I’ve seen several reports lately about Netflix’s challenges at maintaining their culture as they grow bigger. And, now that I’ve had a chance to look into what that culture is like, I’m amazed at the weirdness of the expectations that the “culture” be maintained.
Apparently, something called “freedom and responsibility” is lauded and there is intended to be a trusting atmosphere where employees are expected to do the right thing when taking vacation, providing accurate expense accounts and so on. That approach tends to work well (or, as well as it can) when companies are small. And, that’s when Netflix first adopted the approach. However, as the company has grown to be a very large corporation, it has been challenging to maintain that level of “freedom and responsibility” among so many employees. Thus, it has been seen as necessary to institute an add-on approach where every employee is constantly scrutinized, by fellow employees, regarding whether they are a “keeper.” If, through open discussion, one is deemed to not be a “keeper,” then firing is immediate. As part of this employee management arrangement, the company also encourages that all personal hiring/firing data are freely shared around the company. For example, when an employee is fired, the reasons and surrounding circumstances are made known to all. I’m frankly astounded that this practice has been able to be maintained, as there are legal ramifications of sharing personnel information. One employee, a computer scientist with a doctorate, recently left the company on his on terms (he resigned). He describes his experience when he started at the company a couple of years ago, saying, “It was very much on our minds if we were about to be fired.” When he posed the question to his manager, he was told that it should not be a surprise if he was fired, that there would be a “buildup over months of increasingly acute feedback.” How enlightened. Typically, if a company is running well, there will be opportunities for the company’s mangers to provide good and honest feedback to employees, which is intended to be useful for making career decisions. But to encourage all one’s fellow employees to provide “increasingly acute feedback” is, well, rather bizarre. I mentioned in my post last Friday that I was doing a mini-series on leadership. We talked at that time about the good leadership of Pfizer’s CEO, Ian Reed, his excellent leadership and careful selection of his successor. I feel compelled to say that we have the opposite of good leadership being evidenced at Netflix. The question that comes to mind is: Why would anyone work in that kind of environment?