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Pages from Netflix: The No Rules Rule, Section One, chapter 2
HIGH PERFORMANCE + SELFLESS CANDOR = EXTREMELY HIGH PERFORMANCE
Imagine attending a nine o’clock Monday-morning meeting with a group of work colleagues. You’re sipping a cup of coffee and listening to your boss ramble on about his plans for an upcoming retreat, when the voice in your head starts shouting furiously in disagreement with what he’s saying. The agenda your boss is outlining sounds like one that’s guaranteed to fail—and you’re sure the program you thought up while watching Grey’s Anatomy reruns last night would be more effective. You wonder, Should I say something? But you hesitate, and the moment soon passes. Ten minutes later, one of your colleagues who is often long-winded and repetitive—but contagiously upbeat (and, as everyone knows, very sensitive)—begins updating the team on her latest project. The voice in your head sighs at the pointlessness of her presentation and the underlying inanity of the project itself. Again you wonder, Should I speak up? But again, your lips stay sealed.
You’ve probably experienced moments like these. You may not always remain silent. But often you do—and when you do, it’s likely to be because of one of the following reasons: You think your viewpoint won’t be supported. You don’t want to be viewed as “difficult.” You don’t want to get into an unpleasant argument. You don’t want to risk upsetting or angering your colleagues. You’re wary of being called “not a team player.”
But if you work for Netflix, you probably do speak up. During the morning meeting, you tell your boss his plan for the retreat won’t work and that you have another idea you think will be better. After the meeting, you tell your colleague why you believe she should rethink the project she described. And for good measure, after stopping at the coffee machine, you visit with another colleague to mention that he came across as defensive when he was asked to explain a recent decision of his in the all-hands meeting last week.
At Netflix, it is tantamount to being disloyal to the company if you fail to speak up when you disagree with a colleague or have feedback that could be helpful. After all, you could help the business—but you are choosing not to.
When I first heard about the candor at Netflix, I was skeptical. Netflix promotes not just candid feedback but also frequent feedback, which, in my experience, just increases the chances that you will hear something hurtful. Most people have trouble un-hearing harsh remarks, which can lead to a negative spiral of thought. The idea of a policy that encourages people to voice their honest feedback frequently sounded not just unpleasant but very risky. But almost as soon as I began to collaborate with Netflix employees, I saw the benefits.
In 2016, Reed asked me to give a keynote address at the company’s quarterly leadership conference in Cuba. This was the first time I’d done work for Netflix, but the participants had all read my book, The Culture Map, and I wanted to present something fresh. I worked extensively to prepare a customized presentation full of new material.
Normally when I speak to large audiences, it’s with tried-and-tested content. This time, when I walked out onstage I could hear my heart beating faster than normal. The first forty-five minutes went well. The audience of around four hundred Netflix managers from around the world was engaged, and each time I asked a question dozens of hands flew up.
I then invited the participants to form small groups for five minutes of discussion. As I came down from the stage and walked among the participants, hearing snippets of conversation, I noticed one woman speaking with particular animation in an American accent. When she saw me observing, she beckoned me over. “I was just saying to my colleagues,” she explained, “that the way you are facilitating the discussion from the stage is undermining your message about cultural diversity. When you ask for comments and call on the first person who raises a hand, you’re setting just the type of trap your book tells us to avoid—because only Americans raise their hands, so only Americans get the chance to speak.”
I was taken aback. It was the first time anyone had given me negative feedback smack in the middle of a presentation and in front of a group of other participants. I started to feel queasy—especially when I realized that, of course, she was right. I had two minutes to make an on-the-fly adjustment. When I resumed my talk, I suggested that we hear a comment from each country represented in the audience—first the Netherlands, then France, then Brazil, the US, Singapore, and Japan. It worked beautifully, and there’s no way I would have used this technique at that moment without that feedback.
Hastings, Reed; Meyer, Erin. No Rules Rules (page 19). Ebury Publishing. Kindle-Version. From passage on importance of feedback