Tesla Employee Handbook Is Nothing Like Other Employee Handbooks

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Fifty years ago, Robert Townsend, the new head of Avis, wrote a book entitled Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits. It was a response to the highly organized, button-down, gray-flannel corporate culture epitomized by such corporate giants as IBM and Xerox. It was unorthodox, brash, and unsettling to many corporate types who believed the way to get ahead was to conform to the dictates of the boss at all times.

Tesla factory Fremont

The book was divided into several chapters, each one dealing with a different facet of corporate culture. One in particular is memorable. Entitled “Meetings,” it offered this cogent advice: “Cancel all meetings.” End of chapter. Somewhere along the way, Elon Musk must have read this book (or simply came to the same conclusion on his own), because the company he heads has a guide for new employees with a similar title — The Anti-Handbook Handbook.

Photos of that document were leaked recently to Mark Matousek of Business Insider. It has been downloaded to Scribd as well. Matousek has kindly reprinted the entire 4 page document (that’s right — it is only 4 pages long) at the end of his article if you want to read it for yourself. He also highlighted some relevant portions, however, starting with the introduction. Tesla did not respond to his requests for comments about the story.

“We’re Tesla. We’re changing the world. We’re willing to rethink everything,” the handbook begins. “We’re different and we like it that way. Being different allows us to do what no one else is doing; to do what others tell us is impossible.

Your #1 job — everyone’s #1 job — is making this company a success. If you see opportunities to improve the way we do things, speak up even if these are outside your area of responsibility. You have a personal stake in Tesla’s success so make suggestions and share your ideas. Your good ideas mean nothing if you keep them to yourself.

Not your typical employee manual. Not at all. And the hits keep on coming. Inc. has a few more details:

  • 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 to 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.
  • 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. Plan to be here on time ready to start work when you are scheduled. Traffic accidents happen. We get that. But not every Monday during football season.

Here’s one more for your consideration: “Our assumption will be that if you don’t call and don’t show up for work, you’re a jerk. You better have a really good reason for not letting us know why you didn’t come in or you’re out of here.”

What is missing from the Anti-Handbook Handbook is a bunch of “party of the first part,” “heretofore,” and “notwithstanding” language beloved by corporate attorneys everywhere. There is a link in the text to an internal webpage that has more specifics about such legal niceties.

The Coen brothers may have done the best send-up of a traditional company orientation in the movie The Hudsucker Proxy. Here is a clip you may find amusing:


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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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