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Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility (2018) by Patty McCord
Book (with additional video)
Patty McCord
Recommended by: Michelle Hataway, Project Manager, Department of Economic Development, and Missouri Leadership Academy member
Additional Video
Title: Netflix's 'Powerful' Corporate Culture Of Freedom And Responsibility: Author Patty McCord | CNBC
Date: Jan 9, 2018

What is your suggestion about?

Netflix’s distinctive culture is the reason why it has reinvented itself successfully so many times. The company evolved from a small start-up that is credited with putting Blockbuster out of business into a major media company that has redefined what videos we consume and how we consume them. Remember the days before video on demand on your mobile phone – or before “binge watching” series over a weekend? Netflix blazed the trail.

Throughout all of this change, Netflix’s commitment to keeping its culture alive, vibrant, and present provided its North Star. Powerful by Patty McCord, a Netflix veteran, is about how leaders can build a culture that makes their organizations as successful and enjoyable to work in as Netflix.

Why did you choose it?

McCord hates antiquated “annual review processes:”: How can you get better at something like giving feedback if you only practice it once a year? So, I was intrigued by McCord’s ideas of constant feedback and radical honesty, two of Netflix’s values displayed in a slide deck entitled, “Freedom and Responsibility” that McCord helped author. This document was originally published on their website to educate potential employees. It went viral with more than 15 fifteen million views, and still provides today the foundation for Netflix’s approach.

Netflix has also been praised in the press for enacting radical human resources HR practices based on trust and individual responsibility like no vacation- day policy and no expense policy, as well as extensive maternity and paternity leave. All the while, Netflix has delivered incredible performance and loyalty among staff.

What else do you want to tell us about it?

Patty McCord is an innovator. She was the Chief Talent Officer at Netflix for 14fourteen years. She helped create a culture that many other companies have since tried to emulate. Netflix’s culture centered on allowing employees to exercise their full power and potential, a radical new way to manage people. In her book, she gives numerous examples of how Netflix created a culture that supports adaptability and high performance. She believes that asking questions, being open to feedback, and committing to total honesty create a change-ready organization.

As you can see in this short video Patty McCord hates the term “empower” and argues that employees only need to be empowered because they never had power in the first place. Processes build on themselves over time and reduce people’s power to create positive change.

She believes good employees do not choose a job (or stay at one) for a signing bonus or awesome perks like sleeping pods, personal chefs, and foosball tables. They stay because the employees are engaged in solving a problem with talented people who are also engaged in solving the same problem. They know that the customers love the product or service everyone has worked so hard to create.

Encourage questions about what you don’t understand instead of making assumptions. If people ask in a true spirit of interest about the problems others are wrestling with, you can remove ego from the equation in favor of real collaboration. These questions will cultivate curiosity and respect and will lead to learning.

One other piece of advice has stuck with me: Hire for what your team needs in the future, not to fill the need right now. This will prevent postponing projects and hiring the wrong person because of deadlines. This will save cost and make your team more efficient.


What is a key takeaway for leaders driving improvement in how we deliver for the citizens of Missouri?

You might say to yourself: Sstate government can’t be Netflix. We have different rules, regulations, and resources. 

That’s right in a narrow way. But, it also misses the bigger point. We can learn a lot from experiences like McCord’s.

She views people management the same way Netflix engineers looked at product management: test ideas, make mistakes, rethink, and try again. Because of that, the way Netflix managed people was always evolving. Most departments now are using the “do – learn – do” approach to transform how we help each other get better after we ended PERforM and moved to ENGAGE.

While we can’t remove every policy and procedure, McCord argues that every manager can act in ways that instill the kinds of behaviors that made Netflix’s culture so agile. She makes clear that “culture” is really just the behaviors and skills we value and bring to life every day. We can all focus more on rapid, honest feedback and holding each other accountable. That is how we can cut through unnecessary processes and focus on how to drive the best results for our customers.

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