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The Guide to the Freedom and Responsibility Culture at Netflix (slideshare.net)
144 points by male_salmon on Aug 4, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

I found these ideas very refreshing, coming from a business of NetFlix' size and maturity. If these slides resonate with you, you may enjoy Maverick by Ricardo Semler, an auto-biographical account of how he transformed SemCo (a brazilian company) from a rigid, process oriented organization into a business that values freedom and good judgment. As we start to grow GitHub, these kinds of stories are truly invaluable. I've worked for the kind of high complexity, high process companies that this slide deck rails against, and I have no desire to ever be part of that world again.

I'll echo the recommendation for Maverick, I believe that it was (maybe still is) the top selling book in Brazil. http://www.amazon.com/Maverick-Success-Behind-Unusual-Workpl...

A fascinating read. Not having a vacation policy strikes me as an incredibly radical idea.

It sounds so civilized, yet my worry would be that people end up not taking enough time off due to a combination of peer pressure and indifference. In my experience I've found there are a set of people who always struggle to use up a given vacation allowance, and in a situation where there is no allowance I could see the natural behaviour of these people creating pressure on those who enjoy taking time off to take a lot less.

Amazing read. Rang true some many times with me.

I knew this was something special when it started out with an example of Enron's corporate values. Too many companies have corporate values printed on little cards, back of pamphlets or even "chiseled on the marble on the main lobby."

I think about two thirds the slides stressed on hiring the best talent possible, having high performers and keeping high performers. I have to agree. One of the most important things you can do, especially at a smaller company, is hire well.

One thing that is lacking is a reference to motivation. Compensating people well is important, but you also need a sense of impact and growth. See Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (a little out dated but a great place to start):


I'd say pay is at the lower levels. At the higher levels: -People need to feel appreciated (part of that is well compensated). -People need to feel like they are making a difference. (Your job adds value) -People need to like they're growing. It's not just about getting Sr. added to your job title but actually your learning something and self-actualizing.

I understand what you say about motivation, but I don't think Netflix is about that. My belief is that they expect you to be intrinsically excited about working there - because you are a professional adult. You should already be learning on your own and already "self-actualized". Paying you well just validates what they believe you should be.

Not all companies are like that, and that's why working at Netflix takes a bit of a mindset re-org.

I think we are coming from the same place but I am not sure I agree with "you should already be learning on your own and already "self actualized."

I think the work place is one place of many where you can grow and prove yourself. It's a great place to learn new things, test your theories and be creative. A company should nurture that.

If any Netflix employees are reading this, it would be great to hear your comments on how well those slides reflect the actual culture.

they're 100% accurate. This deck is very similar (if not identical, it's been a while) to the one you're expected to read at the "meet with Reed" meeting one month or so after you're hired. Netflix is, without a doubt, the single best company I have ever worked for (even better than my own company).

I put away a start-up idea to work there. It was worth it.

Care to share any stories?

Sure. Here's some banal stuff. If you have anything in particular you'd like to know, ask.

Good - A few days after I joined I decided I wanted a much bigger monitor and several gigs more ram. After hemming and hawing for a day trying to figure out how to justify it to my manager, I just asked. My manager said there was no reason to ask him, just file a ticket. No approval needed. This is true for anything I need (hardware, software, cell phone...).

Bad - Within my first week, I noticed three "good bye" emails, none of which were voluntary.

Great - I have free access to one of the largest sets of voluntary enjoyment decision data and lots of big machines. ML paradise.

Great - All of my coworkers are amazing. It's really satisfying to not be the smartest guy in the room.

"Bad - Within my first week, I noticed three "good bye" emails, none of which were voluntary.

Great - All of my coworkers are amazing. It's really satisfying to not be the smartest guy in the room."

You might want to reconsider the "bad" label on your first line item, because I suspect it's strongly correlated with the "great" label on your second one.

It's certainly not a bad (for me) now, but at the time I considered it a bad because I wasn't used to seeing three people get fired in two days.

Another opinion: the slide deck portrays a rather aggressive meritocracy, probably the most hardcore I've seen as a veteran of multiple startups. If you're planning a Mars mission, commercializing cold fusion, reinventing retailing, or trying to dethrone Microsoft, that's one thing, but jeezly crow, why burn yourself out in a company whose mission statement is, "Mail out whatever DVDs people ask for, without taking too long or screwing up too often"?

(This is a bit of a troll, because I do appreciate the drive to do the very best you can at whatever task you've set yourself. And the deck certainly reflects well on the company's ethics and overall cluefulness. It just strikes me as overkill -- competing with dumbass companies like Blockbuster shouldn't be that hard, should it?)

I think you're overlooking the online rentals market. Netflix's original business will die (or be killed) off at some point. They already have a strong presence in the online movie rentals market.

It should also be pointed out that they do value and tackle hard problems. The Netflix prize is the most public example of this. One million dollars for a 10% improvement in movie recommendations. The battle has been fought and won in the hundredths of percentages points. http://www.netflixprize.com/leaderboard

edit: added more context to what I meant by the "online market"

How long does it usually take to determine whether a person is only an "adequate" performer and given a generous severance package?

No one I've worked with has ever been sent packing, but to the best of my understanding it's generally not a surprise and people are given chances.

My guess would be a few months but I don't have any hard evidence on hand. Based on my limited experience, I wouldn't put the duration at more than a year.

Most large companies don't want what they call "brilliant jerks." The problem is, not all these people are really jerks. Some just don't like being told what to do. That subset tend to make particularly good startup founders.

At netflix, when they say they don't want "brilliant jerks", what they mean is they don't want "constant ass holes".

