Photo: Tesla Motors, Inc./Wikimedia Commons

Why Tesla’s Real Fuel is Purpose

When you’re building the world’s most innovative and game-changing vehicles in a generation, you know without a doubt that you need great people. Tesla’s mission, to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, is huge, and so they only want to hire those who are truly passionate about The Work with a capital T: they want people who are deeply invested in changing the world.

Purpose inspires. But moreover, it guides problem-solving and good decision making. The deeper an organization can infuse purpose into its culture, the better the results. Purpose empowers people to do their best work.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk knows this, and puts that idea into practice from the moment a candidate sits down for an interview. According to one Tesla employee: “Tesla is a hardcore place to work… There are many plush jobs in the Bay Area to choose from, but it would be hard to find one as satisfying and as meaningful.”

When it comes to talent, Tesla doesn’t want passengers — they want drivers fueled by Tesla’s purpose. They are able to attract the right talent by signaling to high achievers that Tesla takes purpose seriously. Tesla has the numbers to prove that being selective with their talent pays off: Tesla Motors is currently valued at $33.5 billion, up from $1.7 billion on IPO six years ago.

“It is a mistake to hire huge numbers of people to get a complicated job done. Numbers will never compensate for talent in getting the right answer (two people who don’t know something are no better than one), will tend to slow down progress, and will make the task incredibly expensive.” — Elon Musk

Tesla’s recruiting process is tailored to filter prospective talent for fit with its purpose. James Wong, a Mechanical Test Engineer, described his recruitment experience to Quora. First and foremost, Tesla wants to ensure that prospective employees are passionate about the company and its mission to accelerate global sustainable energy. He calculated that Tesla hired only 0.3 percent of all applicants in 2015.

At Tesla, it’s not just about hiring the best and the brightest — it’s about finding the right talent who aligns with Tesla’s purpose.

“Talent is extremely important. It’s like a sports team, the team that has the best individual player will often win, but then there’s a multiplier from how those players work together and the strategy they employ.” — Elon Musk

In a presentation on the company’s Tesla360 employee engagement survey last September, results revealed that engaged teams at Tesla have 15 percent more profitability, 30 percent more productivity, and 37 percent less absenteeism. The conclusion? Intrinsic motivation propels team engagement: It’s not just about building awareness around an organization’s purpose, rather, purpose acts as the attractor to draw people in and motivate them. As a result, teams want to be actively immersed in purpose. Purpose must be the at the core in every aspect of their work, from cross-functional collaboration to internal communication.

“People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important that people look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working.” — Elon Musk

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