Human Resources

How Tesla Engages its Employees to Drive Business Results

By Sarah AlexanderSeptember 11, 2015

Qualtrics recently gathered HR leaders for a weeklong series of webinars focused on recruiting, employee engagement, talent development, and leadership.

In one of the first TalentWeek webinars, Employee Engagement to Accelerate Business Results, Louis Efron and Juliana Bednarski of Tesla spoke about how their organization is incorporating employee engagement into its core business strategy.

Tesla was recently named Forbes’ most innovative company. According to Efron and Bednarski, the key drivers of Tesla’s innovation and industry leadership have been Tesla’s purpose, exceptional people and leaders, and active engagement of each individual in the organization.

Tesla views engagement as more than a ‘nice to have’. Efron and Bednarski argue that that in today’s uber-competitive market for top talent, engagement is a ‘must’ in order to attract and keep the best employees. Additionally, higher employee engagement directly correlates to better customer experience.

Put into metrics, Tesla has found that engaged teams have:

  • 15% more profitability
  • 30% more productivity
  • 12% higher customer engagement
  • 30% less turnover
  • 62% less safety issues
  • 37% less absenteeism (i.e., calling in sick)

Efron and Bednarski shared their recent success measuring employee engagement and leveraging that engagement to empower employees and strengthen Tesla as a whole through their Tesla360 survey. This survey was distributed to every employee at Tesla and yielded a participation rate of 91%!

Based on their experience, Efron and Bednarski provided the following tips to better understand employee engagement in your company and use that as a platform to improve your own workplace:

1. Get people on board using a top-down approach

Enthusiasm from leadership goes a long way in garnering support at every level of the organization.

2. Communicate about your engagement survey using the same channels that you normally would

Tesla did not use a one-size-fits-all communication strategy to announce Tesla360 to employees. The HR team went to pre-shift meetings at the manufacturing plants and engineers’ all-hands meetings, in addition to communication to corporate employees through typical channels, like email.

3. Eliminate barriers to participation

Tesla360 had 18 questions (16 with a 1-5 scale answer, 2 open-ended answers). It took an average of 3 minutes to complete and was mobile enabled so people could take the survey anywhere.

4. Design the survey to reflect your organization’s brand

Tesla360 was clean and sleek to match its brand aesthetic.

5. Keep it anonymous

Anonymity is critical for employees to feel like they can be honest. Tesla communicated upfront that surveys would be anonymous and carried this through later data presentation and analysis.

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6. Be timely and transparent

Tesla sent participation updates while the survey was active in order to drive participation. It then released results organization-wide within 2 weeks of closing the survey along with guidance as to how to interpret the data.

7. Make the data accessible

Tesla created a dashboard to present the data in an easily digestible format (e.g., mean answer, response rate, score distribution, and delta from company average), which allowed employees to take a surface view or a deep dive into the data.

8. Be Flexible

Tesla had planned for designated HR Business Partners to moderate team conversations regarding the data, but managers were so enthusiastic to lead follow-up action planning sessions that the original plan was not feasible. Efron and Bednarski’s team pivoted and developed training documents and videos that enabled managers to facilitate their own action planning sessions.

9. Discuss the Data

Instead of reporting results to team members, managers facilitated discussion amongst their teams by asking questions of their employees like, “What surprised you about the data?” and, for the scaled questions, “What would a 5-out-of-5 look like to you?”

10. Use the Data

Tesla required every action planning session to finish with one ‘action’ – one change that the team would make based on its analysis and discussion of the Tesla360 results. Each manager recorded their team’s ‘action’ so that they could track progress toward their stated goal and so Tesla could assess where similar ‘actions’ were concentrated or if there were any particular ‘actions’ trending throughout the company.

Moving forward, Tesla plans to continue building on its first round of Tesla360 surveys. Tesla will look to leverage the resulting longitudinal data to better engage its employees, because as Efron said, “Caring for people is the right thing to do, but caring for people also translates into business results.”

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Author & Contributor

About the Author

Sarah is an elite triathlete and independent strategy consultant with an MBA from Chicago Booth. She is passionate about empowering others to achieve excellence.

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