A train trip with spotty internet connections is a suitable place for reading books. I'm glad I chose to read this one.

No rules rules

12 June, 2021

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix cowrites a great book about Netflix culture with professor Erin Meyer. The book is easily readable, work-relatable, entertaining and unpretensious. It centers around three topics in Netflix work culture:

  1. Get and keep the best people (motivates people to be at their best, fosters high retention and allows good pay)
  2. Provide candid, frequent and direct feedback (grows trust, pushing people to improve and give their best selves)
  3. Move decision making from bosses to employees (showing trust, motivates and empowers people plus makes decision making effective)

The book is divided in 9 subchapters (3 subchapters on each of these topics), plus a bonus chapter on how these principles relates to cultures in different countries, discovered as they expended internationally.

The book reads like a cultural guide described from the outside (Erin Meyer is non-Netflix), with anecdotes from employees describing problems, challenges, benefits and implementation of these cultural principles. Reed Hastings is always with us, elaborating from the sideline.

I'm left wanting to work in a Netflix culture, and would recommend this book to anyone that's about to create a team, a workplace or any culture with high performers.

Great people

Talented people attracts other talented people. They make others more effective and the workplace becomes more attractive. Great work can be built upon, while adaquate work is often thrown out the window when the team, challenges or tech changes.

A small pool of people doing great work is therefore worth more than a whole lot of people who go to work for a paycheck.

Instagram comes to mind, being thirteen employees serving 100 million users before being sold to Facebook for 1$ billion (ref. Blitzscaling). I bet every one of them were great at their job and did what they could to improve.

  • Hire great colleagues.
  • Pay them well, but in salary – never performance based.
  • Encourage employees to spend time networking.
  • Underperformers must go.
  • Spend time to get better, not just to get done.

Radical candor

While the book doesn't use this exact term, Radical Candor (from author Kim Scott) maps very neatly into what Netflix culture contains about providing honest, direct and well-meaning feedback, frequently. I recently read Randical Candor, and I think No rules rules gives more concise and practical knowledge about the idea than that book (Sorry, Kim).

  • Never give feedback when you're angry
  • Feedback should be given to help them become better
  • Feedback should be actionable
  • Feedback should not only come from the top down
  • Feedback helps great employees become better

Remove policies

Having top performing employees that are honest, open and that receives and gives continous feedback allows you to trust them more. WIth trust that great employees will act in the companys best interest, you can start removing policies. If they've purchased expesnive equipment, they likely have a good reason. Signing on a large contract? They've done their research and are going with their gut feeling.

I love this! I haven't really thought about the benefitial effects until now:

  • Allowing employees to sign big contracts without preapproval gives us a lot of responsibility and trust.
  • Giving us responsibility makes us work extra thoroughly to make sure we've got it right.
  • Removing approval processes reduces time wasted.

Ok, so maybe expenses go up 10% or a mistake is done more than once. But 1 motivated creative employee is worth 5 employees without ownership, who sit in meetings and go through bureacracy.

Who would want to work at Netflix?

The Netflix culture seems very direct, pushing for top performance and stating that adaquate is not enough. It requires you to take lead, and responsibility for your own actions. I can definitely see how that wouldn't work for certain personality types. Lacking self-esteem, confidence in own abilities or being socially anxious? Netflix might not be a good fit.

And that's fair. They're open about it, and it brings many benefits too.

Personally, I think I could've loved working at Netflix (though I'm not sure for what they'd hire me).

How my work experience relates to Netflix culture

Great people only

In Netflix, "adaquate performance receives a genereous severage package". Having basically only worked in Norway, I have never heard of anyone I know getting fired (which might be due to a debatably dysfunctional work culture). Perhaps because of this, I have had colleagues that has demoralized a team due to their (barely) adaquate performance.

I've felt the joy of working with great people, and seen how effective that was in building software. As Netflix points out I also believe that 2 great creatives can outperform 10 times as many "regulars".

If I'm hiring and building a team, I want to do as Netflix: pay top of the market, hire the very best and get rid of adaquates. Especially in Norway, where no unemployed person needs to go hungry or sell their home I think that's morally fine, though I'm uncertain what the law says on firing people?

Candid, frequent and direct feedback

I feel like Ruinous Empathy (a term I'm borrowing from Kim Scotts book) is the lay of the land here. "Corrective" feedback is only given when something is obviously not working, rather than a way to improve even the best among us. Even then it might get wrapped with such soft words that it comes across vague or almost praise-like.

Everyone makes mistakes and no one is done learning, which is why everyone who wants to get better should get feedback on how to get better. I wish I personally got more actionable and direct feedback, instead of a pat on the back and a good job.

(I should definitely bring this up next time I get any feedback. If anyone says something nice, I'll say Thank you, but what could've been better?. I think I'll need some practice in receiving corrective feedback well.)

Remove policies

I worked at an English hospital for a few months in 2009 as a 1st line IT-support. One thing that blew my mind was not being allowed to talk directly to 2nd line support without approval from my manager. Luckily, I've avoided most buracracy since. I send my expenses for approval before getting reimbursed, but no one has every raised an eye brow. I talk to whoever I want, and do what I think is important.

I love the work culture that I've got with little buracracy and few meetings.

Netflix culture is likewise, though a bit more extreme. I like it.