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Radhika Panjwani is a blogger and former journalist based in Toronto.
“With candour, high performers become outstanding performers. Frequent candid feedback exponentially magnifies the speed and effectiveness of your team,” writes Reed Hastings, founder and co-CEO of Netflix, in his bestselling book, No Rules Rules, which he co-authored with Erin Meyer.
This morsel of wisdom from Mr. Hastings stands in contrast with what happened last week, when Netflix fired three of its senior film marketing executives for trash-talking their peers in a non-private channel on messaging app Slack. Netflix is renowned for its “radical transparency” policy, which encourages employees to be honest and “only say things about fellow employees that you say to their face.”
It would seem that griping about colleagues publicly was not part of the policy.
“What happened here was unfortunately not simply venting on Slack or a single conversation,” Ted Sarandos, co-CEO and chief content officer at Netflix, clarified on LinkedIn. “These were critical, personal comments made over several months about their peers (not their management as suggested by The Hollywood Reporter). This is entirely inconsistent with those values, which is why their manager fired them.”
In 2009, Mr. Hastings unveiled a 127-slide deck on Netflix’s culture that he and Patty McCord, the company’s former chief talent officer, had crafted jointly. The deck – which has been downloaded more than 13 million times – turned the traditional human resources approach on its head at the time.
Netflix offers its employees unlimited vacation, high wages and no formal travel policies or expense reports (staff are simply told to not waste money), transparent surveys and more. In short, it’s akin to a corporate Shangri-La.
There’s why there’s now a fiery debate taking place on social media on whether the employees’ crime merited the severity of Netflix’s punishment.
How does corporate culture influence employee behaviour? Can an HR policy penned by the C-suite be perceived differently by employees? Was there a disconnect in the way policies are implemented versus their real function?
Three years ago, The Wall Street Journal talked to some 70 current and former employees of Netflix to expose flaws in the streaming giant’s corporate culture, particularly around its radical candour policy.
To illustrate, the article referenced how Netflix had fired its chief communications officer for saying the “N-word.” Apparently, the executive in question enunciated the word to make a point about offensive words in comedy programming – it wasn’t directed at anyone.
Jonathan Friedland, the disgraced employee, “sunshined” his transgression, which in Netflix idiom meant “to apologize or be transparent in front of co-workers.”
Mr. Friedland (wrongly) presumed that by “sunshining” his lapse of judgment, it would be overlooked – except it wasn’t.
The backlash to the firing was just as fierce. The company was called out for its hypocrisy.
Here’s the thing: Mr. Hastings’ massive culture manifest made perfect sense when the company was a fledgling startup. But when growth reaches near stratospheric level, can an organization maintain the strength and potency of such an extreme HR policy?
“As you scale a company to become bigger and bigger, how do you scale that kind of culture?” Colin Estep, a former senior engineer who left Netflix voluntarily in 2016, told the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t know that we ever had a good answer.”
In her blog for Caliper, a global employee assessment and talent development company, communications manager Aggie Alvarez says even though a company’s mission, diversity initiatives and its superb perks all might read great on paper, translating it into the overall ethos may be quite a different matter.
“Organizational climate is the way people experience the work environment,” notes Ms. Alvarez. “What is it like to work there? How do individuals feel when operating in that culture? How do business conditions, management decisions, and the actions [of] leadership affect the general mood? When you consider the collective experience of all the talent in the organization, you’re evaluating climate.”
What I’m reading around the web
- There’s something magical about a tech startup finding the figurative pot of gold. In this Techcrunch column, Alex Dalyac, CEO and co-founder of Tractable, an AI unicorn worth $1-billion, shares his company’s “garage story” (although it actually started in a basement). Tractable develops artificial intelligence for accident and disaster recovery and has millions of customers across the globe, but six years ago, the company was just four people chasing an impossible dream.
- Still not sure about global warming? Floods in China’s Henan province have devastated the region and resulted in the deaths of two dozen people. The city of Zhengzhou experienced 45.2 centimetres of rainfall in a 24-hour period. As reported by Bloomberg, the deluge has severely impacted the manufacturing sector in the region. Henan is world’s biggest production base for iPhones, and is also home to Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and SAIC Motor Corp., China’s biggest automaker.
- Twitter will honour U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles as not only the as the Greatest Of All Time (or GOAT, as per the icon she has recently featured on her competition leotards), but she also just became the first Olympic athlete and first woman athlete to receive a custom hashtag-triggered emoji, according to this story in Adweek.
- Who or what makes a great leader? Emotional intelligence and experience? And, if your company needs one, what qualities do you need to consider in the candidate? This Inc.com story examines three red flags to watch out for – that are actually signs of a good leader – when interviewing potential candidates for leadership roles.
More opinion from Globe Careers
Ensuring employees’ safety and well-being is more important than ever for attracting and retaining talent Labour shortages pre-pandemic were difficult – now these challenges are even tougher, writes Purolator CEO John Ferguson in the Globe’s Leadership Lab
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Leadership Lab is a series where executives, experts and writers share their views and advice about the world of work. You can find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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