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May 22nd, 2020 by Alex Voigt
Bringing the right people at the right time with the right skills together is a gift not many have, and if you are one of the gifted, you may not even be aware of it. It’s the people who make the difference in our world, but they are treated in most companies as a resource and even named like it, as if you could exchange them and would achieve the same — you definitely wouldn’t. It’s a myth that everybody is exchangeable, for a very simple reason — we are all unique humans with that one and only DNA, history, and destiny no one else has or ever will have.
All and everything Tesla ever achieved is only possible because of its exceptional people, who come and go, but in between deliver the impossible.
This is the last article of my “7 Reasons Why Tesla Will Benefit From The Crisis” series, and it is the most important one.
All of the 6 previous articles and videos are expressions of what Tesla people — be they workers or managers of Tesla — have achieved together, things no other company achieved before it. Not having that asset would mean not having a competitive advantage and would make Tesla just one out of many automakers of the traditional variety. In the crisis, exceptional people deliver above-average results and determine how you as a company come out of it.
Don’t fool yourself and think that CEO Elon Musk achieved everything on his own. Although, without a doubt, he did orchestrate unique and amazing skills of people at the right time in history that made the impossible possible. Most people, including me do not know what they are capable of, but if someone can see and identify why you are a perfect fit for a company or role, that person has a rare gift and is making a real difference.
Excellent engineers are rare, and to find them is like searching for the needle in a haystack, but people who have the gift to find that needle are the singularity of innovation. Without them, you can still have people innovate, but regardless how great it is what they find or create, it may never be commercialized and in many cases is forgotten in history.
The employees of Tesla have achieved superiority in safety, diversification, demand, supply, vertical integration, pace of innovation, and a strong financial backbone by working harder and smarter. All and everything I described before is only possible and only has meaning due to the people and processes Tesla has.
It’s a key active ingredient and not talked about much despite being underlined many times by CEO Elon Musk in interviews, tweets, and public speeches, in appreciation of the people he brought together.
Processes and people belong together. You cannot divide them without losing one of the two. If you do, you lose the competitive advantage — and that’s what makes the difference in the crisis. This was true before and will be after the pandemic, but it is a difference with a severely strong positive impact that you find reflected and proven in the delivery and production numbers of Q1 that most would not have thought to be possible. The surprise achievement for the third quarter in a row was positive net income despite shutting down factories, and it is the result of people at Tesla going the extra mile to deliver vehicles in a touchless way while employees of the rest of the auto industry could not even think about delivering vehicles, instead accepting the status quo not thinking out of the box.
The faith and conviction that you can do more is nothing you can verify or test in a job interview, but it’s something that initiates and empowers itself in organizations that are able to unlock the true potential of its associates. If you give an actor a stage, you may not recognize the person you thought you knew before.
Most companies are guided by pressure, fear, and malus instead of encouragement, joy, and bonus. It’s a shy animal that’s mostly hiding and sometimes never seen at all. All you have to do to find the potential in people is allow them to truly work together, express themselves, find solutions, and give trust and support. That’s all that you have to do if you hired the right people. If you hired the wrong people, all you have to do is fire them.
When Elon Musk set some straightforward rules in his companies, like that you should leave a meeting immediately if you either cannot contribute or don’t benefit, he did it as a logical consequence of his plan to accelerate the advent of sustainable transportation. It is a rule that contradicts with the established industry where presence is usually more important than what you do with it, which is pretty foolish because it indicates you are present if your body is. Our whole mind is drifting out of meeting rooms sometimes, and the reason is we should not be there.
The never-ending series of meetings in most organizations are a waste of energy, performance, and the motivation of the people who are sitting the entire day on their butts, receiving data and information that may not at all be relevant for the real work they would prefer to do instead, work which would bring the company further along. Basic but important rules are ignored in companies that hinder productivity, innovation, and joy. Without joy, you will never unlock the true potential of your employees, so why are most companies creating an environment where people feel everything else except joy and fun by creating meaningful and kick-ass technology? Having joy does not exclude having rules, but they need to be the right rules.
An easy-to-follow process and rule is to have a hierarchy in which you can go directly to the manager who the message or information needs to go to — in other words, almost no hierarchy. There is simply no point to talk to your direct manager first, who would bring the version of what you tried to say and how he understood it to his manager, who would bring his variant to his manager, and in most cases the message or information does not survive or changes too much through the process. Lost in translation in its best form. I know of cases in the German auto industry in which people have been fired because they did not go through the “official” path. Hierarchies are poison for productivity, and if managers need a title to do a good job, they usually don’t do a good job at all.
Another valuable rule from Elon Musk is, “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.”
To add a funny anecdote here, I did quit my first job as a consultant by pointing out to my management by mail that I realized that I spent more time fulfilling internal administration work no one ever reads or needs with no visible common sense than doing essential work for the client who actually pays us, and because that reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon, I herewith resign.
Human Resources, a department that should change its name, called me later to figure out what I tried to express, which I appreciated and explained to them — never give others responsibility for the outcome of your own work, because it’s yours and it remains yours, and never forget who pays you for it and whom you are working for — the customer. If you feel your time and work are wasted, leave immediately. Overcome your fear and learn to trust your intuition, because life is short and we all have only one.
Another aspect that is underestimated is loyalty. You can measure loyalty in a survey, but you can’t ask for it in a job interview expecting to hire someone who will be loyal. It’s created when people are rewarded and valued as a human for what they are and what they contribute. Loyalty is another “shy animal,” but once it is in house, it does jump from one employee to the other and helps with creativity and productivity to boost innovation. Most companies are unable to unlock the true potential of their employees and instead do all to hinder it from unfolding, and by doing that, the positive creation of loyalty can turn into a negative quicker than most anticipate.
