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How Netflix Ticks: Five Key Insights From the Company’s New Corporate Culture Manifesto

Netflix had long been famous for its “freedom & responsibility” slide deck, which the company first published in 2009 as a way to communicate its corporate values to potential and existing employees. This week, Netflix published a major update, replacing more than a hundred PowerPoint slides with a more succinct text document.

The update includes some key additions around issues like diversity and family leave, but it also offers fascinating insights into how Netflix works internally, and how the company’s unusual corporate culture helped it to grow to an entertainment industry juggernaut with more than 100 million subscribers worldwide.

Here are five key insights:

Netflix is not a Silicon Valley playground

Netflix’s office may be close to other tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo as well as countless other start-ups, but the company couldn’t be more different in the way it’s thinking about perks and campus culture. There are no giant slides at Netflix’s office, no spontaneous ultimate frisbee tournaments and no Burning Man tributes. From the corporate culture document:

“Our version of the great workplace is not comprised of sushi lunches, great gyms, big offices, or frequent parties. Our version of the great workplace is a dream team in pursuit of ambitious common goals, for which we spend heavily.”

In other words: Netflix may be a bit boring, but it aims to treat its employees like grown-ups.

Netflix doesn’t want any bros

At a time when sexism and other ruthless behavior in the tech industry is in the headlines, Netflix is repeating its long-standing commitment to not hire jerks: “On a dream team, there are no ‘brilliant jerks.’ The cost to teamwork is just too high. Our view is that brilliant people are also capable of decent human interactions, and we insist upon that.”

The company’s corporate culture principles also received a significant update to include a commitment to diversity and inclusion, asking current and potential employees to be “curious about how our different backgrounds affect us at work, rather than pretending they don’t affect us.” “You recognize we all have biases, and work to grow past them,” the document continues. “You intervene if someone else is being marginalized.”

Netflix only keeps the best

Netflix has long pushed managers only to keep their best employees. The company’s culture document puts it this way:

“We focus on managers’ judgment through the ‘keeper test’ for each of their people: if one of the members of the team was thinking of leaving for another firm, would the manager try hard to keep them from leaving? Those that do not pass the keeper test (i.e. their manager would not fight to keep them) are promptly and respectfully given a generous severance package.”

Of course, this also means that Netflix is a high-pressure environment. The document acknowledges that it gives seasoned employees some leeway — everyone will have a slump some time. But there always seems to be a sense that your job could come to an end sooner rather than later. So get along, but don’t get too attached. Netflix is not your family. As the document puts it:

“We model ourselves on being a team, not a family. A family is about unconditional love, despite your siblings’ unusual behavior. A dream team is about pushing yourself to be the best teammate you can be, caring intensely about your teammates, and knowing that you may not be on the team forever.”

Netflix doesn’t limit expenses or vacation time

One of the most famous tidbits about Netflix’s corporate culture is that the company doesn’t limit vacation time, instead leaving it to each employee to take as much time as they need, but also asking them to put in extra hours when necessary. “Frankly, we intermix work and personal time quite a bit, doing email at odd hours, taking off weekday afternoons for kids’ games, etc.”

In this updated document, Netflix emphasizes that the same goes for paid parental leave: “New parents are encouraged to take whatever time they feel is right in the first year, which they generally aren’t sure of until a few months after the baby arrives.”

The company also doesn’t keep any policies on reimbursed expenses, instead appealing to employees to be reasonable. The same goes for the dress code: “We also don’t have a clothing policy, but no one has come to work naked; you don’t need policies for everything.”

Netflix is a bit weird

Speaking of coming to work naked: Netflix’s corporate document makes it clear that the company is still a bit of an oddball, even with a hundred million-plus customers worldwide. Not all-out-crazy, but in that slightly nerdy, laugh at your own jokes kind of way that makes the CEO wear tacky Christmas sweaters while commenting on the latest quarterly earnings in front of a camera.

Case in point: Netflix’s new culture document ends with the following lines from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

If you want to build a ship,
don’t drum up the people
to gather wood, divide the
work, and give orders.

Instead, teach them to yearn
for the vast and endless sea.

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