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I Don’t Think Elon Musk Thinks About Culture Too Much

I’m tired of reading about Elon Musk. He’s been in the news a lot lately, and most of it is not flattering.

Over the last few weeks one thing is crystal clear to me: the edict, “People are our most important asset” will likely never be uttered by him.

Here’s a good example. Musk was recently asked about whether his possible acquisition of Twitter may spark an employee exodus.

“It’s a free country,” he told Reuters. “Certainly, if anyone doesn’t feel comfortable with that, they will on their own accord, go somewhere else. That’s fine.”

Given those words, it should be no surprise that high turnover has been a hallmark at Tesla and SpaceX, his two primary companies. Showcasing his general lack of empathy for his workforce, multiple news outlets reported on a recent email Musk wrote to Tesla employees: “Everyone at Tesla is required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office per week,” Musk wrote. “Moreover, the office must be where your actual colleagues are located, not some remote pseudo office. If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.”

Of course, most companies have taken a different approach. Remote and hybrid policies have become widely accepted since the pandemic, and most employees are demanding flexibility. Talent acquisition professionals tell us all the time that flexibility is the number-one job element that candidates are asking about.

Musk’s clear view of humans as interchangeable “capital” won’t last. There are too many other choices for talented professionals, organizational culture can be fragile, and most boards and executive teams understand that a healthy culture is the top contributor to continued financial success. Yet, like many of the products his organizations produce, this may just be one big experiment to see what succeeds and what fails.

Unlike his SpaceX Starship rocket, I’m hoping this experiment avoids a spectacular explosion.

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