Netflix unusual culture hits front page of The Wall Street Journal!


Yesterday I wrote a blog post about the culture of Netflix, which is described in lengthy detail on their jobs page. And I wrote that post before I read The Wall Street Journal that morning. A big mistake, because Netflix made the front page of the Journal yesterday!

Typically tech companies crow about getting coverage in the Journal as I did a few times, including one article about SmartWorlds that even included an original cartoon. Both my partner and I neglected to buy the original art, which I regret to this day.. But in the case of Netflix as you can tell from the title and subtitles of the Journal article by Shalini Ramachandran and Joe Flint that the coverage us far from positive: At Netflix, Radical Transparency and Blunt Firings Unsettle the Ranks, sub-titled Buzzwords and anxiety fill the hallways as Hollywood giant tries to maintain a winning culture amid breakneck growth; ‘sunshining’ the ‘N-word’ scandal, This is a very, very long article which I don’t recommend you reading unless you are stuck in airport with no Wi-Fi and nothing else to read – which contravenes one of my business practice of always having something worthwhile to read. Here are the highlights:

Incredible sensitivity to language

Mr. Hastings had recently fired his chief communications officer for saying the “N-word” in full form. The executive, who is white, was attempting to make an emphatic point during a meeting about offensive words in comedy programming and said the slur wasn’t directed at anyone.

Netflix culture, at its worst, can also be ruthless, demoralizing and transparent to the point of dysfunctional.

The keeper test

… asking themselves whether they would fight to keep a given employee—a mantra for firing people who don’t fit the culture and ensuring only the strongest survive. Some managers say they feel pressure to fire people or risk looking soft.

Culture is similar to Bridgewater Associates

Netflix’s culture shares traits with other workplaces that encourage openness, such as hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. Their CEO, Ray Dallo, has even written an entire book on Bridgewater’s culture and management style, Principles: Life and Work.

The culture can come off as being cutthroat

Netflix posted a YouTube video recently to address the company’s culture. “I think we’re transparent to a fault in our culture and that can come across as cutthroat,” said Walta Nemariam, an employee in talent acquisition at Netflix, in the video.

Fear as a driver of employee behavior

“I think some people felt it was a culture of fear,” said Barbie Brewer, a former Netflix vice president of talent who left last year.  “Good, because fear drives you,” Ms. Barragan said, according to people familiar with the meeting. The firings can be insensitive, several former employees said.

Once people are fired, Netflix believes in explaining the reasons. The emails about firings can reach hundreds of employees across multiple divisions and can be painfully specific, calling out an employee’s flaws, while inviting more questions and gossip, many employees say.

360 reviews

Anyone can review any other employee, from the administrative assistants all the way up to Mr. Hastings himself, and many senior executives choose to share the feedback they receive with everyone on their teams.

Brandon Welch, a Netflix talent executive who left in 2016, said that the pressure to give and receive feedback was the “hardest part about the culture.”

The Wall Street Journal spoke with more than 70 current and former employees for this article, which is peppered by stories exemplifying Netflix culture, both pro and con. But the article is not 100% stories, The Journal also provides some excellent benchmarking statistics on employee turnover and happiness. Take note of the caption to this graph:

happy but fearful

There are over a half dozen book about Netflix for sale on Amazon, as its unique culture, coupled with worldwide success, has attracted both authors and publishers. So starting with this Journal there is plenty read about if you find Netflix so fascinating you have to drop reading something that may be more germane to your venture. Keep in mind, your time is a fixed resource and thus what you read or watch or listen to is a zero-sum game. I suggest you allocate some percentage to reading about business and technology while leaving some time for reading as entertainment. And, by the way, Netflix’s vision is bringing entertainment to people, thought I doubt that they expected their own company to be found so entertaining.


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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