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How Netflix Reinvented Human Resource b BY: MCCORD, PATTY FORMATTED BY: ALVIN WONG Harvard Business Review 110
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B Trust people, not policies. Reward candor. And throw away the standard playbook. 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.
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