A startup usually has a founder who handpicks the first employees himself and is the one setting a quality standard for a special kind of human he searches for, but over time, when the startup grows, it’s simply from a time management perspective not possible any more, and from that point on, hired managers hire others. At that stage, if the design and setup was done well, the good people you hired are hiring good people, but if it’s been badly designed, the not-so-good people hire not-so-good employees. It goes both ways and reinforces itself the bigger the company gets. This is, by the way, one of the reasons why many growing startups die.
If done right, though, over time, the DNA of an organization is created, because the basis and foundation you as a founder set copies itself and improves further into the future, even if you are gone.
This does not stop or start with blue or white collar associates or graduates and non-graduates, and makes a dramatic difference in the success of an organization. Having good people makes all the difference, as every product and every service is at the end of the day born from good people and good processes.
Good people should be a commonsense rule, but something often missed is that if you search for graduates of a particular field, you only limit the pool of talented people you could choose from (dramatically), which is foolish at least.
Many surveys do prove that the vast majority of university graduates want to work for Tesla, and the company is constantly listed as a top employer, despite the fact that the company asks a lot, pays less than other options for top students, and has a large turnover. The constant notion of “going the extra mile” takes its toll — sometimes after months, sometimes after years — and people leave but then don’t stop talking about the lifetime opportunity they have been involved in. We’ve seen this time and time again with former Tesla staff. As a disruptive, innovative company, you don’t actually want people who stick with you until they retire. You don’t want them to rest, but to be restless, and to put all they have into the time they have with you.
All who ever worked for Tesla and SpaceX unite behind a very high recognition of the company and the time they had to help change the world. Having dedicated everything to make the company successful is a journey that cannot be compared with a normal job. It’s a mission, a dedication, and a burning wish deep in the heart to do something to help the world. It is a desire centered deep in us to help others, and Tesla is often the number one place for graduates to achieve and satisfy that fundamental desire.
Many influential investors in the last 12 months turned their negative opinion about Tesla into a positive one because someone in their family either drove the vehicle or they talked to talented engineers and realized they all want to work so badly for Tesla or SpaceX.
Go to any high school, ask around, and you may change your opinion about a company that people love to support and dedicate their life to. I am actually an example of that group as well, having resigned from my job because I could not justify sitting in a plane for short-term trips every week and polluting the environment while writing about how we as humans should support a carbon-free way of transportation. To create awareness has its consequences, and while I tried to do that with my articles, I became aware myself that I must change my own life first, and that’s exactly what I did and why you can read these thoughts.
To do that and satisfy that desire is like nurturing your heart and making it grow, like your body is dispensing endorphin through the blood to every cell. Sure, you can say they’re all acting as if they are under the influence of drugs, but it’s a good drug our body provides naturally as a present and as motivation. It’s what makes people do more than ever before, and its infectious, like a happiness virus jumping from body to body.
The atmosphere of being a part of a mission is often confused with cultish from those who don’t understand that an essential feeling of most is to want to work for something that has a positive meaning and remains as a positive result after we are all gone.
To be able to be heard and listened to as well as to be someone who makes a difference for the destiny of the company you work for — but also for health, safety, and the climate — is an extremely strong motivation for humans to go the extra mile and find impossible solutions in products as well as services. It may make you high, but it provides extra energy and power as a side effect.
All of that is worthless, though, if you are not able to find the very few rare good engineers and people between all the hay sticks. It’s good if everybody wants to work for you, but without any value if you have as a company not the skill to select the right ones. Having a choice is great, but making the wrong choice is bad. For that reason, all disruptive, really successful companies have a founder and leader that has that skill, and if he does not, they are not successful companies.
To be respected as a leader requires never expecting someone to do something you won’t do yourself. Elon Musk is a person who stands on the production lines with his workers building something and getting his hands dirty, and feels it is nothing to mention. Every other CEO of any automaker sometimes goes in a delegation through production, claiming he has been on the line, but in reality, he knows nothing about the workers and what they feel, nor talked to them in depth.
Elon Musk does talk and listen to the people, and pulls workers regularly into meetings, because he appreciates their opinions and knows they know something valuable you will never be able to know unless you work at that spot day in and day out.
Untapped and wasted potential, or opportunity, is the pity of our industry, but you can change that if you stop believing just that because of you are a senior manager, CEO, or billionaire you don’t need to keep listening to and trying to understand the workers up and down the line.
Money and physical possessions can be more of a burden than helpful for your mental health, and perhaps not many understand Elon Musk’s wish to get rid of physical possession. It makes total sense, because they come with a price and put a weight on you, changing over time your character and mind like a parasite can. If you want freedom, don’t have too many possessions, be they physical or financial. An example of this is the actor Keanu Reeves, who is known for secretly giving away millions to children’s hospitals but not even talking about it. Giving gives him more than owning.
This is a millionaire’s and billionaire’s 1st world problem — hard to understand for all working hard for their livelihood or who define themselves through possession — but its real and can destroy a personality. To get rid of wealth to work for a higher good is rare, and usually not understood, especially not in the millionaires’ world.
All people search for recognition and appreciation, which is not guaranteed in life for anyone, but which is a strong human desire. True recognition is certainly not achieved by building piles of money. You may get false recognition, though, from people you don’t want it from, which is a good alarm signal.
Without people and their respect, appreciation, and acknowledgement, we are nothing, and without our loved ones, our team, and the people in our companies, we achieve nothing, because at the end of the day, they are all we have.
The rest of the series “7 Reasons Why Tesla Will Benefit From The Crisis” is in the following articles: