We talk a lot about culture these days, and one of the companies that often comes up in those discussions is Netflix, renowned for its special culture.
Patty McCord, the architect of that culture and the creator of the Netflix Culture Deck—a popular resource that has over 20 million views—recently sat down with the HR Works podcast to discuss company culture and leadership.
Patty has since moved on from Netflix, but she continues to leave a strong and thought-provoking mark as she coaches and advises companies around the world on culture and leadership. Patty is also the opening keynote speaker at BLR’s upcoming HR Comply and Workforce L&D Conferences, taking place November 14–16 in Las Vegas.
HR Works: Hi, everyone. Welcome to HR Works, brought to you by BLR®. I’m your host, Steve Bruce. HR Works provides clear, relevant, actionable information on topics that matter to HR professionals. When you’re armed with best practices and strategies to attract, retain, and engage top talent and deliver exceptional value to your organization, HR works.
We talk a lot about culture these days, and one of the companies that often comes up in those discussions is Netflix, renowned for its special culture. Today’s guest, Patty McCord, is the architect of that culture and the creator of the Netflix Culture Deck, a popular resource that has over 20 million views. Actually, 20 million and 1, as I’ve looked at it. Sheryl Sandberg called this deck perhaps the most important document ever to come out of Silicon Valley.
Patty has since moved on from Netflix, but she continues to leave a strong and thought-provoking mark as she coaches and advises companies around the world on culture and leadership. She’s worked with small start-ups and very large companies. She’s a veteran of Sun Microsystems, Borland, and Seagate Technologies. Her background includes staffing, diversity, communications, and international human resources positions.
And I’ll just mention that Patty is the opening keynoter at BLR’s upcoming HR Comply and Workforce L&D Conferences, November 14–16 in Las Vegas. She will be presenting The Time for a Culture Shift is Now: How to Fix a Broken Culture and Inspire Teams to Achieve Greatness.
And she also has a new book out called Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility. The Washington Post named it one of the top 11 leadership books to read in 2018 and says it reveals why most companies fail at hiring, motivating, and creating exceptional teams. Patty, welcome to HR Works.
Patty: Hi, Steve. Thanks. I’m delighted to be here.
HR Works: Why do companies fail at hiring, motivating, and creating exceptional teams, and what can they be doing better? Maybe we could look at those one by one, although I imagine they’re all interconnected. How about hiring? Where are companies falling down there, and what might they do differently?
Patty: You know, I was just coaching someone who is a jobseeker, and I was explaining to her how companies actually do most hiring. I told her that most people start with the job description or the requisition instead of starting with the problem they’re trying to solve. I often say that usually, a job description describes the person who left you wish hadn’t gone, the fantasy person who doesn’t exist, or whatever it takes to get it approved.
None of those is what you’re really looking for when you’re hiring somebody, so I think the most important thing that we can do better in hiring is think about whole teams and where the deficits are within teams and hire people who can help solve problems that matter to the business and matter to the customer; then, you do a much better job at looking at a diverse slate of candidates because you want people who can solve those problems in lots of different ways.
HR Works: Well, I think that’s a nice perspective to have on your approach to recruiting. So then, let’s talk about motivating. You got your good people hired. How do you go about motivating them?
Patty: Well, again, like you said at the beginning, it’s all part of the same system. If you’ve hired somebody who’s really interested in the problem that you need to solve, and who’s really good at it, and who really likes doing that, you don’t have to do a lot to motivate him or her other than continuing to give him or her hard problems that he or she is interested in and capable of solving.
I find that when I ask HR people or, in my whole career, when I sit down with somebody who’s successful and I say, “Tell me about that. Give me a story about something that you did at work that you were really proud of or that you really felt like made a difference,” every one of those stories is going to be about something that was hard.
I think that we’ve swung the pendulum way too far in the other direction to think that our job in HR is to make people happy because happy people do better work. I mean, I think there’s a correlation, don’t get me wrong, but just the “happiness” doesn’t result in better work. It’s when people are really, truly engaged, and I don’t mean via an anonymous engagement survey but, rather, when they are really interested in the work that they’re doing and the people they’re working with—that motivates them more than anything else.
HR Works: All right, that’s helpful. We’re going to talk about engagement in a minute, but let’s go to our third topic here. So much of today’s work revolves around teams, so what’s wrong with how we create and manage teams, and what could we be doing better?
Patty: Well, we kind of use the same structure for every team. If you look at the org charts of most companies, they’re this endless series of pyramids. Right? The boss, and then the lieutenants, and then the next level, and you draw it out—it looks like this big, fat, flat triangle. The thing I’m finding, especially in a lot of the start-ups or the creative companies that I’m working with, is that a lot of work these days is done collaboratively and cross-functionally.
I see much more often a group of people who comprise a team that’s working on a product for a customer, and there’s somebody from marketing, there’s somebody from engineering, and there’s somebody from finance who’s keeping track of the budget and somebody from HR who’s thinking about what kind of talent it’s going to take to round out the team. So the structures themselves have to be more flexible and fluid because of the kind of work we do.
It’s rare that I see teams that are structured in a certain way exist for many, many years without just flattening the bottom of the pyramid, and so I think that we can be really smart about being flexible and being creative about how people work as our businesses evolve over time.
The other thing I would say is that we tend to think, with our rules and policies, that it’s important to have consistency and have everybody work in the same way, and it’s just not true. You know, different teams have different rhythms, different teams have different boundaries, different teams have different outcomes, and I think it’s perfectly okay to allow flexibility in the organization so people can do great work, on time, with quality that makes customers happy.
HR Works: I don’t think anybody’s going to argue with that.
In tomorrow’s post, we’ll continue the conversation with HR Comply/Workforce L&D Keynote speaker Patty McCord.