For the past few months, Tesla shares have been trading at an all-time high, riding on the back of its founder, Elon Musk’s aggressive strategies and company performance results. For long, I have been an ardent fan of Musk’s, following his trajectory and observing his style of leadership.

 If last week he declared on the Saturday Night Live that he has Aspergers’ Syndrome (the second celebrity to openly admit it after Greta Thunberg), it kind of explains why he is so obsessed with what he does and shows very little or no feelings. Greta does the same way, in her own words, being obsessed with one thing which she relentlessly follows. What is also doing the rounds in the past few days is the letter Musk wrote to his employees way back in 2018 where he spells out his preference for work. Apparently, he hates meetings and large ones at that and prefers them only when they add value or something urgent is to be discussed. Stop using acronyms and buzzwords, he writes, urging people to use full forms of words. In another point, he stresses that communication must follow the shortest route without any hindrance, to be accomplished. Lastly, the letter quotes him asking his employees to stop following stupid rules.

Now when I see this letter in an independent context, I look at the kind of Organizational culture that Musk is creating, in effect. When the leader speaks about and urges a particular way of work, he is in fact advocating the culture of that organization. Or rather shaping it for better. I can only imagine how the employees of Musk’s work, whether they follow this advice to the T and whether they benefit from it. Had I been one, I would have loved these tips. And Tesla too.

Musk advocates a common-sense culture, where people’s focus is on innovation and getting things done rather than all the stupid rules that need to be followed because the rules exist and add no intrinsic value to either the work or the rule. This kind of advice may be unheard of from an older generation but is common of late. And see how it’s working. The leader sets the tone for this culture in case of Musk.

I have been a great fan of the Tata work culture too. In India, the Tata companies command an unheard-of respect, awe and admiration from the public and the government. I had quoted an anecdote from an ex-Tata employee Arun Maira, where Tata employees were exempted from being scanned by the airport customs officers just because they were Tata employees (who would, presumably, do no wrong). That is the kind of organizational culture that we’re talking about.

Nothing works better than a strong organizational culture in paving the way to a company’s success. I know of a small engineering company named Polyhydron, in one of India’s hinterlands in the southern state of Karnataka, where the owner Suresh Hundre, had vowed to pay no bribe and accept no favours from anyone. He stuck to it for over 25 years till his death a few years ago. The employees knew of this resolve and ensured that they did not entertain any demands from anyone about hastening the work under any pretext of bribing. Hundre faced many hurdles initially, delaying his work at times and antagonizing officers at others, but soon, word spread and rarely would one approach him with any of the above two taboo topics. His employees felt a sense of satisfaction working for the company and that lent it a different charm. So much so that he had done away with any supervisor in his company. All employees had their daily work chalked out and they completed it in whatever time suitable to them. When everyone is accountable for his outcomes, why do you need supervision, he asked. Read more...