High Performance

Having created the Netflix culture, former executive Patty McCord shares valuable insights into building a powerful company

Published 3 years ago on Oct 06, 2018 3 minutes Read

When I consult to company leaders and their team managers, probably the most difficult advice for them to accept is that they don’t owe their people anything more than ensuring that the company is making a great product that serves the customer well and on time. They don’t owe people the chance to take on a role they’re not prepared for and don’t have the talents for. They don’t owe them a different job created to reward them for their service. And they certainly don’t owe them holding the company back from making the personnel changes needed to thrive. I know this may sound harsh, because the notion that companies should make special investments in developing people, provide paths for promotion, and strive for high employee retention rates are deeply ingrained. But I’ve come to believe such thinking is outmoded and isn’t even the best approach for employees. It often leads to people becoming stuck in jobs they don’t really want or aren’t doing as well as they want to—or as you need them to—rather than scouring the job landscape for better opportunities.

Giving people promotions and coaching them in new roles can be both enormously satisfying for team leaders and great for performance. But promoting and developing people are also often simply not the best things for team performance. Managers should not be expected to be career planners. In today’s fast-moving business environment, trying to play that role can be dangerous.

At Netflix, when we were interviewing people, we told them straight out that we were not a career-management company, that we believed people’s careers were theirs to manage, and that while there might be lots of opportunity for them to advance at the company, we wouldn’t be designing opportunities for them. So often companies give people half of a job they need done, because the person can’t do the whole job. I realized that we just couldn’t afford to do that. We needed people who could do the whole job. We were also determined not to make the incredibly common mistake of promoting into management roles strong performers who are simply not well suited to managing.

In some periods of a company’s growth there is lots of opportunity for current employees to be promoted into new roles. But often there are simply no legitimate spots for people, even very good people, to move up into. When there were openings at Netflix that we might have promoted people into, in many instances we knew the much better option was to bring in someone who had already been a top performer in the job we needed done. If people were eager to take on responsibilities we couldn’t give them, or to do work that wasn’t a priority for us, we encouraged them to look for those opportunities elsewhere. We also suggested that our employees interview elsewhere regularly, so that they could gauge the market of opportunities. This also allowed us to get a better understanding of how sought after they were and what we should be paying them. The advantages of more fluid team building flow both ways.

This is an extract from Patty McCord's Powerful published by Missionday