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Netflix: Non-'A' Players Unworthy of Jobs 397

Posted by Soulskill
from the bring-your-D+-game dept.
theodp writes "Describing How Netflix Reinvented HR for the Harvard Business Review, ex-Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord describes 'the most basic element of Netflix's talent philosophy: The best thing you can do for employees — a perk better than foosball or free sushi — is hire only "A" players to work alongside them.' Continuing her Scrooge-worthy tale, McCord adds that firing a once-valuable employee instead of finding another way for her to contribute yielded another aha! moment for Netflix: 'If we wanted only "A" players on our team, we had to be willing to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, no matter how valuable their contributions had once been. Out of fairness to such people — and, frankly, to help us overcome our discomfort with discharging them — we learned to offer rich severance packages.' It's a sometimes-praised, sometimes-criticized strategy that's straight out of Steve Jobs' early '80s playbook. But, even if you assume your execs are capable of identifying 'A' players, how do you find enough employees if 90% of the country's population is deemed unworthy of jobs? Well, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings' support of Mark Zuckerberg's FWD.us PAC suggests one possible answer — you get lobbyists to convince Congress you need to hire as many people as you want from outside the country. An article commenter points out that Netflix's 'Culture of Fear' has earned it a 3.2/5.0 rating on Glassdoor."
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Netflix: Non-'A' Players Unworthy of Jobs

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  • by EdgePenguin (2646733) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @06:32AM (#45781141) Homepage
    ...so I guess there is now another reason to do it!
    • by _Shad0w_ (127912) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @09:03AM (#45781501)

      Sort of: they use torrenting stats to work out what's popular and acquire licences to stream it.

      • Sort of: they use torrenting stats to work out what's popular and acquire licences to stream it.

        Netflix, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and many others, are actively looking for fresh talents in the same pool as me.

        Yes, I am constantly looking for talents.

        But unlike them, I do not look for "A Players".

        No matter if the "A" is of the academic or of "Type A personality", people do change, with time.

        What I look for are the self-starters - and I have found plenty of self-starters, both from America and from elsewhere in the world.

        What is ridiculous in this "talent race" is that those who are doing the hiring

    • Incentives. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @11:57AM (#45782085)

      People with an employee mindset naturally want job security, and consider the provision of such to be a moral obligation of employers. The reasons are obvious.

      Employers, on the other hand, face the possibility of paying high salaries to a staff full of under performers, and ultimately harming (or losing) their business because of this. Neither they nor *any* of their employees will be very well off if the business goes under. So, from their perspective, it is morally obligatory that they hire the best and get rid of people who are becoming dead weight.

      So, the two perspectives directly contradict. Each sees the other as a moral blight. On the one hand, employers are seen as sociopathic assholes that demand everything you have to give and make no promises in return. On the other hand, employees are seen as lazy assholes that demand high salaries in perpetuity with no guarantee of productive output at all.

      Each has good reason to find the other to be morally flawed, and to try to manipulate the legal system to force the other to play by one's own rules. This will never change. Articles like this one, and counter-articles, will be written in perpetuity, because neither side is objectively correct. Or rather, both sides are correct even though they are in direct disagreement.

      • by plopez (54068)

        You are not factoring two items; the economic disruption of recruiting and training new employees while running short staffed and the economic disruption of not having a job. Both parties have some overlap of best interest which makes their positions closer than it first appears. In addition, an employer with a reputation of treating employees poorly has more problems recruiting and retaining talent. The employer and employee have moral and ethical duties to treat each other well. It is not as black and whi

      • by timeOday (582209)
        But there is one overriding difference between the two sides: generally (including here and now), one side has almost all the power.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @12:27PM (#45782217)

      Absolutely. In the old days, employees could rely on employers to give them stability. So long as they were competent in their jobs, they could make a consistent and long term life plan around their job and their community. This had enormous economic benefits in that entire families could stay in one place and purchase nice houses, nice cars, go on vacations, etc. With the onset of lasseiz faire capitalism and the "corporation as top tier person", actual human beings have become easily (and often) replaced widgets with the resulting predictable fall in infrastructure and economic benefit for anyone but the most wealthy. This country is no longer about doing what is best for the *people*, but instead doing what is best for "corporate persons" in the futile hope that they will grant the rest of us the privilege of having a temporary job for a few months before being shuffled off for the next batch of desperate suckers.

