Monday, January 22, 2018

Book Notes - Powerful, Patti McCord

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, Patti McCord
Patti McCord helped create the Netflix Culture Guide, one of the most significant documents to come out of Silicon Valley. It's an incredible read on Netflix values and how that translates to employees. Lots of insights in building high performance teams. If you are in any position of leading people, it is well worth the read. The book is an even better deep dive if you have read the Culture Guide.
Here is my radical proposition: a business leader's job is to create great teams that do amazing work on time. That's it. That's the job of management.

The most important thing to understand about transforming a culture, whether that of a team or a whole company, is that 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 were so intent that every single employee understand our philosophy and the behaviors we wanted them to execute on that Reed started writing a PowerPoint about them, which I and many other members of the management team also contributed to. It ultimately became known as the Netflix Culture Deck. You may have read it.

At new employee college, as we started the proceedings, we'd say to the participants, "You will take out of this day what you put into it. If you don't ask questions, you won't get answers." I look back now and realize that this was crucial early stage-setting for the success of the company. It gave people at all levels license to freely ask for clarification, whether about something they were expected to do or about a decision made by management. Not only did this mean they were better informed, but over time it instilled throughout the company a culture of curiosity.

One of the most important insights anyone in business can have is that it's not cruel to tell people the truth respectfully and honestly. To the contrary, being transparent and telling people what they need to hear is the only way to ensure they both trust you and understand you.
The conventional thinking is that if you allow people to be anonymous, they will be more truthful. In my experience, that's not the case. Truthful people are truthful in everything they do. And if you don't know who is giving you feedback, how can you put their comments into the context of the work they're doing, who their manager is, and what kind of employee they are? Perhaps the worst problem with anonymous surveys, though, is that they send the message that it's best to be most honest when people don't know who you are.
In my experience, one of the most important questions business leaders must regularly ask is "Are we limited by the team we have not being the team we should have?"

An essential question is, do you have enough capacity builders? By which I mean people who know how to build a great team.

One reason Reed and I started using the "team not family" metaphor was that as the company kept changing, we saw that nostalgia for the good old scrappy day was a powerful force of resistance.

People's happiness in their work is not about gourmet salads or sleeping pods or foosball tables. True and abiding happiness in work comes from being deeply engaged in solving a problem with talented people you know are also deeply engaged in solving it, and from knowing that the customer loves the product or service you all have worked so hard to make.

But certain fundamentals should be strictly enforced. I set an ironclad rule that if anyone saw a stranger sitting by themselves waiting for an interview, they should stop and say, "Hi, I'm ____. Who are you? Are you here for an interview? Who are you waiting for? Let's take a look at your schedule for today and I'll help you find the next person." I know the message was heard loud and clear because if I was ever late coming to meet with a candidate, and I said, "Sorry, I hope someone talked to you," they'd say, "Six people talked to me."

Our goal was for every single person who came in for an interview to walk away wanting the job, even if we hated them. We wanted them to think, Wow, that was an incredible experience. It was efficient, it was effective, it was on time, the questions were relevant, people were smart, and I was treated with dignity. I would tell people, "Even if this person isn't the right fit, we might love their next-door neighbor."

In my experience, if you focus intently on hiring the best people you can find and pay top dollar, you will almost always find that they make up much more in business growth than the difference in compensation.

One reason that sports team analogy is so helpful in managing people is that everyone readily understands that coaches are letting the rest of the team and the fans down if they don't replace players who aren't producing top performance. Winning games is the only measure of success for sports teams, which is why it's not just players but coaches too who are replace readily on top-performing teams.

In my experience, people sue their former employers because they think they've been treated unfairly. But that's not because they weren't put on an improvement plan. It's generally because they weren't told the truth when they should have been about their performance or their fit. I've found that generally if people are mad enough to sue, there was a point when somebody should have told them, "You know, you're being a jerk! You're making us crazy! We're not going to want you around anymore if you keep treating people like that."

The irony of the PIP being used as a means to avoid being sued is that it actually fans the flames of resentment, all because of the fear of being honest.

People often come up to me after a talk to ask for career guidance. I tell them, "You want to be a lifelong learner; you want to always be acquiring new skills and having new experiences; and that doesn't have to be at the same company. The fact is that sometimes you're hired by a company to do something, and then you do it and it's done. If I hire people to rebuild my garage, when they're done I don't need them to rebuild the back of my house."

I tell managers to use a simple rule when evaluating their teams, which I call an algorithm because engineers love the word, and I love engineers: is what this person loves to do, that they're extraordinarily good at doing, something we need someone to be great at?

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