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Netflix, Tyranny and Culture

Friday, August 7, 2009 by Slaughter Development

Scott Booher of CIOpedia recently posted a thoughtful critique about the obsession with procedure at many companies. His surprising inspiration was an internal document leaked from Netflix.

Here’s what Booher has to say on the topic of company policies:

In this model [from Netflix], Process is to be tolerated, and whenever possible, replaced by great performers who know what they are doing and can figure out how to get things done, without arbitrary rules getting in the way (I do not personally know any Netflix employees, so others will need to comment on whether this view of Process is accurate across their organization).

Contrast this model with that found in most IT organizations of any size. Process is not only accepted, it is celebrated. There is a complex process for everything, from the method for getting approval to build a piece of software, to requisitioning a new server, to the detailed accounting for every activity performed during the work day. One might even go further with the observation that in many organizations, processes are stacked over time, one on top of another, with few processes ever being retired.

This phenomenon, unfortunately, is not exclusive to the information technology department. Usually, almost every area of work is governed by a dizzying number of official and unofficial policies, which ultimately stifle innovation and limit progress. At Slaughter Development, we have run across companies where it takes weeks for a new employee to be issued a computer and months to receive business cards. Purchases often require multiple signatures no matter how small the amount. These regulations may not be written down anywhere, but if employees feel as though they’re out of control than they effectively have no authority. Process can overwhelm a company until it reaches stagnation.

Although Booher’s comments are fascinating, the source material may be more relevant to most employees. Check out the Netflix Reference Guide on Freedom & Responsibility Culture (direct link):

To many employees at many companies, this document sounds unreal. It suggests, for example, that Netflix aims to increase employee freedom as it grows. Who ever heard of a boss that wants you to spend more of your time doing whatever you want? That sounds like a fantasy, not the reality of work.

Slaughter Development will not promise to change your culture into one similar to Netflix. We prefer not to work with the executives who make such slide decks, but rather with the individuals doing the work. We prefer to help you establish a personal culture of productivity and satisfaction so that you can get more done by owning and improving the workflow in your immediate area. That kind of change can help to transform the larger organization. Thumb through the presentation to get inspired. Review our reasons to reach out to see if we can help you. Call on Slaughter Development to begin the process of making work better.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Sensational Headline Only - A recent press release carries the title: “Bosses Beware: Employees Watching Videos Online on the Company’s Dime.” The contents of the document, however, have nothing to do with supervisors, employees and productivity. Read on »
Process Follows People - No industry should be more focused on the well-being of people than healthcare. According to a new study however, organizations are over-emphasizing process and technology to the detriment of workers. Read on »
The Ultimate Casual Friday - Tess Vigeland, host of the National Public Radio show Marketplace Money, interviewed the managing director of a UK design firm. He invited all of his employees to come to work not without negative thoughts, but without any clothing. Read on »
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