Interview

Patty McCord

Former Chief Talent Officer Netflix


Patty McCord is one of the human resources’ industry titans. McCord is a genuine trailblazer, who for years has continuously innovated the way in which companies work internally, from the smallest startups to the largest corporations. Her time as Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer saw her revolutionize the way that they empowered employees and fostered a culture of freedom and responsibility for those that worked there. As one of the preeminent voices on culture in the workplace, it is only wise to take the time and listen to her thoughts on culture today and what it should look like tomorrow.


Ultimately, you want people to be proud to have worked there.

What is organizational culture to you? I'm very anthropological about it. It is like if you were finding a civilization, that was lost to the world, what would you want to know? What are the stories, the legends? How do people operate with each other? What are the informal structures of communication? I'm very much about describing culture as a series of behaviors. I find it most clear at the behaviors of the top levels of the team. How do your executives behave? I worked with a CEO one time. He told me that he wanted an efficient company, disciplined and a well oiled machine. I said, "well, then you need to start showing up on time, because you are too late to every company meeting". That's how the real culture is shaped, in behaviors. For me that is also a really important part of the culture that gets neglected because sometimes we focus so much on happiness or perks, on things that now, since we are working remote, seem frivolous like an office bar.

How to build a culture and how to maintain and scale it while growing? It is just not possible to not have a culture and you don't ever get to keep it the same when you go from startup to scaleup. It's going to change as you get bigger. Make sure you keep your core operational values,the way you treat each other, the kind of company you want to be known for and the kind of company you want to be from. Ultimately, you want people to be proud to have worked there.

Patty McCord

Former Netflix Chief Talent Officer Co-creator of the famous Netflix Culture Deck Author of "Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility"

How to hire for culture?

It is just not possible to not have a culture and you don't ever get to keep it the same when you go from startup to scaleup

There must be a discipline around paying attention to culture. What I find is that companies spend a lot of time on it at the beginning because they think it's really important and they try to define, what's fun about their early exciting startup. After a while, the business takes over, they stop paying attention to it and then they are surprised when the culture has changed. So it's a matter of spending time with the leadership team, at least a couple of times a year, revisiting it. Have we changed? What's different? What's working and what's not?

Besides, the most important thing you can do to bolster your culture is to have people understand how the business works. Help people understand the business instead of simply setting rules.

How can you build a strong culture internationally, when you open multiple offices in different countries with different cultures? As you grow you have to start thinking about the heartbeat of communication. Things need to change if you can’t stand on a chair anymore and reach everyone. Think about what it is you're communicating and on what frequency. In an international company communication will always be an issue, for example, at Netflix we were never in the same time zone.

Now there's a need for people to know more clearly, where are we going? What do I really want people to hear? I want them to hear the five most important things that we're doing in what order, and the five things we're not going to do. There is a difference between a strategy and a plan. A plan is what you're going to do, strategies are what you're going to choose not to do. Under all of this, the unifying message is the customer: what are you trying to achieve for the customer? So everybody everywhere in the world can line up with your customer or what it is your company has set out to do. That’s the one thing that should transfer across any time zone, against any language and any cultural difference.

Help people understand the business instead of simply setting rules.
You're not going to have a diverse workforce, unless you hire one.

How can you maintain a strong culture while working remotely? Lack of control scares the hell out of leaders. We have to stop trying to control everyone, because you realize now that to show up doesn’t necessarily mean put out. We are learning a ton about how we rethink work because we were forced to do it now. Annual performance reviews, all those policies and procedures, constant asking of permission, what does all that matter now? I would suggest that what you should do is experiment with things and stop doing things that don't matter. Right now we're all in this great experiment.

Did your vision change due to the current situation we’re facing, referring to the pandemic and black lives matter movement? Everything has changed so quickly. Times of rapid change and adversity bring about the biggest changes. With the black lives matter movement here, I'm paying a lot more attention to when I look at photographs and see faces. I check how many people of color I see. I'm wonderfully, horribly humbly surprised at the whole diversity and inclusion stuff that we've been doing for the last five or 10 years that now we're realizing that's all we've been doing? You're not going to have a diverse workforce, unless you hire one.You're not going to have diversity in your leadership team, unless you realize that qualified candidates are sitting in front of you. Look at who gets promoted and who gets attention and who gets access and all of those things where we give a lot of lip service to it. Let's not go back, let's go forward and let's use these lessons to do something differently.

It's perfectly okay to stand up in front of your company and say: "hey, by the way, we noticed some behavior that's wrong"

How transparent should a company be about their performance when they’re going through a rough period? Be absolutely transparent. If you hire smart people and don't hire people who aren't smart, then of course you can be transparent with them about the business. If you have to lay people off, they're not going to like it, but at least they won't be surprised. And don't be afraid that they will leave. The people who believe in you will stay.

What question about culture would you enjoy answering, because a lot of scale-up leaders will benefit from this knowledge? The most important thing you can do is to pay attention to your culture. If something goes badly it is because the leader did not pay attention to it. It's perfectly okay to stand up in front of your company and say: "hey, by the way, we noticed some behavior that's wrong". We want to figure out how to make that not happen. Be practical, spend time everyday comparing what you say with what you do. Once a week, maybe twice, ask would we do that if we started over, what's the problem we're trying to solve.If I started over, would I use that to solve the problem?

The people who believe in you will stay.

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