Reverse Engineering Internal Sabotage for Prevention [Part 1 of 3]
The Tesla sabotage incident Elon Musk made the world aware of last week raises a few great questions.
- How does somebody who would be inclined and capable of sabotaging your company get into your company, and how can you prevent that?
- How can you choose the right person for promotion, but still make sure that those who didn’t receive a promotion stay engaged and working in the company‘s best interests?
- Once you know that your hiring process allowed a saboteur to get through the screening process, how do you make sure that the rest of your workforce is on the up and up without insulting knows of higher values and morals?
All great questions, but we’re going to focus on #1 today and tackle the other two in subsequent posts.
If you took a look at Tesla’s Glassdoor profile, you’d see that they rate highly, at 3.4 out of 5 stars, but only 57% would recommend Tesla as an employer to a friend.
Overall, people are in it for the mission of disrupting the energy and transportation industries, and 85% approve of the job Elon Musk is doing. The common complaints, however, are lack of work/life balance – long hours with minimal pay and inflexible attendance policies. The benefits are not quite making up for the lack in fair pay, either. Plus, lack of procedures are making employees feel like they can’t even be efficient in the time they spend there.
Apparently, people get fired unexpectedly and are given little to no feedback on their performance. Also, one employee reports that it’s rare to be recognized, even if you’ve achieved the “impossible;” it just becomes the standard expectation from that point forward. They are letting go 9% of their salaried workforce (outside of production) to cut costs. They also are churning through people who find it hard to stay more than a couple years.
Musk knew when he decided to step up and disrupt very wealthy and powerful industries that he would become a target. However, with the workforce complaints piling up, I wonder why he didn’t see an internal attack coming.
Perhaps he isn’t familiar with altruistic punishment – a reaction embedded in our brain that gets triggered when a person believes he/she or someone else is being treated unfairly. Why did nature install this type of reaction in our brain? To promote cooperation that supports the evolution of our species.
In answer to #1, biologically, science has proven all human beings are capable of inflicting harm on someone who has treated others unfairly. It stands to reason that people have varying thresholds.
I think of Clark Griswold when I think of altruistic punishment. It hardly matters what National Lampoons movie you choose. He always had the best of intentions to show his family a great time and make meaningful memories. When other people’s shenanigans and acts of God threatened to sabotage his plans, he felt fully justified in breaking laws and violating other people’s safety and/or property to achieve his well-intentioned mission. In the end, people admitted that they were being unfair and Clark and his family got away without punishment and with amazing memories that brought them closer together as a family. Good times. I don’t see the Tesla employee enjoying such a happy ending, but maybe.
I’m sure Musk has his own justifications for keeping things the way they are – in order to be profitable, the company has to produce 5,000 Model 3s each week. People have proposed that he be stripped of his Board Chairman position. The company’s shares are worth 16% now than they were last year at this time. No doubt, Musk is under a lot of pressure to control costs and boost production to survive as a company and achieve his mission. I’m sure employee belief in the mission is the thing that Musk was depending on to get him and his over-stretched workforce through these challenges. Unfortunately for Musk and his mission, it wasn’t enough, and the costs have been extremely prohibitive, though he still remains certain that he will achieve his production goals.
Yes, Musk confessed to sleeping at the factory. I’m sure he wants his workforce to see him as a model employee, to see that he’s willing to put in every drop of his effort and time for the sake of his mission. Can he really expect them to show the same level of commitment AND perform, stay, endure with few perks to their lifestyle? Once they have been hired by any of his companies, they become premier talent for the taking.
He suspects the jilted employee was collaborating with someone associated with Wall Street or the industries he’s disrupting.
Here’s the thing: if you were losing or stood to lose millions of dollars with the widespread production and purchase of solar/electric vehicles, and you knew that many employees were unhappy with the conditions under which they work, might it occur to you to convert an employee into an accomplice?
Not all companies have such enemies, but they do (or will) have competition.
Out of curiosity, I scooted over to Elon Musk’s other companies’ Glassdoor profiles to see what was said about them. I had heard that a recent graduate I know received an offer to work for SpaceX, but turned it down because it required 70 hours per week. SpaceX is very highly rated at 4.4 out of 5 stars, and Musk’s approval rating is even higher at 97%! It seems that even though lack of work/life balance is still a very common complaint, improvements have been made since 2015. So far, though, it looks like the mission and the high caliber of talent is keeping the workforce going. It’s been rated a top place to work for 2018.
I headed over to SolarCity, which has been part of Tesla since 2016 and is being led by Lyndon Rive. As you might expect, lack of work/life balance is the #1 complaint, but other common complaints are also poor training and lack of communication from executives. It also seems that background checks are quite extensive. One employee waited 12 weeks for verification. This was while the company was part of Tesla, and before the saboteur came out with his confession. I wonder if the saboteur made it through the same comprehensive and stringent background checking, yet still wound up wanting retribution.
So, should you tweak your hiring practices to include measuring the altruistic punishment threshold of potential employees, or should you address workforce complaints to the best of your ability?
It seems to me that sound, fair workforce cultures and policies are the best way to prevent internal sabotage. These are fixable problems!
If I were a shareholder, I’d be highly skeptical that the company could become profitable by cutting the workforce outside of production while doubling production.
I wonder how the costs of attrition, lack of efficiency, quality issues, and extensive internal sabotage rack up against the costs of more flexible work days, increased monetary incentives, improved feedback and communication, and career planning. Could Musk have avoided quality issues, delayed launches, sabotage and having to do a workforce reduction if he invested in solving the issues affecting his people?
As much of a visionary as I can agree Elon Musk is, it seems his eyes are on the prize and not his people. This is a strategic failure I hope doesn’t result in the combustion of his company, especially as new competitors emerge regularly.
One employee already stated that he feels everyone fears that the company is one disaster away from imploding. Could it be?
Is your company at risk of a similar fate?
If you answer yes to any of the questions below, then your company is at risk.
Please nominate your company for a workforce audit (all submissions are confidential!) by e-mailing us with your company’s name and the name(s), direct e-mail address(es) and direct phone number(s) to any and all contacts who would be the most logical point(s) of contact. C-level executives are logical points of contact, but so are majority shareholders and Vice Presidents empowered to make workforce investments.
- Does your company put profit above people?
- Do your executive leaders seem inaccessible and lack transparency?
- Would you consider the working conditions to be inhumane and/or counter-productive?
- Do they fail to acknowledge achievements?
- Are your performance evaluations lacking in clarity on what you can improve or how you can grow?
- Do they fail to give you feedback or deliver it harshly?
- Is unprofessional behavior tolerated?
- Does it seem certain kinds of people always get the promotions?
- Are initiatives lacking in funding while executives take home healthy salaries and bonuses?
- Does your boss play favorites?
- Is communication one-way or non-existent
- Are you fearful of what will happen if you make a mistake based on a history of punishment vs. development?
Music video by The Beastie Boys performing Sabotage. (C) 2009 Capitol Records, LLC
Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Consultant and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and recently instructed for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy at Cabrini College, where her students won the national competition and were named America’s Top Young Entrepreneurs.