Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Elon Musk writes an internal email outlining the importance of internal communication

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

There’s nothing like company culture  – especially communications around company culture – to elicit an emotional response.

Weasel words, power games and employees who are plain old dibber dobbers tend to destroy a company’s value creation. has just published Elon Musk’s all-staff email titled “Communication Within Tesla” which strikes at the heart of old school corporate politicking to remind employees of their duty to properly serve the business they work for.

The email reads:

Subject: Communication Within Tesla

There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company.

Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding.

Anyone at Tesla can and should email/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 to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well. We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size, so we must do so with intelligence and agility.

One final point is that managers should work hard to ensure that they are not creating silos within the company that create an us vs. them mentality or impede communication in any way. This is unfortunately a natural tendency and needs to be actively fought. How can it possibly help Tesla for depts to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collective? We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept.


With businesses creating and destroying value faster than you can say Snapchat can be worth $20billion – even though it lost $515million last year – it’s important to speed up both internal and external communications.

Time is almost more important than capital value in an age where two years is a long term business planning horizon.

One thing that helps prevent stops time-wasting is clear communication. Words matter. Clear cultural boundaries around how to behave are important (or Mr Musk wouldn’t have bothered sending out his terse email).

Attention is more valuable

Image: (total aside, check out the Light Phone – it looks like an AWESOME timesaver)

Nothing destroys speed to market and agility as much as siloed departments fighting against each other to understand the context or aim of certain business strategies, projects or content marketing.

Content creation and business storytelling is one way to help align internal cultures. Effective communication fosters brand identity (“Tesla is a business that gets stuff done”), boosts employee retention and creates a connected culture where teams focus on common collaborative goals rather than the standouts, the sore thumbs and the pain points.

Internal communication should not be the red-haired stepchild of external business strategy; rather, it should be invested in as a key function to align organisations and save time.

Consistent communication and an open culture creates an environment that thrives on employee engagement and productivity … and that’s not a bad thing, is it? Words. They can be pretty powerful.