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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 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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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) 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 ajdlinux (913987) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @08:02AM (#45781331) Homepage Journal
    Well, "ex-Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord"...
  • 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.

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

    by jythie (914043) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @09:26AM (#45781553)
    Oddly enough, many actually are caught in a dating quagmire. There are certain tiers in the modeling world, if you are above a certain level (too exotic for non-elites) but below the level where you are integrated with the elite culture, they kinda end up in a bit of a dateless limbo that only really ends if their career picks up or fails.
  • by ThePhilips (752041) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @09:32AM (#45781571) Homepage Journal

    My gig is hardware crypto, but it wouldn't be worth anything if I didn't make it work [...]

    Nothing personal.

    Way too often I have seen the following. A cool high-paid consultants comes in, swarmed with managers, lots of buzzwords flying around, and he "makes it work". The "it" being what he/she was hired to do. Shortly after they're gone, the people who work on the system long term find that the "it" works - but the rest of the project is broken, sometimes irreversibly.

    Like a quite recent example. There were (perceived) performance problems with the transaction logic: people wanted more TPS, but the software simply couldn't deliver. Managers have invited cool specialist who "fixed" it in record time of one week. Only later, when customers started complaining about inconsistencies in the DB, people took closer look at what he did. His solution turned out to be to simply bypass the transactions completely (AKA rather run multiple actions in parallel in different transactions). And guess what: the consultant still has a perfect record with the managers. Proper solution was to give the full-time developers time/money to comb the software for performance problems and optimize what's possible to. But that can't be done in a week time. Neither would earn any "glory" since that is a mundane work, not a silver bullet solution where in a week you magically double performance.

  • 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 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 @11:13AM (#45781915)

    This. Results are what matters.

    I don't employ anyone, but if I did, I can tell you that it doesn't matter to me one bit whether you do the drudge work yourself. If you're responsible for making the project work, and you're willing and able to do to whatever you need to ship, then you're worth your weight in gold.

    If the deadline arrives and you give me a half-finished pile of well-designed code that doesn't do shit, well...

  • 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 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.

  • Re:this is like (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @02:29PM (#45782747)

    Netflix is like any large enough companies. There are some groups/dept that are innovative and carry the entire company, the rest are there to benefit from the other group/dept's work.

    I've worked at Netflix, and most of the company is highly political. Because of their hire/fire policy, the people who have been there long enough learned to form political connections to keep their job. It's no longer how well you contribute, but who you know that can CYA while you CTA. These people watch out for each other and protect each other's job. Sad, but understandable.

    I watched an entire group of supposedly experienced sysadmins/devops/whatever who can not make the open sourced OpenStack work, so they hired an external consulting firm to set it up for them.

    There is/are a few groups/dept, mostly on the cloud engineering side who are doing most of the innovative work. But even there, some of the political culture seeped through and infected them. Mostly the ones who have been there long enough. So maybe it is good for them to hire and fire so much, to keep things fresh. Keep churning and not letting their employees get infected by the political culture.

  • Re:this is like (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CrankyFool (680025) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @02:49PM (#45782839)

    Except that Netflix stays the hell away from stack ranking because it's mind-bogglingly stupid.

    If we believe we (yes, "we." I work at Netflix) try to hire only top performers, it would actually make perfect sense that your whole team is doing great. There's no reason to artificially say that someone is doing poorly.

    (Netflix reviews, BTW, are non-anonymous; anyone can review you; there's no requirement that anyone review anyone; and there's no scoring, just one text box for feedback. They're also separated by about four months from salary decisions because reviews are not meant to be related to salary)

  • Re: this is like (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cmburns69 (169686) on Wednesday December 25, 2013 @10:45PM (#45785293) Homepage Journal

    Disclaimer: I work for a streaming company.

    The reason Netflix offers b movies and lesser-quality TV is because of the fee they charge. It's economically impossible to charge such a low subscription and provide higher quality content.

    In other words, I can tell you that better streaming services are coming, but they'll cost more too.

  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @01:33AM (#45786043) Journal

    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 do not even have any idea what they are looking for.

    It's so very easy to say "I look for 'A'" but often they end up with people who may have a pretty resume but ain't those who will do things ON THEIR OWN without being told to.

    Even the startups that I invest in I look for self-starters.

    People may have really cool ideas but if they are NOT of the self-start type, ideas will forever stay IDEAS, and will never become a reality.

  • Re:this is like (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @09:40AM (#45787237)

    ". However over time those "A-players" with excellent skills become lazy and sloppy, because of the mediocre environment that surrounds them."

    Uh. Part of the definition of an A-player is they're self motivated and willing to extend themselves vigorously into every task. They also want enough authority to *seek consensus to make changes* rather than wait for the next todo list to be issued by their idiot manager.

    So no, it's not their B-player team that is dragging them down.

    In fact, the environments I have been in which everyone was an A-Player or acted like one, or felt they had to act like one were the WORST for actual resultant productivity because the people who survive those environments aren't the A-iest of A-Players, they're the most devious, withholding, backstabbing and politically savvy of the assembled A-Players who have as their constant targets their nearest rivals.

    Malcom Galdwell has a great article about this phenomena of anti-productivity that results from super competitive environments in exclusive universities. The upshot is that a lot of our most talented people QUIT their fields - to our everlasting detriment- because in hyper competitive environments they feel disoriented, diminished, inadequate, undermined and unsupported, especially since they tend to come from supportive high schools which want them to excel.

    In Netflix case, there's also a huge amount of disingenuity built into the argument. Claims of "desperate labor shortages" and "inadequate pool of qualified candidates" for tech jobs is literally the oldest trick in the book to flood the market with labor and drive down prices for labor. Netflix is just a fucking liar. Believe it or not, they did the same thing with sous chefs in the 80-s and 90s they ALWAYS do the same thing whenever anyone in the middle class starts threatening to partake of the profits. They go to Congress and say "eh, this whole free market thing really sucks, who wants to pay according to supply and demand? We need to up supply- a lot. Give us another 20 million work visas. Here's your reelection cash. Same arrangement as last time. Thanks"

    This is the eternal narcissism of the CEO, whose employment picture will never be anywhere as volatile- irrespective of his performance or the pool of qualified candidates who could do his job better than he does at 1/5 the cost to the company. This basically is the degenerate thinking of some guy who walks around with two people behind him holding up the train of his cape.

    So what's the take away lesson? Don't apply to Netflix, for sure. Also, drop Netflix if you hate companies with abusive labor practices. "Use We only hire A Players ! " notices on jobs as code for "Do Not Apply" and "no thanks" to headhunters. f you're an A-Player Seek seek small company environments that say yes to initiative and are grateful for your efforts. If you're this type of person, you know there is no higher high than making cool shit people love.

     

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