading it, it was prompted by recognizing that so many documents at other companies are either full of legalese or seem like they were written by a committee.

So, while this document attacks some of the common problems most companies risk running into, it does so with a consistent and unusual tone.

In keeping with the idea that it won't just set the baseline of expectations, the Tesla handbook includes lines like the following, under headings like "Communication," "Job Duties," and "Goals and Feedback." 

  • "Anyone at Tesla can and should email or 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 with your manager, you can talk to your manager's manager, you can talk directly to a VP in another department, you can talk to Elon."
  • "'No one told me' is an excuse that will never fly here."
  • "Your No. 1 job -- everyone's No. 1 job -- is making this company a success."
  • "If you can't be reliable, this isn't the place for you."
  • "'You're tardy' is something kids are told in school. This isn't school."

3. It doesn't skip the administrative stuff.

There is a separate, internal Tesla website where employees can find information about things like "pay policies, meal and rest breaks, time off, and leave policies."

The handbook provides a link to all that, but doesn't include the whole text in this initial document.

I think that's a good balance. There are both legal requirements and practical ones. But the Anti-Handbook Handbook makes clear that these big picture expectations are the most important.

Matousek included the full document at the end of his article. It's also hosted in full on Scribd.

Published on: Feb 16, 2020
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