      Thank you Ayn Rand, we're so much better off now than we were back when we had stable jobs and a strong country!

  • this is like (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @06:36AM (#45781151)

    Netflix accepting only "A-Players" is exactly the corporate equivalent of some fat greasy obese anime-watching neckbeard putting up his dating profile and going SUPERMODELS ONLY PLEASE.

    • Re:this is like (Score:5, Insightful)

      by currently_awake (1248758) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @03:09PM (#45782955)
      "A" players tend to be poor team players, and "A" players need a lower paid support crew to do the simple stuff while they concentrate on the big picture. If you eliminate all the "B" players you force your highly paid "A" players to waste their expensive time doing stupid stuff- causing frustration and staff turnover.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @06:40AM (#45781157)

    14 errors in font-awesome.css, over 50 errors in application.css, "Expected media feature name but found 'touch-enabled'" I don't even know what that means, but it came up a dozen times, downloadable font format unrecognized, another 50 errors in providers.css...

    • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:02AM (#45781189)

      Yeah, you'd think with all those "A" players they could design a mobile interface that actually worked well instead of sucking.

      • by ThePhilips (752041) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:55AM (#45781319) Homepage Journal

        And that basically outlines the problems with the "A" players: they are poor team players and they do not like routine mundane work.

        Developing a skeleton of the application might be the task suitable for the "A" players. But the rest of it, making it really working for everybody, is very often "too easy" and "boring" for them.

        Corollary. From the start on, the "A" players deem many design solutions as not feasible, because they entail lots of routine mundane work which they are unwilling to accept.

        But then, Netflix doesn't do anything particularly sophisticated, so the strategy might seem to work. But in a nutshell, they are simply throwing money around.

    • by citizenr (871508)

      those are most likely bugs, but they can also be used as tools for user browser fingerprinting.

    • by tepples (727027)

      "Expected media feature name but found 'touch-enabled'" I don't even know what that means, but it came up a dozen times

      All it really means is that you happen not to be using a browser designed for a touch-screen device. Such a browser isn't aware of the "touch-enabled" feature in CSS media queries.

    • by matthewv789 (1803086) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @03:58PM (#45783227)
      You do realize that nobody validates CSS any more, right? Because working CSS is almost never valid, and vice versa (aside from the very simplest and most rudimentary). I doubt many developers validate HTML or XHTML any more either.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @06:40AM (#45781159)

    Leaving aside the obvious retort that Patty McCord sounds like she no longer fits, this sort of problem cannot be solved as long as people think they're all such special snowflakes that they don't need no stinkin' union. Work hard enough and you might just win the race to the bottom!

    Anyway, they're just a streaming media company who got in there at the right time. It's not as if they do anything particularly remarkable, so when they talk about hiring "'A' players" they really just mean people who are mewly, pukey and subservient enough to fit the corporate culture. And, as summary notes, this is less about innovation in hiring+firing and more about starting the lobbying machine.

  • One more company (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cornwallis (1188489) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @06:56AM (#45781175)

    on my list of too sleazy to deal with...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @06:57AM (#45781177)

    Maybe you could just ask people why they're no longer "A players" (which is a crap word in itself) or if they're going through a rough patch in the life?
    Work is only 8h to keep you fed, it's not the center of your life. Everyone seeing it different will burn out - and maybe that's what's happening to their former best people. Or they're simply content with their work now because their fondest ideas have been implemented.

    You can't force creativity which is the basis of excellent work and great ideas. You can only create a stable basis and trustful environment, so that ideas will flow and will be discussed in a proper manner.

    Also perpetual competition within your teams and organization does NOT lead to the best results. It leads to fear, sucking up and everyone's self hidden agenda to keep their seat.

    The company's statements are truly the core of what's wrong with the USA and what we in Europe have fought for ages. Still, it's creeping in...

  • by pieterh (196118) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:00AM (#45781183) Homepage

    Netflix isn't the first business to put all the weight on the players while ignoring the game. It doesn't matter how many A players you hire if your organization has deep structural problems. Microsoft would be a prime example.

    In contrast, you can build extremely effective organizations out of ordinary people, if you allow them to organize freely around problems, compete honestly, delegate at will, and so on.

    • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:36AM (#45781261) Journal
      This has been my experience as well. The best teams and companies are those who have a good mix of people, and who know how to utilize talent. For example, I've worked with an old geezer who was rather over the hill as a designer / analyst. A "D" player at best in his assigned role. However he had a ton of knowledge about the company, projects and people, and in some ways he was the department's "memory". He also had good ideas about how to organise teams and company processes, and he was a brilliant coach. He wasn't good at actual management jobs, so... they left him where he was, and where he was perfectly happy. Adding a ton of value to the company on a daily basis. Freely organizing around problems is exactly what he did.

      That's not to say you don't need the right mix of people and skill levels to be successful. A-teams are probably as likely to contain the right mix, and in my experience about as likely to recognize it. Unless of course you stack the deck by saying that your A-team also has an A team lead who knows everything about this, but I've never seen this in practise.
      • It's all about da skillz. If you can't measure it, it doesn't exist. MOAR GRAPHS!
      • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @08:43AM (#45781463)

        This has been my experience as well. The best teams and companies are those who have a good mix of people, and who know how to utilize talent. For example, I've worked with an old geezer who was rather over the hill as a designer / analyst. A "D" player at best in his assigned role. However he had a ton of knowledge about the company, projects and people, and in some ways he was the department's "memory". He also had good ideas about how to organise teams and company processes, and he was a brilliant coach. He wasn't good at actual management jobs, so... they left him where he was, and where he was perfectly happy. Adding a ton of value to the company on a daily basis. Freely organizing around problems is exactly what he did. That's not to say you don't need the right mix of people and skill levels to be successful. A-teams are probably as likely to contain the right mix, and in my experience about as likely to recognize it. Unless of course you stack the deck by saying that your A-team also has an A team lead who knows everything about this, but I've never seen this in practise.

        That's the problem with identifying an A player - defining what is really valuable to the company. Some things are easy to see , such as sales figures, system reliability etc; even if they really don't necessarily measure what you think they measure. Other things, such as the ability to navigate the company's organizational and power structure are equally valuable but much harder to notice; often they are noticed after the fact when it is to late. So in the end, it becomes a bunch of senior executives crowing about how the have the A-Team while they systematically destroy the things that make the organization function well. I pity the fools...

        • That's the problem with identifying an A player - defining what is really valuable to the company.

          In addition, different things (skills, experience, stamina, etc...) can be more/less valuable at different times or in different situations. Having a good mix of people helps fill any voids in the team and provides some overlap for when things get difficult.

      • by voss (52565) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @11:08AM (#45781879)

        . "However he had a ton of knowledge about the company, projects and people, and in some ways he was the department's "memory". He also had good ideas about how to organise teams and company processes, and he was a brilliant coach. If that guy is a "D" player you need a new fucking report card.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @12:26PM (#45782211)

        This has been my experience as well. The best teams and companies are those who have a good mix of people, and who know how to utilize talent. For example, I've worked with an old geezer who was rather over the hill as a designer / analyst. A "D" player at best in his assigned role. However he had a ton of knowledge about the company, projects and people, and in some ways he was the department's "memory". He also had good ideas about how to organise teams and company processes, and he was a brilliant coach. He wasn't good at actual management jobs, so... they left him where he was, and where he was perfectly happy. Adding a ton of value to the company on a daily basis. Freely organizing around problems is exactly what he did.

        My experience from the military is an A leader can make use of anyone, focusing and multiplying the efforts of those under him/her. In the USMC anyway, leadership is something we all wanted to be good at, and examples to learn from were all around us. There was no such thing as a D player, that is a body with a leader not trying hard enough.

        I'm entirely convinced that in the civilian world when a team's hiring practice is 100% "self-motivated rock stars" they are compensating for the lack of ONE good leader. Things are directionless and people look out for themselves. Act shocked and amazed as "Is it resume worthy" becomes the top criteria for project prioritization.

        I get it too, once you have a taste for that, you stop wanting a good leader above you and even make things hard for the one you have, pretty much cementing the status quo. The only coming back from that is finding an excellent leader to snap the reigns. I've heard this called "herding cats", and that never made sense to me until I left the military. Now I see... no shit, when you ASK everyone to look out for themselves, they DO.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think the key is that being good at management is squishy and managers evaluating managers shoots for mediocre at best. Microsoft is full of politics because politics is all that managers can see in each other. They kill off an insane amount of decent to great projects and lose a ton of awesome people through politics. I was on an awesome startup team that was making traction and we got put under another manager that was trying desperately to have excuses why his team was 3 years late. If anyone with

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@world3. n e t> on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:47AM (#45781303) Homepage

      This sort of thing actually creatures structural and managerial problems. Employees become paranoid, always looking to boost their own image and have a hand in all the successful projects, disowning problems and blaming each other. Anyone else's success is just a threat and chances are the really A players will leave anyway for somewhere with a better work environment and job security.

