Tesla's bosses are likely to think they are writing great motivational emails.
"Let us regret ever betting against us," wrote Doug Field, Tesla's technical director, in a Bloomberg internal memo Help the company achieve its production targets for Model 3 vehicles. "They'll prove that a bunch of haters are wrong."
The "Haters" in question are increasingly vociferous skeptics who doubt that Tesla can live up to their own hype. Ongoing manufacturing issues have hampered the electric car manufacturer's ability to produce a sufficient number of Model 3 vehicles. The company missed its target of $ 5,000 a week by the end of 201
This is certainly a problem for Tesla. Field's e-mail, however, falls into a classic management trap: it assumes that corporate goals are the same as their employees' goals.
Firstly, some Tesla employees say that the company's attempts to aggressively increase production actively violates their production. This led to serious injuries and medical problems as well as an atmosphere of intense stress and strict hours, as The Guardian reported in 2017. "I saw people pass out, a pancake fell to the ground and hit their faces," Jonathan Galescu, a production engineer at Tesla, told The Guardian. "They just send us around him while he's still lying on the floor."
Some Tesla employees have tried to unite with United Auto Workers to address these issues, but have encountered strong opposition from their employer. The union lodged a complaint in October, alleging that the company violated labor laws by dismissing and harassing known organizers, a lawsuit denied by CEO Elon Musk. Regardless, as Hamilton Nolan notes in a post on Splinter News, it is rather deaf for Tesla management to get factory workers to achieve the production goals that they say create a grueling and sometimes dangerous work environment.
Of course, not every company will face allegations that achieving its production or sales goals harms its employees. Even so, there is a lesson in Field's e-mail misstep. As Carolyn Dewar and Scott Kellar explain in the Harvard Business Review, "Employees do not care as much about the business as you think." This does not mean that employees are apathetic or lazy; It's just that their entire sense of self is not focused on whether a company reaches a specific goal.
"Managers, rational enough, are appealing to the company's circumstances as they push for change," Dewar and Kellar continue. "The social sciences, however, point to five sources of meaning for people at work: the impact of work on society, the customer, the company, the team and me." That said, fulfilling business goals can be a motivating factor for some workers – certainly to the extent that their job security depends on the company staying afloat and healthy. But it is unlikely that it is their exclusive source of motivation or even the central one.
When Field writes, "The world is watching us very closely to understand one thing: how many models can Tesla build in a week?" He tries to give Tesla's factory workers a sense of urgency and competitiveness. But for a lot of people, sending 2,500 3s a week probably sounds like a fairly arbitrary thing to strive for.
So what should a manager do to motivate his employees to reach a specific goal? A research-backed proposition: put people in touch with the people who benefit from their work.
A 2007 study published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Decision Processes had employees of a center for school fundraising interact face to face with a student who had benefited from a scholarship. A month later, workers who had talked to a student for just five minutes spent more money and spent more on calls than the control workers.
As the Swarthmore College psychologist Barry Schwartz explains in an interview, "It turns out that it's not just about what people do but also why they do it." Basically, most of the staff take care of it not whether your employer reaches a certain number. But they are very concerned about the social impact of their work. If managers want to motivate employees to take a big step toward a specific goal, they should not emphasize how important it is for the company – they should show how achieving that goal helps people out of the company.