Netflix culture: setting standards in Silicon Valley


Posted by Carolyn Taylor - 14 November, 2009

Netflix are one of the more successful companies to emerge from Silicon Valley in the past ten years. They are now the largest provider of online DVD rentals.

About 3 months ago, a presentation which described their 'Freedom and Responsibility' culture started doing the rounds of the social media sites. It is one of most compelling presentations of its kind I have seen. Here it is. It combines values, with behaviors described in a very practical form, with company policies on issues like performance, with a simple description of culture and why it is important.

During a visit to the Bay area last week, I was told by people in three separate companies that they were feeling pressure as a result of the on-line presence of this presentation. Their board or executive were demanding why their company did not

a) have a presentation of this quality and

b) meet some of the standards Netflix describes as their cultural expectations.

Because of the age of most companies in the Valley - Netflix at 10 years old is considered mature - taking time to consider the issue of culture and leadership is a recent priority. Such a public communication of cultural intent introduces a new level of competitive threat to attacting and keeping the best talent. I have not found out yet whether the presenttion was posted by Netflix themselves, or someone else.

I want to highlight two learnings from this
1. If your story is a good one and true - my understanding is that Netflix does walk the talk - culture can be a competitive advantage which is hard to replicate. But in the days of social media the risks of too much talk and not enough action are equally great.
2. Be yourself. A company needs to build a set of cultural standards that are really their own. You are not Netflix, who are you? Companies only get to this level of truth when their leaders build the willingnesss, courage and self-awareness to find the answer to this question. Copying, or 'going through the motions' really shows. Part of the power of the Netflix presentation is that it reads true and original.

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Topics: Leadership, Learning

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