      Looks like Netflix will be the next Yahoo.

      • by Cederic (9623) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @08:26AM (#45781411) Journal

        Exactly. True A players add value above and beyond their specific discipline, and if they're A* players they'll use non-core skills better than most people could use their primary skills.

        "Hire great people" is an expensive employment strategy and possibly overkill for a lot of routine jobs. It can however lead to a very capable, diverse, talented and motivated workforce. All of which you lose if you implement a "Fire specialists" culture shredding policy as you've indicated.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      There is nothing wrong with hiring, and retaining, only the "A" players. The problem is that most companies and managers do a poor job of defining who the "A" players are. I will use sports teams as an example. Some ports teams make the mistake of attempting to stock their team with as many players as they can manage who are potential starters. The problem is that many highly talented players only do well when they get sufficient playing time, while other players, who would do poorly if they got a lot of pl
      • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @02:13PM (#45782659) Homepage Journal

        Those "second tier" players are sometime better in certain situations than the guys who excel in every situation. In addition, many "A" players only excel when they are the "star", they are not very good at doing the routine, boring, work that is needed to keep things going.

        Exactly right. We put men on the Moon with what Netflix would likely deem "mostly B players". Meanwhile they can't even figure out how to get off Silverlight on desktops, add parental controls to their Android client, or parse a valid e-mail address on their website. I bet it's because all "that shit is boring" to the self-described "A-listers".

    • by mysidia (191772) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @10:03AM (#45781663)

      Netflix isn't the first business to put all the weight on the players while ignoring the game. It doesn't matter how many A players you hire if your organization has deep structural problems. Microsoft would be a prime example.

      You need your managers and official leaders to be "A Players".

      You can't have 100% A-players; it won't scale, and your org will go broke.

      If you have a manager that really thinks they can maintain a staff of only A players in a large company; then the manager is kind of dense (definitely not an A Player)

      The exec managers are the people who definitely must be A players; vital to the success of a company

      Ergo, in that case, the current manager who thinks they can have "Only A Players" should be re-assigned to non-management or dismissed.

  • by dltaylor (7510) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:02AM (#45781191)

    I was going to try out Netflix right after the post-Christmas AV rebuild. Not now, though. I was fine with the A-only, but the "we can't (be bothered to) to find (or pay) local talent" is more than enough to offset that.

  • Bye-Bye, Netflix (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:03AM (#45781195)

    "Continuing her Scrooge-worthy tale, McCord adds that firing a once-valuable employee instead of finding another way for her to contribute yielded another aha! moment for Netflix: 'If we wanted only "A" players on our team, we had to be willing to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, no matter how valuable their contributions had once been.'"

    Sounds like the epitome of short-term planning.

    Congratulations, Netflix. Good (or not so) to know you. Really sorry to see you let it go to your head.

    • "Continuing her Scrooge-worthy tale, McCord adds that firing a once-valuable employee instead of finding another way for her to contribute yielded another aha! moment for Netflix: 'If we wanted only "A" players on our team, we had to be willing to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, no matter how valuable their contributions had once been.'"

      Sounds like the epitome of short-term planning. Congratulations, Netflix. Good (or not so) to know you. Really sorry to see you let it go to your head.

      Of course, if they only truly hire A players then their talent pool will be a worthwhile one for other companies to poach. So unless they find a way to lock in their talent so it can't leave; such as hiring foreign talent under H1B and other visa programs that restrict job mobility. Oh wait...

      You want more H1B's? Fine, but change the rules so after say 6 months they can freely quit if they have another offer? After all, if you pay market wages and offer the type of job that is worth keeping then no one will

  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:05AM (#45781197) Homepage

    Ie does it also apply to the top level of management, or does it only apply to lower level, dispensible, minions ?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:08AM (#45781207)

    Netflix has sure made some foolish decisions for a company consisting of solely 'A' players. Why did they choose VC-1 for video compression, when H.264 is better in most measurable ways (including device compatibility, image quality at a given bitrate, etc.)? Why did they announce separate disc / streaming services (Quickster), and then immediately backtrack? And the reason Reed Hastings gave for the backtrack was, “It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.” How in the flying fuck did the A-Team manage to not figure that out in the first place?

