“Powerful” notes

I highly recommend “Powerful” by Patty McCord as a very worthwhile read for anyone in leadership. Here are my notes from the book:

Leadership

  • Be ready at any moment to cast aside your plans, admit mistakes, and embrace a new course.
  • People have power; Don’t take it away. A companies job isn’t to empower people; it’s to remind people that they walk in the door with power and to create the conditions for them to exercise it.
  • The Netflix culture wasn’t built by developing an elaborate new system for managing people; we did the opposite. We kept stripping away policies and procedures.
  • Most companies are clinging to the established command-and-control system of top-down decision making which is in enormously costly, time-consuming, and generally unproductive.
  • This older approach to leadership clings to false assumptions about human beings: that most people must be incentivized in order to really throw them selves into work, and that they need to be told what to do.

Management

  • I’m going to challenge all of the basic premises of management today: that is about building loyalty and retention and career progression and implementing structures to ensure employee engagement and happiness. None of that is true. None of this is the job of management.
  • A business leaders job is to create great teams that do amazing work on time. That is it. That is the job of management.
  • If I could pick one course to teach everybody in the company, whether they’re in management or not, it would be on the fundamentals of how the business works and serving customers.

Transparency

  • We wanted all of our people to challenge us, and one another, vigorously.
  • We wanted them to speak up about ideas and problems; to freely pushback, in front of one another and in front of us.
  • We didn’t want anyone, at any level, keeping vital insights and concerns to themselves.
  • We (as an executive team) made ourselves accessible, and we encouraged questions.
  • We engaged in open, intense debate and made sure all of our managers knew we wanted them to do the same.
  • If people have a problem with an employee or with the way another department was doing something, they were expected to talk about it openly with that person, ideally face-to-face.
  • It was unacceptable to talk about people behind their back’s or to come to then to complain about a colleague.

Communication

  • We communicated honestly and continuously about challenges the company was facing and how we were going to tackle them.
  • People need to see the view from the C suite in order to feel truly connected to the problem-solving that must be done at all levels and on all teams.
  • If you stop any employee, at any level of the company, in the break room or the elevator and ask what are the five most important things the company is working on for the next six months, that person should be able to tell you, rapid fire, one, two, three, four, five, ideally using the same words you’ve used in your communications and in the same order.

Performance

  • We wanted everyone to understand the change would be a constant and we would make whatever changes of plan, and of personnel, we thought necessary to forge a head at high-speed
  • We wanted people to embrace the need for change and be thrilled to drive it.
  • We wanted people to feel excited to come to work each day, not despite the challenges but because of them.
  • It’s not cruel to tell people the truth respectfully and honestly.
  • The most important thing about giving feedback is that it must be about behavior, it also must be actionable.
  • Proactively letting people go was one of the hardest, probably the single hardest, component of the Netflix culture for managers to become comfortable with. But most of them did.

Behaviors

  • We did away with virtually all policies and procedures. We didn’t do it in one fell swoop. We did experimentally, step-by-step, over the course of years.
  • As we stripped away bureaucracy, we coached all of our people, at all levels and on all teams, to be disciplined about a fundamental set of behaviors.
  • It isn’t a matter of simply professing a set of values and operating principles. It’s a matter of identifying the behaviors that you would like to see become consistent practices and then instilling the discipline of actually doing them.
  • We fully and consistently communicated to everyone at Netflix the behaviors we expected them to be disciplined about and that started with the executive team and every manager.
  • We experimented with every way we could think of to liberate teams from unnecessary rules and approvals.

Culture

  • The company was like a sports team, not a family.
  • Creating a culture is an evolutionary process. Think of it as an experimental journey of discovery.
  • The best thing you can do for employees is hire only high performers to work alongside them. it’s a perk far better than Foos ball or free sushi or even a big signing bonus or the holy Grail of stock options. Excellent colleagues, a clear purpose, and well understood deliverables: that’s the powerful combination.
  • When we were interviewing people, we told them straight out that we were not a career management company, that we believed people’s careers were theirs to manage, and that while there might be lots of opportunities for them to advance at the company, we wouldn’t be designing opportunities for them.

Teams

  • Great teams are made when every single member knows where they’re going and will do anything to get there.
  • Great teams are not created with incentives, procedures, and perks.
  • Great teams are created by 1) hiring talented people 2) who are adults and want nothing more than to tackle a challenge, and then 3) communicating to then, clearly and continuously, about what the challenge is.
  • There is no better reward for team members than making a significant contribution towards meeting a challenge.
  • Great teams are made when things are hard.

Hiring

  • You’ve got to hire now the team you wish to have in the future.
  • finding the right people is not primarily about “culture fit”. People can have all sorts of different personalities and be great fit for the job you need done.
  • When you hire someone and it turns out that they can’t do the job, the problem is with the hiring process, not the individual.
  • I decided to throw out the traditional recruiting practice and create a headhunting firm with in the company.
  • We focused on finding the best creative talent with the skills to execute, and then giving those creators the freedom to realize that vision.
  • We developed “new employee college”. For one whole day each quarter every head of every department would make an hour long presentation on the important issues and developments in their part of the business to an audience of our new hires.
  • At Netflix we had three fundamental tenants to our talent management philosophy. First, the responsibility for hiring great people. Second, for every job we try to hire a person who would be a great fit, not just adequate. Finally, we would be willing to say goodbye to even very good people if their skills no longer matched the work we needed done.
  • If you focus intently on hiring the best people you can find and pay top dollar, you will almost always find that they make a much more in business growth than the difference in compensation.

Published by

Dave Martin

Dave is a designer at Automattic.