In the week Uber blew up, Netflix restates 'No brilliant jerks' policy

Forget free sushi, gyms or Steve Jobs clones. Netflix values fearless sharing


In 2009, Netflix published what became an influential slide deck explaining its culture, including a policy of not hiring “brilliant jerks” because the benefit of their moments of excellence are outweighed by the cost of their other behaviours.

Now Netflix has updated the document with a new explanation of how it aims to make itself keep ticking.

This version gives us Netflix's notion of the “dream team … in which all of your colleagues are extraordinary at what they do and are highly effective collaborators … in pursuit of ambitious common goals”. The company reckons that “on such a team … you learn the most, perform your best work, improve the fastest, accomplish the most, and have the most fun.” Dream teams therefore make “sushi lunches, great gyms, big offices, or frequent parties” unnecessary.

The company happily admits that not everyone is cut out to work on such teams, so it won't hire them. The company has long had a policy of not hiring time-servers, ladder-climbers, or those who figure if they do a decent job without f*cking up they'll have a safe job. The company has instead said it operates like a professional sports team: if a player's performance doesn't indicate they'll be a star, they're escorted out. Unlike the cut-throat world of sport, Netflix sends such folks out the door with four months pay.

That ethos remains in this new culture document. As does the “keeper test”, whereby “if one of the members of the team was thinking of leaving for another firm, would the manager try hard to keep them from leaving.” If the answer is no, off that worker goes. Brilliant jerks are still not welcome, because Netflix believes “that brilliant people are also capable of decent human interactions, and we insist upon that.”

New this time around is a discussion about giving and receiving feedback, which the company reckons needs to become “less stressful and a more normal part of work life.”

“We celebrate the people who are very candid, especially to those in more powerful positions,” the document says, adding that “We know this level of candor and feedback can be difficult for new hires and people in different parts of the world where direct feedback is uncommon.”

Also new is a pledge that if the company hit financial trouble it “wouldn’t ask our employees to accept less pay.” And that's despite a policy to “pay employees at the top of their personal market.”

“We make a good-faith estimate of the highest compensation each employee could make at peer firms, and pay them that max.”

The cult of the charismatic leader is also trashed, as follows:

We don’t buy into the lore of CEOs, or other senior leaders, who are so involved in the details that their product or service becomes amazing. The legend of Steve Jobs was that his micromanagement made the iPhone a great product. We do not emulate these top-down models because we believe we are most effective and innovative when employees own decisions.

There's plenty more to ponder in the document, like “Our vacation policy is 'take vacation',” and a parental leave policy of “take care of your baby and yourself.” There's also an admission the company will deliberately “farm for dissent” because “Dissent is not natural or easy, so we make a concerted effort to stimulate it.”

Netflix's first document was downloaded millions of times, viewed millions more and worked its way into many-an-HR-person's strategies. The Register expects the same will happen this time around. So don't say you weren't warned when you see a recycled version in your employer's next HR presentation, or find yourself on the receiving end of a spiel about the need for a star in every position … and because you're a Reg reader, confirmation you are that star. Or perhaps the dissent farm. ®

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