    I understand that even the best people aren't perfect, but it just doesn't add up. It seems like the mistakes they have made are simply too avoidable for them to be hiring only the "best of the best."

    • by Martin Blank (154261) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:47AM (#45781301) Journal

      I think the choice of VC-1 came because it was supported by Silverlight while H.264 was limited if present at all. VC-1 is also the protocol of choice for Blu-Ray, and the time saved simply copying the files instead of moving them to H.264 may be significant.

      They're the largest in their field and have little real competition, so they must be doing something right. They're also in the process of moving away from Silverlight, provide a primary source of more bandwidth across the Internet than perhaps any other single company (not counting CDNs like Akamai), and maintain a customer satisfaction rate that is the envy of most of the entertainment industry. The executives may need to be smacked around a little, but it's hard to argue that the company as a whole has many serious problems.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        Choosing Silverlight based on hollow hype alone is a bit of a symptom IMHO.
      • by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @08:13AM (#45781363)

        I think the choice of VC-1 came because it was supported by Silverlight while H.264 was limited if present at all. VC-1 is also the protocol of choice for Blu-Ray, and the time saved simply copying the files instead of moving them to H.264 may be significant.

        While VC-1 is part of the mandatory codecs in the BluRay standard due to very heavy lobbying by
        Microsoft at the time, I've yet to encounter a single actual disc using it. There are some of them out
        there (it is used a lot by Warner Brothers), but "of choice" VC-1 certainly isn't.

        And copying files from BDs to directly use as streaming sources? With their double-digit megabit
        per second encoding bitrates (the maximum video bitrate alone is 40MBit/s)? Absolutely not.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        They are like Yahoo used to be. Seemingly the best at what they do, but actually quite primitive and likely to be replaced by something better soon.

        • by Martin Blank (154261) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @09:22AM (#45781545) Journal

          Replacement is possible though I don't know how likely it actually is. Netflix hasn't seemed to be as content to sit back and enjoy the limelight and instead has been pushing to change how they do things and the customer experience. I don't know who can seriously challenge them; there are at least a dozen competitors, but few if any have the range of content. Maybe Amazon (and I could see them trying to buy Netflix) has the architecture and the content, but I'm not at all happy with their non-rental selection. I don't see Redbox taking over any time soon, much less any of the other competitors.

        • by mysidia (191772)

          They are like Yahoo used to be. Seemingly the best at what they do, but actually quite primitive and likely to be replaced by something better soon.

          The trouble is legal barriers to competition; required license arrangements to stream media.

  • I bet the interview includes this test [channel4.com].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:20AM (#45781225)

    Sounds like a great place to work in, when, no matter how much blood you've spilled to get the latest and greatest out the door, you can get let go the very next minute you need to cut back a little to recuperate.

    Remember kids: These kinds of people aren't interested in what you've learned or from your experience, not even from within the same company. Why? Because THEY are incompetent, and thus incapable of valuing experience, competence and knowledge. Also, they want to destroy your country for profit.

    Psychopaths tend to view life as a game. And to be grossly incompetent. Thus the need to create scapegoats out of their own failings, instead of to ensuring ownership, bringing stakeholders together, make plans together and create organic and agile processes to ensure value.

    Captcha: salesmen

  • Nasty, but true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Antonovich (1354565) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:21AM (#45781229)
    Most or all of the people on /. would have to agree with this, at least on some level. I may not, myself, be an A-player but I know that working with them is an absolute pleasure. Worth far more than free lunches or pinball machines. I'm talking about the kind of people that you are constantly learning from - new ideas, new approaches, excitement and passion for what they are doing. I firmly believe that a good (A-player) techie is worth at least 3 average ones, and possibly worth an infinity of them.

