Netflix is a great company to work for. But you might not be able to handle the culture. Sure, it has a great David and Goliath story of taking down Blockbuster, king of movie rentals. It also has incredible growth, less bureaucracy, and new wave policies like unlimited vacation (as long as you get your work done). But could you handle Netflix’s brutal honesty?
When Netflix developed their culture of freedom and responsibility, under CEO Reed Hastings, with the cooperation of Patty McCord, their goal was to make a company for the best of the best, not just anybody. And if you didn’t like the company culture, that was fine, there were plenty of other jobs in Silicon Valley you could apply to that had departmental kegerators and nap pods.
In Patty McCord’s no-punches-pulled book, Powerful, she outlines some of the ways Netflix developed a company culture that insisted on excellence—but was never intended for everybody.
Hire the best people, not adequate people
When Netflix had to lay off employees during a downturn, they made a discovery. The company worked better because only the best employees remained. So they decided to only hire the best. If you were good at your job, but not the best, Netflix wasn’t interested in you. The company didn’t believe people could come into a position below par and work up to a new level. More often than not, people who were below par to being with never caught up.
Hire people who want a challenge, not money
Netflix paid well, but wasn’t interested in people who wanted a fat paycheck. If an applicant’s top concern was how much she would earn, McCord let them look elsewhere. Instead, Netflix hired people who were looking for great colleagues and tough challenges. The company felt the main motivator for an employee should be the company culture and the challenge of the position. So once they found those people, they made sure they were paid well.
You don’t owe anything to your employees
Unlike some touchy-feely startups, Netflix wasn’t a family: it was a team. Just because some engineer was there from the early days was no reason to keep him on if he wasn’t performing. Netflix’s philosophy was the company didn’t owe people anything other than ensuring the company was making a great product that served the customer well. If you wanted hugs and paintball offsites, you were at the wrong place.
Not every person can grow with the company
Netflix wasn’t afraid to let people go if they weren’t performing well or were not happy with the company or its policies. Not every employee could scale with Netflix growth or could develop their skills to meet new challenges.
So when someone wasn’t meeting expectations, Netflix would let them find a company where their skills would be of better use. This even happened to many Netflix executives (Marc Randolph, Mitch Lowe, Gibson Biddle) and even McCord herself, who eventually went on to a career in consulting and speaking.
Give honest feedback
At Netflix, there was no sandwich of praise (one good thing, one bad thing, and another good thing). Netflix believed people don’t get better by holding back feedback or being afraid to tell a coworker the truth. At Netflix, the employees practiced radical honesty (similar to Radical Candor by Kim Scott).
One method staff used was “Start, Stop, Continue.” Team members would publicly tell each other one thing they should start doing, one thing they should stop doing, and one good thing they should continue doing.
Everyone can question and express ideas
If you don’t like to have your ideas challenged, Netflix was not the place for you. McCord said everyone from the CEO on down was encouraged to ask questions and express their ideas—and not just to their peers. Employees could challenge anyone anytime with a question from the manager up to the CEO.
Get your facts straight
Don’t expect anyone to listen to you at Netflix, if you didn’t have the facts to back up your position. While anyone could challenge anyone, a person’s ideas had to be fact-based if she wanted to be respected. Opinions were fine as long as you had the data to back it up.
In the end, McCord says Netflix is meant to be a great company people could say they worked for—not the company for their entire career. After working for Netflix, people could carry the prestige of Netflix in getting their next job or use the experience to start their own business.