secret > Powerful. Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility

What is important about this book
Patty McCord, who has been working as Chief Talent Officer at Netflix for 14 years, describes the organizational culture that he has helped to create and maintain, a culture capable of making all employees express their full “power” thanks to a context of freedom and responsibility. A culture that allows everyone to reach high performances within a challenging and ever-changing context. A culture that has been developed and nurtured following clear guidelines:

  • Culture is founded on clear and shared values ​​and behaviors that emerge when you reward, promote or fire someone, and that the employees can expect from the colleagues. Finally, these values and behaviors act at every level of the organization: everyone must know them thoroughly, because every employee is required to put them into practice. Strategic and managerial decisions are consistent.
  • The Netflix culture rewards the empowerment of people: employees are adults and they are given the opportunity to express their full potential due to the structuring of a context in which:
    – procedures are minimized
    – communication is continuous, open, honest
    – the curiosity and the ability to ask questions, even uncomfortable ones, are valued positively
    – comparison, feedback, and debate – as long as it is based on facts – are encouraged
    – everyone knows what are the major business challenges that the company is facing
    – the good of the business and the customers is take into account as the basis of every decision, at
    every level.
  • The company is not considered a family, but a sports team: the motivation of people is given by the possibility of working with colleagues who share the same passion and love to solve challenging problems. To build valuable teams, in which players can and must change based on their suitability for new challenges, is up to HR and managers. Loyalty, enhancement of past contributions and experience, are not elements on which to base in deciding whether or not to keep a player in the team, if they are not consistent with the required performances.

Here is my radical proposition: a business leader’s job is to create great teams that do amazing work on time. That’s it. That’s the job of management (Intro, page XVII)

The most important thing to understand about transforming a culture (…) is that (…) it’s a matter of identifying the behaviors that you would like to see become consistent practice and then instilling the discipline of actually doing them (Intro, page XVIII)

Being given a great problem to tackle and the right colleagues to tackle it with is the best incentive of all (page 2)

Excellent colleagues, a clear purpose, and well-understood deliverables: that’s the powerful combination (page 6)

Don’t assume people are stupid. Instead, assume that if they are doing stupid things, they are either uninformed or misinformed (page 23)

Too often upper management thinks that sharing about problems confronting the business will heighten anxiety among the staff, but what’s much more anxiety provoking is not knowing (page 42)

You’ve got to hire now the team you wish to have in the future (page 72)

We (the HR) weren’t in service to the hiring managers; we were in service to the customer of Netflix (page 105)

Structure and contents of the book
The book is structured into eight chapters, preceded by an introduction and followed by conclusions. The first four describe Netflix’s values ​​”in action”, showing how treating people as adults and applying honest, “radical” communication, open to discussion and debate are the pillars on which to build an environment capable of acting teamwork and problem solving at the highest levels. This is in fact what allowed Netflix to grow exponentially, adapting to the market and transforming itself consistently with new ideas and new requests.
The following four chapters describe the HR practices that support this culture, emphasizing in particular the Recruiting and Hiring processes, as well as the Compensation and Benefit process. Learning is mostly realized on the job and focuses on the business and skills required by Netflix (giving feedback, managing confrontations and conflicts, solving problems). Talent Management is more linked to hiring people than to their development: in fact, to motivate or to create career paths is neither the managers’ nor HR’s task. Employees are responsible for their own growth, for which Netflix provides the right environment, but must also be open to understand if they are still appropriate to the role, context, culture, or if it is better for them to look elsewhere.
At the end of each chapter, the most relevant points are summarized and a list of questions is offered, which can help the reader to understand if and how much of the exposed content is practicable in one’s own reality.

The book can be read with pleasure and ease, as McCord is fluid in expression, direct, sometimes irreverent, and offers numerous examples and personal stories for each topic that not only lighten the story but also make it realistic. Being so direct, the author subverts some of “strong” assumptions of people management issues (for example the importance of developing and keeping engagement alive, of doing retention, of motivating, of offering internal growth opportunities to talents), especially in the chapters dedicated to HR practice. In this way, she offers valuable insights.
Of course, some of the innovative ways proposed by McCord are consistent with the context of Silicon Valley and the American labor market, which is different and at times still far from some of our realities. Moreover, the book can be perceived as less credible to the reader who is looking for a model to follow, as the author only tells the successes and not the difficulties encountered both in implementing the culture described as in experimenting practices that have not worked. On the other hand, more than a manual, the book has to be considered as a narration of one’s own experience, and as such it must be interpreted and at times stripped of emotion and subjectivity.
However, it is an interesting reading to question your own assumptions and, with that radical honesty that McCord talks about, ask yourself if as HR you are following habits, processes, experience, or if, keeping in mind the employees, the customer and the business we act in coherence with our and the company’s values ​​to increase their effectiveness.