How Netflix reinvented HR – bit by bit. Part 1.
This article is huge, and it’s from 2014! I believe that there are so many excellent points here that we can take it on in small parts… Mini topics for mini-discussions.
If you want to read the original article and see the slides, I invite you to go to the original website.
When you participate with comments – start your comments off with: “As an employee, I think…”, or “As a specialist in HR, I think…”.
Step one – an introduction.
This is an article that went viral in its day, but as I re-read it, I still think it is ground-breaking. Do you agree? I also believe that it is rich in excellent vocabulary for the HR field, and quite an interesting and easy read.
A few questions to get you started:
1. Which two employees did she speak with, and why?
2. Were you surprised that he was happier alone?
3. Do you agree with the company letting go of a star employee?
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
How Netflix reinvented HR
FROM THE JANUARY–FEBRUARY 2014 ISSUE
Sheryl Sandberg has called it one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley. It’s been viewed more than 5 million times on the web. But when Reed Hastings and I (along with some colleagues) wrote a PowerPoint deck explaining how we shaped the culture and motivated performance at Netflix, where Hastings is CEO and I was chief talent officer from 1998 to 2012, we had no idea it would go viral. We realized that some of the talent management ideas we’d pioneered, such as the concept that workers should be allowed to take whatever vacation time they feel is appropriate, had been seen as a little crazy (at least until other companies started adopting them). But we were surprised that an unadorned set of 127 slides—no music, no animation—would become so influential.
People find the Netflix approach to talent and culture compelling for a few reasons. The most obvious one is that Netflix has been really successful: During 2013 alone its stock more than tripled, it won three Emmy awards, and its U.S. subscriber base grew to nearly 29 million. All that aside, the approach is compelling because it derives from common sense. In this article I’ll go beyond the bullet points to describe five ideas that have defined the way Netflix attracts, retains, and manages talent. But first I’ll share two conversations I had with early employees, both of which helped shape our overall philosophy.
The first took place in late 2001. Netflix had been growing quickly: We’d reached about 120 employees and had been planning an IPO. But after the dot-com bubble burst and the 9/11 attacks occurred, things changed. It became clear that we needed to put the IPO on hold and lay off a third of our employees. It was brutal. Then, a bit unexpectedly, DVD players became the hot gift that Christmas. By early 2002 our DVD-by-mail subscription business was growing like crazy. Suddenly we had far more work to do, with 30% fewer 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 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.
To be continued next week (For your information, the following sentence in the article is: With these two overarching principles in mind, we shaped our approach to talent using the five tenets below.)