Tesla, the electric auto manufacturer led by Elon Musk, is getting ready to enter a new phase of activity as it ramps up production of its mass-market intended Model 3. In an email recently obtained by automotive website Jalopnik, Musk outlines plans to go from producing roughly 2,000 vehicles per week (which it does currently) to 6,000 vehicles per week.
It will be interesting to see if Musk can deliver on those goals. (Tesla has struggled to meet previous production targets, usually missing the mark.)
Nevertheless, Musk's message reveals some brilliant communication lessons, including the following:
Praise and commend.
"First, congratulations are in order! We have now completed our third full week of producing over 2000 Model 3 vehicles.... This is more than double Tesla's weekly production rate last year and an amazing feat in the face of many challenges! It is extremely rare for an automotive company to grow the production rate by over 100% from one year to the next."
Musk concludes the email with similar encouragement, when he thanks the people at Tesla for "accomplishing miracles every day," and confirms that doing so really "matters."
Tesla has fallen woefully short of previous production goals, but that doesn't stop Musk from focusing on the positive--and offering his people sincere and specific praise.
Clearly outline expectations--with style.
"Most of the design tolerances of the Model 3 are already better than any other car in the world. Soon, they will all be better. This is not enough. We will keep going until the Model 3 build precision is a factor of ten better than any other car in the world. I am not kidding.
"Our car needs to be designed and built with such accuracy and precision that, if an owner measures dimensions, panel gaps, and flushness, and their measurements don't match the Model 3 specs, it just means that their measuring tape is wrong.
"Some parts suppliers will be unwilling or unable to achieve this level of precision. I understand that this will be considered an unreasonable request by some. That's ok, there are lots of other car companies with much lower standards. They just can't work with Tesla."
Musk could have communicated all of this more simply, but it wouldn't be nearly as inspiring. By striving to reach employees on an emotional level, he encourages buy-in for his vision.
Learn from criticism.
"A fair criticism leveled at Tesla by outside critics is that you're not a real company unless you generate a profit, meaning simply that revenue exceeds costs. It didn't make sense to do that until reaching economies of scale, but now we are there.
"Going forward, we will be far more rigorous about expenditures. I have asked the Tesla finance team to comb through every expense worldwide, no matter how small, and cut everything that doesn't have a strong value justification."
Musk goes on to outline specific problems he's found disappointing, including a large number of contractor companies interwoven throughout Tesla, "like a Russian nesting doll of contractor, subcontractor, sub-subcontractor, etc. before you finally find someone doing actual work," which translates to "a lot of middle-managers adding cost but not doing anything obviously useful." Musk also cites the problem of contracts that lack a "fixed price and duration, which creates an incentive to turn molehills into mountains, as they never want to end the money train."
With these few paragraphs, Musk encourages workers to learn from the criticism doled out against the company. At the same time, he uses that criticism to identify clear areas for improvement.
Get everyone on the same page.
Towards the end of the email, Musk delivers "a few productivity recommendations":
"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."
On internal communication:
"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."
As the CEO of the company, Musk is ultimately responsible for the culture at Tesla. With these tips, he does a great job of making his position clear. That way, everyone understands when someone walks out of a meeting, drops off a call, or goes directly to a department head to communicate a problem--no questions asked.
Emotional intelligence in action.
This email is a perfect example of how good communication does more than clearly relay a message--it strives to reach people on an emotional level, to motivate them to action.
Of course, emotionally intelligent communication is only the beginning. Musk and his team face a formidable challenge moving forward, and the key will be in how well they execute on the principles put forth in this message.
But this email is noteworthy, because so many companies get the beginning wrong.
Praise and commend. Communicate expectations clearly, and with style. Learn from criticism. Get everyone on the same page.
Kudos on a great start.