    What is an A-player though? How do you know one without working with them for a decent period? Do they have to have people skills or are they just a bonus? Do they have to have interests outside tech or are they just a bonus? I also think that the notion of an A-player is actually pretty nebulous, and overall company culture has a lot to do with whether someone will be an A-player or not in any given environment. I was offered the CTO position in a small company I worked in for several years but ended up not taking it for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones being that it would have been impossible to get rid of the D, E and even F players, due to both corporate culture and local employment laws. I am fairly certain the company will eventually die because of the lack of innovation coming out of it, and I think that is because most of the dead wood is taking salaries without contributing anything really valuable back. Then everyone will lose their job...
    • Re:Nasty, but true (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:37AM (#45781265)

      I think that the idea of ranking people on a line is meaningless, primitive penis-waving.

      There is simply no such thing as an "A player", "C player" or "F player". Different people bring in different ingredients to an organisation. As Einstein said, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it'll spend its life thinking it's thick - the flip side is that if you judge a monkey by its ability to climb a tree, it'll spend its life thinking it's a genius. An organisation needs swimmers and it needs climbers. A good coder can make for a mediocre architect, and vice versa. The marketing department would have a tough time with a command line, but you put the best software project manager in marketing and they produce laughable, amateurish crap (no matter how great they think it is). This reflects not just experience but a variation in underlying abilities.

      I've found lots of people a pleasure to work with, and in each case they've had a different skill, but in every case they're honest and co-operative. Indeed, a skilled person without ethical values is more detrimental to an organisation than an ethical person without skills - it's much easier to teach skills than values - though a good employee must have both.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by npetrov (1170273)
        There is such a thing as "A player", "B player" "C player" and so on. Some people are simply much more productive at the same tasks and coincidentally have other extracurricular tasks which are a superset of "lower level" players. As the parent noted an A player is easily worth 3-4 B or C players. And he has the same productivity difference as well.
  • by swb (14022) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:36AM (#45781257)

    For some reason, I think GE had a similar management philosophy tied to the process improvement system Six Sigma. I think the idea was that you fired the bottom 10%(?) of your work force every year, regardless of their absolute performance.

    I can't see how this or any other similar system is sustainable, though. There are a lot of transaction costs with hiring new employees; at some point the overall cost of termination and hiring will exceed the differential value of a better employee.

    You probably can't do this without statistics and it's not hard to see management and employees quickly learning to work towards statistics rather than results, as well as eliminating creative risk taking. Look at business as an example -- Wall Street is the ultimate version of this and corporations have devoted a lot of time and energy into managing to Wall Street numbers instead of other, longer-term goals that don't deliver the "numbers" in the expected timeline.

    I would also think a culture like this would become quite ruthless and unpleasant, with "getting rid of people" becoming a goal and kill a lot of organizational enthusiasm if you spent a lot of time worrying about being gotten rid of.

    On the other hand, they are probably trying to deal with real problems -- people who are just good enough to not get fired, and people who "rest on their laurels" after some accomplishment and stop contributing in a meaningful way, although management is often complicit in this by promoting people into mediocrity.

    • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:56AM (#45781327)

      people who are just good enough to not get fired

      You swap that problem with people who are actively working on not being fired (eg. spending a lot of time on attention seeking behaviour) instead of whatever job they are supposed to do. I've seen that and it was a horrible environment full of backstabbing and arse kissing with a vast amount of time spent on meetings where the only purpose was to be noticed by as high a level of manager as could be dragged to them.

    • by jafac (1449)

      "Rank and yank" really has NOTHING to do with Six Sigma. The two (separate) practices just seem to occur together, frequently, in large organizations. Six Sigma is about complicated processes, and does require workers who have been "indoctrinated", and who care to learn about more than their basic job. It's more skill-demanding, on employees. But more often, it's used as a buzzword-bandaid on a broken corporate culture. (as is "rank and yank"). Six Sigma is not for all organizations, but it CAN be done

  • by Calibax (151875) * on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:43AM (#45781283)

    Here's the problem. Grade A people expect to do grade A work. In almost every organization there is a ton of work that doesn't fit into this category but still needs attention. Code gets old and has to be updated, and there's a ton of work that doesn't require the brightest and best but still has to be done.

    Now the grade A people don't want to know that. They want to work on the sexy new stuff that makes them look like the superstars they are. They might put up with maintenance coding for a while, but they won't stay there. They will want to move to better things, and if they can't they will move to another company - and because they are grade A, they can do that with relative ease.

