Love him or hate him—sentiments in-between seem to be rare—Elon Musk has been having a very productive few years lately. The controversial man behind Tesla, SpaceX and now Twitter has become a regular feature in headlines due to his business decisions and unique management techniques.
Supporters of Musk often tout him as a highly effective and productive individual, while critics argue that he sets unrealistic expectations for his employees in terms of workload.
Regardless of where one stands on the debate, examining Musk’s management techniques and productivity rules can offer valuable insights that may be applicable in the workplace. With his reputation for unconventional approaches and bold strategies, delving into Musk’s methods can be both intriguing and informative for those seeking to optimise productivity in their own professional environments.
In a company-wide email leaked last year, Musk’s six rules for productivity, which generally relate to meetings and the handling of communication, were shared on Twitter. Here are the six non-negotiables the billionaire recommends to boost workplace productivity and improve leadership quality.
Avoid large meetings
The first of the rules that Musk recommends is to stop conducting large meetings. He says, “excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get off all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience.”
This makes sense because take, for example, an hour-long meeting with eight attendees. With each person’s time being equivalent to a workday, the total time spent in the meeting amounts to eight person-hours. Now, if the meeting size doubles, it translates to two workdays of just one employee’s time.
The implications are clear: having unengaged or unproductive participants in a meeting can result in significant loss of productivity, consuming hours or even days of valuable work time. It’s a reminder of the importance of making meetings purposeful, inclusive, and outcome-driven, to ensure that every participant can contribute meaningfully and achieve tangible results, without squandering precious resources.
Cut short the duration and frequency of the meetings
Related to the ban on large meetings, Musk says, “get rid of frequent meetings unless you’re dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.”
No agenda should include the words “information,” “recap,” “review,” or “discussion,” he adds.
The only agenda you should have is a single bullet point: “Set product launch date,” or “Select software developer for database redesign,” or something that actually requires a group to make a decision.
Again, more frequent meetings mean more time talking and less time taking care of necessary tasks. By reducing meeting frequency, attendees can spend more time working.
It’s okay to leave unproductive meetings or calls
Musk’s advice on optimising meeting efficiency goes beyond just keeping meetings small and brief. He also encourages participants to be mindful of their contributions and not hesitate to leave a meeting or drop off a call if they are not adding value. In fact, Musk sees it as rude to make someone stay and waste their time in a meeting that isn’t beneficial to them or others.
By empowering individuals to leave unproductive meetings, the tech giant emphasises the importance of valuing people’s time and enabling them to redirect their efforts towards more productive tasks. Musk recommends that people “walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”
Stop using acronyms or jargons
Another one of his rules is to avoid using acronyms or jargon for objects, software, or processes. “Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes… In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorise a glossary just to function,” he says.
In many businesses, acronyms and jargon have become pervasive, often causing confusion or slowing down communication. Musk’s advice encourages using clear and simple language that can be easily understood by everyone, regardless of their background or expertise. By simplifying communication, leaders can foster a more efficient and inclusive work environment where ideas and information can flow freely without unnecessary barriers.
Don’t take the (communication) chain of command too seriously
Musk advocates that people ignore the chain of command and that “communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done.”
He continues, “if, in order to get something done between departments, an individual contributor has to talk to a 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.”
Streamlining communication is crucial to minimise delays and reduce the risk of miscommunication. However, in practice, it can be challenging to implement, especially in a culture where leaders tend to focus on managing upwards and being “in the know.” Only the most self-confident and self-assured leaders feel comfortable with the idea of being bypassed in the communication process.
But fear not! If you want to harness the power of direct communication ‒ where information flows freely between the person who spots a problem and the right person to solve it ‒ there are ways to make it work. It starts with creating an environment that encourages open and direct communication, even if it means bypassing traditional hierarchies. This requires making everyone feel valued and comfortable with the situation, including those who might feel bypassed.
It’s also important for leaders to let go of the need to know everything. In fact, appearing to need to know everything can discourage direct communication among team members. Instead, leaders should promote transparency, trust, and the idea that it’s okay not to have all the answers. “It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen,” Musk shares. Can’t argue with that!
Don’t forget to use your common sense
Finally, Musk says, “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.” Essentially, if there’s a more logical way to do something, opt for that to boost efficiency.
So, what’s the bottom line?
You must be wondering ‒ do these rules really work? At first glance, Musk’s rules for productivity seem to make sense. Less time in meetings means more time for actual work, and streamlined communication can prevent miscommunications that can slow things down. But do these rules actually work in practice?
Musk’s track record is a mixed bag. Tesla, his electric car company, has seen tremendous success, with a valuation of over $570 billion and a significant impact on the automotive industry. However, his recent acquisition of Twitter and his management approach have faced criticism. Musk’s demand for “long hours at high intensity” led to attrition and glitches in the platform, including issues with notifications and two-factor authentication.
Moreover, there have been controversial decisions, such as the reinstatement of banned accounts for violating hate speech rules. This has raised questions about Musk’s vision for his new company and whether his rules for productivity can truly contribute to its success, as well as the growth of his other ventures.
While these infamous rules may sound promising, their effectiveness in practice remains to be seen. As with any productivity strategy, careful implementation and consideration of the specific context and culture of a company are crucial. Only time will tell if Musk’s approach will yield positive results for Twitter and his other ventures or if adjustments will be needed along the way.
As leaders and teams strive for greater productivity, it’s important to critically evaluate strategies and learn from both successes and challenges, taking into account the unique dynamics of each organisation.