Amid the general wailing and gnashing of teeth that surrounds the millennial discussion, one occasionally happens upon something sensible.
I’ve been reading about how the online entertainment brand Netflix sets expectations for employee contribution. It’s surprisingly hardline; and contains lessons for all employers.
Regular readers know that I believe the best way to deal with the millennial challenge is to gradually adjust your leadership style and management process to proof them against the future. In 10 years’ time, the bulk of the workforce will be millennials, so the challenge is not going to go away. But that doesn’t mean you should give away the initiative.
I admire Netflix because it ignores the empty value statements that reflect the lazy thinking at the top of so many companies. Statements filled with pointless words like innovation, integrity, transparency and accountability.
These are words that whole sectors of our economy use because … everybody else does. They are anodyne and ineffective - because there’s no spirit attached to them. Employees, as human beings, will always react more strongly to emotional than to rational cues.
Patty McCord, the previous chief talent officer at Netflix, made two statements in the opening to her values piece. One emotional, one rational:
“We’re like a pro sports team, not a kids’ recreation team.”
“At Netflix, you don’t get rewarded for hard work, you get rewarded for results.”
The Netflix manifesto goes on to state explicitly that “adequate performance gets a generous severance package.” They don’t recognise people for long hours, or for turning up to work for 15 years. They don’t reward participation because they are business that intends to win.
Does that mean top performers who put in shorter hours at Netflix are tolerated? Yes, they are rewarded with more responsibility and big pay increases.
Netflix’s loyalty to employees is not absolute. They don’t mince words. “People who have been stars and hit a bad patch get a near-term pass because they are likely to become stars again. But unlimited loyalty to an ineffective employee is not what we are about.”
This seems harsh, and maybe it is. Here in Africa I hope that we can develop more productive organisational cultures without parting company with humanity. Humanity we have in spades, and we may be the last Continent on the planet to enjoy that bounty.
Netflix rewards people for delivering results, not just for effort. And that’s a good thing. No business can thrive without delivering results. So, let’s take a healthy pinch of that attitude and start to think about how best we can apply it in our local context.