In April 2018, Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent his employees a lengthy email laying out a number of changes that included "productivity recommendations" in light of the halt in Model 3 production that garnered considerable media scrutiny.
That email was leaked to the public and included a noteworthy "warning" to his managers that if a certain communication habit was displayed, they'd be packing their bags. Here's the leadership lesson:
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.
The simple solution
Musk was concerned about the ongoing issue that so many companies face today -- poor communication between people, functions, and departments that slows things down. The simple solution is to allow the free flow of information to travel in any direction, between all levels, regardless of your status or position. If something needs to get communicated in a way that will increase efficiency and productivity, it has to travel the shortest distance.
Musk adds, "If, in order to get something done between departments, 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."
I could not agree more.
Set your people free
In a knowledge economy, top-down hierarchical management styles that direct traffic one-way -- up the chain -- will collapse, especially since knowledge workers typically know more than their managers about their own areas of specialization.
The right approach here is to give smart people the keys to solving problems on their own. You'll find that in high-performing organizations that empower their knowledge workers, information is shared openly across fewer reporting levels, and people are able to use it to make the right decisions quickly.
The starting point is to empower workers by giving them autonomy to make decisions in the moment. Workers need the right data, insights, and technology to make high-quality decisions. Putting this trust and power in the hands of workers is seen as critical to agility and success.
It starts with leadership
Arming workers with the power of making decisions and acting with the data they have requires big changes in both process and culture, and senior leaders must drive this change from the top by providing their full support and leading by example.
Autonomy, or the ability to control what you do, when you do it, and with whom, is one of the fundamental elements of what intrinsically motivates human beings, which leads to better performance.
A great leader who believes in this premise is Hubert Joly, former chairman and CEO of Best Buy, whom I recently interviewed on the Love in Action podcast.
"Autonomy leads us to think creatively, which breeds innovation," Joly says. He's spot-on; innovation does not happen without the freedom to try out new ideas without five layers of management having to sign off on it. Autonomy is also motivating because it is more satisfying. But you need to set the right environment that pushes decision-making as far down as possible while adopting agile ways of working.