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Is transparency even possible in the workplace?

Elon Musk would erupt with a resounding “Yes!” as this just recently released email from several years ago shows:

Credit: Getty Images

Here's the email (which Tesla has verified was sent to all employees):

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.



One leader being a brilliant communicator does not automatically translate into company kumbaya’s. And, that’s all fine for the privately run company, operating with much different constraints than, let’s say, a hospital or-- dare I say it-- a school.

But lets also not throw the baby out with the bath water. What can we learn from a billionaire? Are there any questions that leadership might ask themselves here?

So how do you build a culture in which employees actually work together, instead of against one another? Here are some places to start.

  • Do your employees actually see the managers and executives walking the walk, which encourages an atmosphere of transparency?

  • Do I see the big picture in my organization? Does my team?

  • Do I encourage dissenting feedback and opinions?

  • Do I reward authentic feedback, even if I don’t agree with it?

  • Do I promote a culture that fosters growth, even if that means losing a great employee to another team or department?

  • Do I demonstrate empathy by taking employees’ problems seriously-- and going the extra mile by helping them find solutions

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Article resources cited by Justin Bariso Founder, Insight

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