Your CEO “Steps In” to Help a Troubled Project: Good Practice or Not?

This year I’ve watched with some interest the saga of Tesla, which is run by Elon Musk. He’s a genius with technology but seemingly less so with human relationships. Musk is known for making bold claims about technology and innovation, but Tesla has faced some struggles to meet production deadlines and more. This is from a few months back but the story and question are still relevant:

You can probably argue over whether it's a good or a bad sign, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter today a report in The Information that he has taken over direct control of the division that's producing Tesla's Model 3 electric sedan after the company failed to meet the delivery goals it set.

Specifically, Tesla had intended to produce 500 Model 3 cars per day, or 2,500 per week, by the end of last month. But according to a company-wide email to employees that was sent today and obtained by Jalopnik, Musk said Tesla has been making closer to 2,000 of the cars per week. (Musk estimated last July that Tesla would be making 20,000 of the cars per month by December.)

In his email — fired off at 3 a.m. PDT — Musk added that if “things go as planned today, we will comfortably exceed that number over a seven day period!”

Musk may have been referring in part to the reorganization. But while The Information reported that Musk had seemingly “pushed aside the company's senior vice president of engineering, Doug Field, who had been overseeing manufacturing in recent months,” Musk quickly took issue with that characterization of events.

The question I have for you is this: what does it say when the CEO “steps in” to take over in this scenario? Let’s look at the bright side:

  • There’s no way someone can say the CEO isn’t engaged actively in the business and its success.
  • The CEO can calm investor fears and show some initiative at a critical time.

The challenges, though, are pretty obvious:

  • If you’re the employee that was “stepped over,” then you are probably not going to stick around afterward without good reason. You were hired to do a job and you either failed or the CEO made promises too big for you to keep.
  • If you go with the “hire people smarter than you” philosophy, which is a great way to build a strong, high-performing team, then you technically aren’t as good as that person at running the show. Hmmm…

What is your thought? Good plan? Bad? A mix of both? What would you do if your CEO “stepped in” to take over operations or even HR for a period of time during a crisis?