What Small Biz Owners Can Learn from Elon Musk about Evaluating Workers’ Value

Recently, an article appeared in Medium entitled, “Why Elon Musk Fired His Long-term Assistant Who Asked for a Raise.” The title alone is enough to raise eyebrows. However, upon taking a deeper dive into the article, it becomes clear that there’s a lot we can learn from Musk’s actions as small business owners.

As the story goes, Mary Beth Brown, Musk's uber-close right hand, executive assistant and a person that everyone in the company deemed a key player in its growth and development, asked for a raise after working for him for 12 years. Musk told her to take a couple of weeks off for vacation while he considered it. After two weeks of her absence, he realized the company could go on without her without any significant interruptions, so he fired her. Wow.

Say what you will about whether this was a cold, heartless decision or not, but there’s a lesson in this for small business owners. Whether you run a business with a team of two or a team of two hundred, the need for consistent evaluation of worker performance and value is critical for lean, efficient business operations.

Many times, we hire and keep people on the team for reasons other than their ability to make consistent, indispensable contributions to the functioning of the business. Perhaps we keep them because they are family or friends.

Perhaps we keep them because we asked them to leave their job to come work with us, and we feel guilty about making them unemployed. It might even be because we think they won’t be able to find another good job if we let them go. Ultimately, if we keep team members for these reasons, we are sacrificing the sustainability and growth opportunities of our business for the wrong reasons.

There should be one reason that contractors and employees are able to keep their positions on our team, which often struggle to pay them with our limited resources: they are critical to the organization’s bottom line.

Regardless of how close they are to you or how long they have been with you, if they are not indispensable, it might be a good idea to dispense of them. It’s a hard lesson, but one that is necessary for business growth and success.