    Google used to have the same issue with a grade A requirement, and they found that products stayed in beta for years as a result of engineers moving on when the interesting parts of the code was done. They even had to cancel some products because they couldn't get engineering resources that wanted to work on them. So they lowered their standards a little and things improved somewhat.

    By the way, I'm not knocking maintenance programming - that's often difficult work. Maintenance guys have to come up to speed quickly on systems they never wrote and then make the code do things it was never designed to do, and finish it in an impossible short deadline, because it's "only" maintenance. But it's not sexy enough for most grade A folks.

    • Indeed. Check out Brave New World, the "Cyprus experiment" (or something, it has been a while).

  • What's there to be worried about? If you make wise decisions despite ambiguity, identify root causes, think strategically, smartly prioritize, perfectly understand others, speak and write in an articulate yet concise fashion, treat people with unfaltering respect no matter what, never lose your calm, accomplish amazing amounts of important work consistently, somehow focus on great results without thinking about how to do so, are fluent in meaningless buzzwords, learn rapidly and eagerly, know everything and
    • Oh, and here's the obligatory Onion video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyViKby7lX8 [youtube.com]
    • You can't do anything new and stay as an "A player". Solving problems or learning new skills means less output in the short term than just sticking to a standard operating procedure. In the long term if you have nothing but people good at doing the standard operating procedures then you have nobody that can devise the new ones. Either the place with this stupidity stagnates, you call in consultants or you poach from places with a better procedures and get them to parrot what is done in the other place.
      Th
  • Had an "A player" right here. Cut corners everywhere so he'd finish quickly to look like a miracle worker, found other people to blame when the inevitable problems arose from that, then fucked off to a high paying contract in Saudi Arabia before it was obvious to everyone that he wasn't pulling his weight. People who present well and tick all the boxes can sometimes be too good to be true.
    • by Aighearach (97333)

      I think it means somebody on the lowest level of professional baseball team. A, AA, AAA, Major League

  • by sonamchauhan (587356) <sonamc@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @07:54AM (#45781315) Journal

    From the article:

    The second conversation took place in 2002, a few months after our IPO. Laura, our bookkeeper, was bright, hardworking, and creative. She’d been very important to our early growth, having devised a system for accurately tracking movie rentals so that we could pay the correct royalties. But now, as a public company, we needed CPAs and other fully credentialed, deeply experienced accounting professionals—and Laura had only an associate’s degree from a community college. Despite her work ethic, her track record, and the fact that we all really liked her, her skills were no longer adequate. Some of us talked about jury-rigging a new role for her, but we decided that wouldn’t be right.

    So I sat down with Laura and explained the situation—and said that in light of her spectacular service, we would give her a spectacular severance package. I’d braced myself for tears or histrionics, but Laura reacted well
    [...]

    [Talking about another employee that no longer 'fit']

    Give her a great severance package—which, when she signs the documents, will dramatically reduce (if not eliminate) the chance of a lawsuit.”

    Folks - remember the snippets above in your dealings with any company. This is the nature of the employer-employee contract these days.

    A spectacular severance supposedly balances out any disquiet at 'pump-and-dump' treatment of employees. Of course, "spectacular" may mean they pay $4,000 instead of $2,330.02 legally due - i.e. 200% of something which probably won't get you very far in the first place. And 'extra' documents they have you sign as a quid pro quo, also sign away review rights regarding unfair dismissal, etc.

    Everyone working for someone - and I mean everyone - needs a backup plan to create wealth. Not an MLM - something where you get paid to create actual value. This could be selling cupcakes off your Facebook page, freelancing on guru.com, selling artwork on odesk.com, tutoring math classes, mowing lawns... Even if you make only $10/month, its a skill kept sharp for when you really need to depend on that next arrow in your quiver.

    Before doing this, check your work contract - and speak with your attorney. Many jobs - specially IT roles - have a catchall 'all your efforts/patents/ideas/code belong to us' clause. Even for what you do on your own time and dime. Such clauses may or may not be lawful.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @08:07AM (#45781349)

    Most companies which want "A" talent seem to offer "C" pay. If anyone offers "A" pay, they'll get "A" people applying.

  • by retroworks (652802) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @08:16AM (#45781379) Homepage Journal

    #1 Regret is "Refusing to admit #2". Those 2 old rules (most common regrets of CEOs) take Netflix's Executive a 127 slide show to present. I think slide #21 and slide #25 say that, and are the only relevant slides out of the first 40.

