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by Kurt von Moos

Exploring current trends in global employment, the technology that drives it forward and how mindful productivity fuels deep work.

How Netflix Reinvented HR

by | Jan 3, 2020

When learning about Organisational Design and Human Resource Management, it is almost impossible to not mention the now widely circulated Netflix Culture Deck. It is a stunning example of a company leveraging one of the principal elements of organisational structure, culture, and aligning it with their key capabilities to achieve resounding market success.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Patty McCord, the former chief talent officer at Netflix and co-author of the Netflix Culture Deck, shares two conversations she recalls having while working at Netflix. This first conversation highlights how the Netflix culture was absorbed by employees:

One day I was talking with one of our best engineers, an employee I’ll call John. Before the layoffs, he’d managed three engineers, but now he was a one-man department working very long hours. I told John I hoped to hire some help for him soon. His response surprised me. “There’s no rush—I’m happier now,” he said. It turned out that the engineers we’d laid off weren’t spectacular—they were merely adequate. John realized that he’d spent too much time riding herd on them and fixing their mistakes. “I’ve learned that I’d rather work by myself than with subpar performers,” he said. His words echo in my mind whenever I describe the most basic element of Netflix’s talent philosophy: The best thing you can do for employees—a perk better than foosball or free sushi—is hire only “A” players to work alongside them. Excellent colleagues trump everything else.

The second conversation provides fascinating insight into management’s perspective:

The second conversation took place in 2002, a few months after our IPO. Laura, our bookkeeper, was bright, hardworking, and creative. She’d been very important to our early growth, having devised a system for accurately tracking movie rentals so that we could pay the correct royalties. But now, as a public company, we needed CPAs and other fully credentialed, deeply experienced accounting professionals—and Laura had only an associate’s degree from a community college. Despite her work ethic, her track record, and the fact that we all really liked her, her skills were no longer adequate. Some of us talked about jury-rigging a new role for her, but we decided that wouldn’t be right.

So I sat down with Laura and explained the situation—and said that in light of her spectacular service, we would give her a spectacular severance package. I’d braced myself for tears or histrionics, but Laura reacted well: She was sad to be leaving but recognized that the generous severance would let her regroup, retrain, and find a new career path. This incident helped us create the other vital element of our talent management philosophy: If we wanted only “A” players on our team, we had to be willing to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, no matter how valuable their contributions had once been. Out of fairness to such people—and, frankly, to help us overcome our discomfort with discharging them—we learned to offer rich severance packages.

If you haven’t already read the Netflix Culture Deck, I highly recommend you do. It is as game changing now as it was when it was first published.