When starting at a new job, employee handbooks are one of the first company documents employees are exposed to and can help set the type of culture companies want to create. Unfortunately it’s a missed opportunity in far too many companies, but not Tesla. As the most disruptive company in the auto industry, Tesla has even taken the opportunity to rewrite the book (no pun intended) on what the company handbook should be.”
Tesla’s employee handbook is a perfect reflection of its innovative, disruptive culture. Posted recently on Scribd thanks to Business Insider, Tesla’s employee handbook is titled “The Anti-Handbook Handbook” and is just four pages long. It’s written in an easy to read conversational format and is straight to the point.
Culture of High Performance and Innovation
Tesla has a culture of high performance and disruptive innovation. CEO Elon Musk is the epitome of that. He famously doesn’t take a salary and instead only takes compensation in the form of stock options that only vest when company performance reaches a certain level. During the days of “production hell” in 2018, Elon worked 100+ hour weeks on his production line and slept on a couch in his factory.
It’s fitting then that the employee handbook starts off like this.
“We’re Tesla. We’re changing the world. We’re willing to rethink everything.”
The handbook then starts to describe the traditional employee handbook which it describes as mostly filled with policies and rules. Tesla’s handbook doesn’t talk about the policies and rules as they believe policies and rules simply state the minimum standards an employee should be at whereas Tesla isn’t looking for that.
“Policies and rules tell you where the bottom is – they tell you how poorly you can perform before you get shown the door. That’s not us.”
Instead, the handbook writes that Tesla is looking for high performers and tell readers in a blunt way that low performers will not succeed at Tesla.
“We prefer to have incredibly high standards and to hire exceptional people who enjoy pushing themselves to perform… and act with integrity…”
“Is this you? If so, we’re glad you’re here… If this isn’t you, you’ll be more successful somewhere else. We don’t mean to sound harsh; it’s just the truth.”
While this might sound like a harsh and challenging work environment, think back to your own experiences. Have you had co-workers who have skated by always doing just the bare minimum just to keep their job? How about those who did the bare minimum at their job and their job directly impacted how well you could do your job? How did that make you feel? Frustrated?
After setting the culture of the company, the Tesla handbook then hops into the basics. It describes where to find actual policy information, then proceeds to give “the real talk” under the headlines such as “Communication”, “Job Duties”, “Attendance”, etc.
Here’s a couple excerpts of what I mean by “the real talk”.
“We give everyone who joins our team a lot of trust and responsibility. We operate with the assumption that everyone will do the right thing, including you. The truth is some people have violated this trust or ignored their responsibilities. We won’t change our approach because of the few who have let us down. Instead, we let them go.”
“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 – you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens.”
“Your #1 job – everyone’s #1 job – is making this company a success.”
“Be the kind of person your team can rely on. Be here when you’re suppsoed to be here. We need you. We can’t get things done when you aren’t here… If you can’t be reliable, this isn’t the place for you. You’ll be asked to leave…”
“‘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’re scheduled.”
“If you’re sick, stay home. Don’t get the rest of us sick.”
“Our assumption will be that if you don’t call and don’t show up for work, you’re a jerk.”
“If you do something stupid… you may be coached and given another chance or you may be asked to leave. We can’t afford to waste our time dealing with stupid stuff when we have so many important things to get done.”
“Make sure you’re having fun at work… If you aren’t having fun at some level, you’ll be unhappy. We don’t want that. We want you to work hard, love what you do, and have fun.”
It All Boils Down to This
Tesla’s employee handbook provides quite a bit of funny yet informative content, but it ultimately all boils down to the golden rule. Treat others how you would like to be treated.
“The theme of the above standards is simple: just behave like the sort of person you want as your co-worker. Treat everyone like you want to be treated. Tesla must be the kind of company where people look forward to coming to work in the morning. Life is too short for anything else.”