    Then she says some pretty interesting things in slides 45-50 about the way growing companies tend to favor more rules which compromise creative talent, which I find pretty insightful. The "vacation policy" (if you don't track "hourly" pay, why track "vacation days"?) is interesting. Professional sports analogies are good, but pretty common - nothing "Netflixy" about them. There are probably 25 good slides in there. Not bad, but nothing irreplaceable.

    Is she fired?

  • by sandbagger (654585) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @11:00AM (#45781853)

    After a few years, once the code base gets creaky, you want to keep people who know why things were made that way to be around so you don't accidentally unplug something.

    This also applies to other sectors. A salesman who is not making his numbers now may be back to making his numbers in a stellar way in a few quarters. Why? Some sales take a log time to bring home. On some products you only get a kick at the can every two or three years when a new vice-president is brought into a division and does the 'change shows I'm doing something' thing.

    This strikes me as the babble of a guy in consumer products where the sales cycle is short and the emphasis is high volume. In enterprise products, or in products where you're building something that needs to hang around for a few years like aircraft, bridges, enterprise grade software deployments where if you fuck something up, it's not a tech support call that comes in it's a phone call saying 'I want someone from your team in my office to-morrow to explain the service disruption to my lawyers.'

    He can talk this way because his products are not in any place where a long game needs to be played.

  • Writing on the wall (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @11:43AM (#45782023)

    I'm a bleeding-heart liberal from Scandinavia, but I'm in full agreement with the HR manager. Or, more to the point, I believe businesses should be run as profit-making machines and shouldn't have any ulterior motives. If society only needs the top 10% to contribute, so be it.

    The problem comes in when we couple a person's worth with their job. America, especially, should understand that unemployed people are not lazy, up-to-no.good misfits. Wage labor may not be the cornerstone of a person's livelihood in the future, but we need to be prepared for a society where the majority of the people don't have anything useful to contribute. Yes, that may necessitate a shift to a much more socialistic system with steeply progressive including negative taxation (call it citizen dividend, if you will). If "advanced tax planning" makes steep enough progression impossible to implement, a move to a wholesale communism might be called for.

  • by Baldrson (78598) * on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @12:10PM (#45782139) Homepage Journal
    The network effect creates unearned profits. Unearned profits == inefficient market. An inefficient market will result in parasites showing up to exploit the margins.

    The reason you have companies like Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft (and to a lesser degree Google) determining immigration policy is that they enjoy a network effect subsidy and there are cultures out there that have been so long without any kind of a frontier that they have evolved very sophisticated parasites.

    If you want an efficient market, distribute network effect profits as citizen's dividends. Network effect profits can be extracted from the economy by shifting the tax base away from economic activity and toward liquidation value of assets. [blogspot.com]

    Once the citizens realize that every immigrant is a dilution of the value of citizenship, immigration reform will be more rational.

  • by JoshWurzel (320371) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @01:11PM (#45782375) Homepage

    I'm seeing a lot of posts spouting the idea that 'A' players come with a lot of trade-offs. That's incorrect. Those posters are thinking of prima donnas.

    Think about it like this: Are you an 'A' student if you got a perfect score on your math test and a zero on your history test? No. You're just good at math.

    True 'A' players are hard to find. But they aren't unicorns. A true 'A' player has the following qualities:
    -technical competence
    -creative
    -detail oriented: your creative solution isn't finished until the detail work is complete.
    -cross-functional diplomatic skills, and at least a superficial understanding of the work that people around him do.
    -quick learner
    -able to prioritize tasks
    -positive attitude
    -executes quickly & effectively (aka "works smart, not hard")
    -can handle the bureaucracy of your work environment (startup/megacorp/whatever)

    That probably sounds like a lot to ask of one person, but people with this list of skills exist. They just take a bit longer to find and its admittedly tough to identify them all in an interview.

    Maybe you don't have all those skills yourself. That's ok. But it means that if I hire you, I have to hire other people to get those skills. Netflix has decided that its worth their time to look for the whole package.

    • by ApplePy (2703131)

      Trouble is... if you try to tell a prospective employer that you have all those skills, they think you are either full of shit, or you threaten the jobs/self-esteem of the people interviewing you.

There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when you do it reluctantly. -- Publius Terentius Afer (Terence)

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