Context vs. Control.

"At Netflix, when they say they don't want "brilliant jerks", what they mean is they don't want "constant ass holes" ".

"constant ass holes" equates to "jerks". How does the "brilliant" part come in to play?

pg said "The problem is, not all these people are really jerks. Some just don't like being told what to do."

This interpretation makes sense. I've seen this happen in large companies. "He is brilliant and very good at his job, BUT he doesn't take orders (blindly)".

No, I'm a jerk not a constant asshole. Most companies try real hard not to hire idiots. Netflix is such a company.

Orders are not given at netflix. I choose the project I want to work on. Hence my comment "Context vs. Control", it's taken right out of the presentation.

Interesting. In your observation how good has the Company been at not hiring these so-called "Brilliant Jerks"? I've found one of the common failures in engineering management is knowing when to get rid of smart but disruptive talent.

Not perfect. But they really mean it when they say "adequate performance gets a generous severance package".

Then it's not 'adequate', is it?

My impression from the slides is that they see it as a financial gain if it frees up the job for a higher performer.

No mention is made of why they feel the need to offer severance when they're shedding an underperformer, but maybe they want to make it a less negative event. Maybe the strategy is to try and avoid distracting or upsetting the high performers by having underachievers leave on good terms (this could explain the "goodbye" emails).

Great workplace is not day-care, espresso, health benefits, sushi lunches, nice offices, or big compensation, and we only do those that are efficient at attracting stunning colleagues

I find this to be revealing of the culture this document is trying to express : the focus on the people. I don't think you can find that in many workplaces.

Makes me want to work there for a few years. Showing merely adequate engineers the door is high on my list of things to look for in my next position.


I don't know if I've ever been so impressed by a corporate document.

That's the brilliance of this document - it's an excellent and free recruitment tool for the very high-performance/talent people Netflix is trying to attract.

Sounds like an awesome place to get fired from.

Pretty good, and happy I read it because it reaffirms the no-vacation-policy policy, which some contacts have recently been trying to talk me out of.

Inspiring, and also serves as a reference example of a presentation that explicitly says "These slides are meant for reading, rather than presenting". That's a very common document form, but seldom acknowledged.

Wow! I love these guys.

Their Jobs page quotes Godfather: "I will make an offer he can't refuse"


Somebody already said this: wow.


One thing that stood out for me in that document was their analysis of how company growth forces the reduction of creativity in the workforce by the implementation of rigid processes.

Even more impressive is their solution to avoiding this problem: Just keep hiring more talented people.

I really love the distinction made in the opening slides between a company's stated values and their "real values", which are shown through actions.

Dear Netflix: can you please open software development offices in NJ or NY? Please?

This is inspiring and awesome.

I think Yahoo found the bizarro world version of this.

Is there a direct link to the pdf?

If you are asking to validate the source of this document, Netflix has this slide deck embedded on thier jobs page: http://www.netflix.com/Jobs

I'm not sure whether this is inspiring, or frightening.

To paraphrase: "I pledge my allegiance to the Borg and will always give of myself and care for it above all else including my own needs."

Actually this is the opposite of what you're suggesting. Working for Netflix doesn't require that you sacrifice a work/life balance. Implicit is the agreement that you'll perform up to the standard that is expected of you, but from what I've seen, most people here can handle it admirably.


Sounds like a factory to me. You guys who vote me down are just so very delusional about the information economy's greatness. LOL.

Working for Netflix doesn't require that you sacrifice a work/life balance.

Well, yeah, it pretty much does, if the company actually follows the personnel-retention guidelines in that slide deck. Your work at such a company is graded on a curve, whether you like it or not, and if you don't outperform your peers, you end up looking "only adequate." Meanwhile, your peers are talented twenty-something kids who cheerfully work 60-hour weeks, and you're not going to be able to keep up for long since there's going to be (again, presumably, under the stated guidelines) fresh meat coming in all the time.

As my other comment to elq pointed out, this seems a bit OTT for a company whose mission is, at the end of the day, to mail out a bunch of DVDs without screwing up too much. It's more like selling sugar water than changing the world, and I'm not sure I see the point in killing yourself for it.

I think the reason you're hired is because they think you can perform at the same level of said peers. And you accept the job because you think you can. And want to.

I'd say the average employee age skews towards 35+. No young whipper-snappers here! Except for a few :) Most everyone seems to have a family they need to take care of, which means leaving early some days.

Mailing out DVDs is big business! You have no idea how important Netflix is to people's happiness. I think that's closer to changing the world than most other companies. Just do a search of Netflix on twitter and you'll see what I mean.

You have no idea how important Netflix is to people's happiness.

As a longtime customer, I do indeed. :-P Pretty damn reliable service, actually.

The last Netflix error I experienced was when you sent me a fourth disc for some reason. An advanced AI would have recognized that He's Just Not That Into You doesn't go well with Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy. /grumble

"your peers are talented twenty-something kids who cheerfully work 60-hour weeks"

Personally I've found, and read research to the effect, that the difference between skilled/knowledgeable coders can be up to 10x in efficiency. If you're a talented older guy with a family and such, then you should've put in the 60-hour work weeks when you were twenty-something, such that your knowledge and talent at your current age means you don't need to work 60 hours to accomplish the same goals.

If you weren't a talented twenty-something, and didn't work your butt off, then you're most likely not a talented forty-something, and thus won't fit in the Netflix firm anyway.

Doesn't sound like you're competing against your peers so much as you're competing against the market. Outperform the market, do fine. That doesn't sound too tough to me; talented, motivated people are always in short supply.

Makes me wish they were hiring in a city where I wanted to live.

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