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Today’s Top CEOs Are Breaking Companies’ Traditional Rules of Management

Some of today’s most radical and highly rated CEOs are changing traditional rules of management.

I’m not talking about large-scale reorganizations. I’m talking about how meetings are held, communications are done, simple everyday stuff.

Each time I came across one of these articles, my thought was “This is brilliant! Yet, simple logic. How come we don’t see it more often in our companies?”

These leaders are breaking traditional non written rules we find in most companies. Daring to do things differently, always aiming to achieve greater efficiency.

Should we call it progressive thinking or simply a matter of common sense? Tell me what you think at the end of this article.

1. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk – On Who Should Attend Meetings

An article in Business Insider published this excerpt coming from an old SpaceX employee relaying a story he witnessed in a meeting:

“‘You haven’t said anything. Why are you in here?’ The former employee further explained Musk’s rationale for making such a blunt proclamation.
That may be borderline rude, but it makes sense. Don’t be in a meeting unless there’s a purpose for it; either to make a decision, or get people up to speed. In most cases, an email will suffice.”

How many times have you been in a meeting where many people attending did not actually have to be there? Either because they didn’t have the knowledge required to discuss the subject at hand. Or they did, but other colleagues present were also well informed on the subject. So someone was wasting their time.

2. Tesla CEO Elon Musk –  On Communications

Inc Magazine reported on an email Elon Musk wrote to Tesla employees:

“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.
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.
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.”

I bet you have seen this problem in your company as well. I know I have seen it in mine.

Elon Musk’s idea of ‘direct communications’ fits very well in the context of operational activities, or at least where the issue in question regards factual information.

Unfortunately, I sometimes have to deal with this back and forth ‘yoyo’ where I work. For example, I’ll need one specific technical information. But the division that can help me has unofficial rules that will prevent me from calling the engineer who most probably has the answer. So I’ll have to first go through the commercial unit to ask my question. They’ll then ask their boss to see if I should be allowed to get this information — they don’t tell me this, but I know that’s what happens. A few days later, I might get the info. I hate to say it but, that’s total non sense!

I strongly believe Elon Musk’s idea has the potential to improve communications in most companies.

However, allowing these direct communicating channels is often discouraged by managers wanting to retain power.

3. Tesla CEO Elon Musk – On Processes

He once said in an interview,

“The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.”

Ok, maybe this one doesn’t systematically apply to every company.

BUT, in large organizations, I agree there is a danger that as long as a process works, people may forget to take a closer look to see if it can nonetheless be improved to become more efficient.

So his comment is still very relevant for many of us.

4.  Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin – On Employees’ Roles

Corporate Rebels interviewed Mr. Ruimin on subjects like the importance of progressive organizations and the role of leaders.

“With the RenDanHeYi model we truly enter the network age. But the network aspect is not even the most important. What is more important is that we should no longer try to delegate to, or ‘empower’, employees. It’s now time for every employee to be his or her own boss.
And if everyone acts as a CEO, we will grow collectively as an enterprise, and be no longer dependent on a few key people.”

I understand the RenDanHEYi Model as referring to an inverted pyramid.

How to realistically apply this concept in various companies would most probably depend on their business model. And, I would imagine, require that you have the right people in place.

But the idea of changing employees’ mentality, so that they literally start putting themselves in their CEO’s shoes and feel accountable to the company, makes a whole lot of sense to me.

Apparently, many CEOs had predicted Mr. Ruimin would fail in his endeavor, but he ended up being right.

Haier is now the world’s #1 home appliance maker.

5. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg – On getting people to speak up (I cheated, she’s not CEO, but she’s just as impressive to me)

Gifford Thomas wrote an article on LinkedIn about an issue Sheryl Sandberg faced at Facebook. She once requested that no PowerPoint presentations be used in her meetings. But this was misunderstood as a request that no PowerPoint should ever be used in any meetings, ever. To clarify the whole matter,

“I got on the stage [at Facebook’s global sales conferences] and said, ‘One, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. Two, it is on me that if you all thought that was a stupid idea, you need to speak up and tell me. Of course, you have PowerPoint with clients. Clients love PowerPoint. I don’t.
It was just a really good lesson that I needed to be super careful that things didn’t get taken too far, but also that I needed to make sure people could speak up.”

This is a simple example of a situation we should all learn from.

First, it’s in the manager’s interest to be welcoming employees to speak up about a problem.

Second, as employees, we should remember that if a request from the boss doesn’t sound quite right, it doesn’t cost much to go back and ask for clarity, and explain why that request may not work exactly as it was made.

6. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – On How to Select Employees

Moneyish reported on an interview done with Suzy Welch, wife of former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, where she recalled Bezos telling her,

“It’s not about intelligence, per se, or motivating people, or strategic vision, or any of the usual suspects. It’s much more tangible…
I don’t care how smart they are. I want to see a track record of hard decisions that ended up being right.”

It’s interesting to see that IQ is NOT the number one factor. What you’ve accomplished is what speaks.

Remember this the next time you are tempted to feel insecure, don’t. Use the facts to back up your story.

7. Tesla CEO Elon Musk – On Meeting Frequency and Jargon

Elon Musk wrote an email to his employees suggesting 7 ways they can be more efficient with meetings. Here are two of his suggestions.

“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get [rid] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”
“Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software, or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.”

Are you running all day from one meeting to another? Thankfully that is not my case, but I know many people are caught with that reality.

Do all these meetings bring true value for everyone present? Even when comparing with the time spent? Not convinced.

When you think about it, meetings should be held in order to gain time. To avoid having multiple individual conversations with people about one same subject.

When your schedule gets 2/3 filled with meetings, something is not right. Unless you’re in the C-Suite maybe.

Meetings should be scarce, strictly include the people who absolutely need to be there, and, should be well managed to take as little time as necessary.

8. SendGrid CEO Sameer Dholakia – On his Leadership Style

Forbes published an article on Sameer Dholakia where he explains how in his view, employees have the hardest tasks, not the CEO.

“Being a servant CEO means inverting the traditional organizational chart and putting the CEO at the bottom, he says. He acknowledges his job is difficult, ‘but the folks doing the hard rowing of the business are not the CEO … I don’t have to take a phone call from a customer who’s upset about a bug. I don’t have a sales quota.
He thinks a leader’s primary job is to empower others. To try to serve his employees, Dholakia spends much time meeting with them. ‘Many leaders — if you look at their calendars, where they spend their time will be an indication of how they think about servant leadership,’ he says. He spends about half of his working hours meeting with SendGrid employees.”

I love this concept!

And, am happy to report that our newly appointed division’s president seems to follow the same belief. Time will tell, but so far I find this approach focused on employees very stimulating.

Simple Concepts, No Investment, No brainer

Most of these ideas can be implemented easily, quickly, without representing any insvestment at all.

I don’t know if you agree, but I find that once you’ve read them, you think ‘that’s obvious!’ Yet, you think about how it really works in your own company and think ‘well, it’s true that we need to improve this aspect.’

I think these concepts really appeal to me because they just make so much sense.

I may not have statistics to back me up, yet I am convinced that implementing these what I’ll call ‘best management practices’, has the potential to produce substantial productivity gains over time for a company.

These top leaders are showing that change management does not always need to equal implementation of a revolutionary management model to effect change.

So tell me about your reality. Do you see these inefficiencies in your company?
Which one of these leaders’ concepts do you like the most?

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