The stench of Tesla’s culture is getting worse

Ten days ago, I wrote about a month’s-long look into Tesla’s culture and how there seemed to be a disconnect between the company and its people. There had been three emails from Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, to all staff, and all three revealed a culture with little warmth. Further digging (including a review of the website, job postings, interviews, and other articles) revealed a culture with minimal emotional connection between the company and its people. It was no wonder employees spoke negatively and there had been sabotage.

Like all CEOs, Musk sets the culture of the company he leads. On one hand, he and the company show very little emotional connection to their people. However, within a few days of that July 2nd blog, Musk, along with teams from Tesla and other companies he leads, were in the news for trying to help rescue the soccer team trapped in the cave in Thailand.

Musk received harsh criticism saying his help was just a publicity stunt. He responded to critics on Twitter about the sincerity of his team’s effort. I supported Musk’s effort via Twitter and a blog update. It was inspiring to see a company known for innovative technology and transportation working to help the rescue effort.

Also this week, Musk committed to fund water for residents in Flint, Michigan.

Here is a company which shows, at least to outsiders, very little emotional connection to its people. On the other hand, it made a significant effort to help the rescuers in Thailand and has committed to helping people in Flint finally have safe drinking water.

So, which is it? Does Musk and his leadership team care about people or not? Do they care about their own people, that is? My fingers were crossed that the answer would be a resounding, “Yes!”

The answer came in the form of this article on Business Insider today, and it stinks: Some Tesla employees say they were ordered to walk through raw sewage during Model 3 ramp-up

raw sewage warnings.jpg

Four employees were so fearful of causing a production delay by walking around raw sewage on the inside of their plant, that they walked through it instead. They claim they were told to walk through it. Whether the plant managers told the employees to do so or not, it appears the plant managers knew people were walking through raw sewage inside the plant.

The linked article includes Tesla’s claim to care about its people and their denial of the report. Think about it, though. Four people said they walked through raw sewage inside their plant. The article does not say how many times, but it sounds like more than a few.

Any company that is not in the raw sewage business and has employees walking through raw sewage has a leadership problem.

There is so much pressure to meet production demands that employees are walking through raw sewage, and management knows. A company that cares about its people would not have a culture where managers believe walking through raw sewage is acceptable.

What are Tesla’s values? Without clear values to guide decisions and priorities, individual management relies on their own. The result is disconnection between company and people, as seen with Tesla. Additional outcomes when values are not the clear guides for decisions and priorities include sabotage (which Tesla also has experienced this year), turnover, secrets, lies, silos, poor performance, and competitive takeovers.

Tesla is going to be able to rest on its laurels as an innovative employer for only so long before the stench of its culture ruins it for good.

Have you been inside a restaurant or sports bar or home that allows smoking? After you leave the place, your clothes reek of the scent of smoke. I’ve strewn clothes on chairs on the back porch rather than put them in the closet hamper with the rest of the dirty clothes. Have you ever done the same? The stench stays on the clothes for a long time.

The stench of a culture that allows people to walk through raw sewage sticks around a long time.

Without culture correction and oversight, Tesla will lose the best thing it has: its smart, innovative, hardworking people. Obviously, investors, another stakeholder of concern, can make money without doing so on the backs of people walking through raw sewage.

Tesla might not have clear values, but a lot of people do, and they care who they work for, buy from, sell to, partner with, and invest in. They will find other places rather than have the stench of such a culture follow them.

I am rooting for Tesla to fix its culture so it can accomplish its mission with integrity. Right now, though, Tesla’s culture not only lacks warmth, as referred to earlier this month, it stinks!