In 2009 Netflix’s internal corporate culture PowerPoint went viral. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg called it “the most important document ever to come out of [Silicon] Valley.” Just this past week a friend forwarded me the same link. His colleague, a fellow mid-twenties engineer, emailed the link to his entire office before preparing to leave his century-old firm to work for Google. The one-line email: “This is how most tech companies should operate.”
The presentation highlights “freedom and responsibility” as the two overarching concepts under which Netflix illustrates seven cultural pillars through various key values, behaviors, skills, and policies. A few of these include:
- Vacation Policy and Tracking: “There is no policy or tracking.”
- Policies for Expensing, Entertainment, Gifts, and Travel: “Act in Netflix’s Best Interest” – just five words.
- No Brilliant Jerks: “Some companies tolerate them; for us, [the] cost to effective teamwork is too high.”
The phrasing is punchy and the policies unusual in most traditional corporate environments, yet I still noticed many similarities in my own working environment. For instance:
- Innovation through Simplification: For Netflix, innovation is driven by “minimizing complexity and finding time to simplify.” At SAP, simplification is a critical component of our corporate strategy and potential to innovate. For instance, simplifying the customer experience by offering one digital experience, one solution per business problem, and one delivery and support model is central to our growth. As an individual employee, one of my responsibilities is to simplify how our Corporate Social Responsibility arm tracks efforts worldwide so that we can measure social impact like never before.
- Great Work vs. Hard Work: Netflix employees are measured by their accomplishments, not by hours spent in the office. I know many companies say the same, but act otherwise – I’ve worked for a couple. Consequently, I’m astounded by how often I’m asked whether I’ll “be in” tomorrow. While I prefer working onsite, I don’t have to take vacation to visit family in LA when something important comes up. On a daily basis, I have colleagues with prestigious positions that drive their kids to and from school, and attend parent-teacher events. It’s different to see, as opposed to hear and read, this value in action.
- Courage: One of the nine qualities employees must embody to be hired and promoted at Netflix is courage, which our company values as well. The three people I work most closely with at SAP also happen to be three of the most courageous people I have ever met. One of these individuals includes my manager, who in this piece shares a deeply personal story while voicing what she believes will be the greatest accomplishment of our generation.
Innovation through simplification, great work, and courage are not only concepts I see in practice at my workplace, but also values that are important to me as an employee and a person. They sound simple and are open to interpretation, but are essential for employee satisfaction and retention.
While Netflix’s culture presentation is half a decade old, the fact that it is still actively traveling from inbox to inbox says something about the values of the workforce of the future. In fact, Netflix ranks #34 among the top 50 companies young people want to work for (see my colleague’s piece on Forbes). Perhaps this is because what Netflix practices is what the next generation values – and expects.
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