4 HR and Cultural Practices to Learn from Netflix

WinMax Blog Team

15 June 2023

Netflix has become one of the staples of modern culture, and it is hard to find someone who is not at least vaguely familiar with that name. It is a go-to for people when they feel bored, upset, or just plain neutral. After all, what is more fulfilling than cozying up on the couch, watching your favorite show after a long day at work or school? Or, what is more exciting than finally getting around to watching that show that your colleagues have been blabbering about for the past month-and-a-half?

Netflix is present in more than 190 countries, bragging over 220 million active users. This begs the question: how does Netflix manage to stay on top of its game and, more crucially, how does it handle this tremendous increase in its size? Of course, there is no single secret ingredient to this Netflix success, but there is one that certainly stands out – HR and culture.

So, in this blog, we will discuss the key HR and cultural approaches that have made Netflix what it is today.

HR and Cultural Strategies to Learn from Netflix:

1)    Emphasis on Common Sense and Pattern Recognition:

Patty McCord, the former CTO (Chief Talent Officer) at Netflix, says that she tries to identify patterns when making new hires. By taking note of the behavior and performance of the people she had hired, she was better able to gradually improve her judgment calls. Patty also feels that common sense is a key factor in HR: this means, making decisions that not only benefit you, but are in the best interest of your organization and the customers that you serve.

2)    Creating the Dream Team:

Belonging to a ‘dream team’ is a source of tremendous satisfaction and pride. At Netflix, the definition of an ideal workplace does not include luxurious offices, sophisticated gyms, and frequent parties. Instead, Netflix employees believe that the perfect workplace consists of a dream team working together to achieve common goals and milestones.

Teamwork can help improve creativity, learning, initiative, planning, efficiency, expertise, morale, and the quality of customer service being provided. At the same time, it can create a sense of belonging and ownership, motivate employees, improved day-to-day results, improved long-term results, and, ultimately, higher revenue and profitability.

The Keeper Test:

Netflix, undoubtedly, has some of the most unique and effective practices aimed at increasing employee productivity. One such practice is the ‘Keeper Test’ which, despite its simplicity, is incredibly effective.

The keeper test consists of just one question targeted at Netflix managers:

If an employee told you that they are about to take up a similar position at another company, would you let them go or fight hard to make them stay?

If the manager thinks that they will not fight to keep hold of the employee, then that employee is let go with a significant severance package. In fact, at Netflix, the practice is: an adequate performance gets a generous severance package. This means that the company is only looking for the best of the best; it does not want average or ‘adequate’ performers.

3)    Increase in Candour:

Netflix believes that candour, or frankness, can take high performers to the next level, transforming them into outstanding performers. Regular, candid feedback exponentially increases the speed and effectiveness of a workforce or team. Hence, the company sets the stage for candour by actively adding feedback moments to its meetings.

At Netflix, feedback is given and received according to the ‘4A’ guidelines:

Control-driven leadership is nothing new for most people. The boss directs and approves the initiatives, decisions, and actions of the team. Leading through context, on the other hand, means helping your staff understand their purpose and how it is connected to the larger vision of the organization.

Giving Feedback:

Aim to Assist:

The intent behind giving the feedback should be positive – you should not be giving feedback to hurt the other person, furthering your political agendas, or getting frustrations off your chest. Explain how adopting or getting rid of a behavior will help the individual or the organization.

For instance, “the way you chew your nails during meetings is quite irritating” is the wrong feedback. The right feedback would be something like: “if you stopped chewing your nails during meetings, the other participants will see you as more confident and professional. This, in turn, will help you build better relationships with your colleagues”.


The feedback must focus on how the recipient can change their actions.

For instance, the feedback, “your presentation is not interactive enough” is wrong feedback, since it does not offer actionable insights for the individual. The right feedback would be something like, “if you can find a way to solicit responses from the audience, your presentation can become a lot more powerful and credible”.

Receiving Feedback:


When faced with criticism, humans are naturally inclined to act defensive or start giving excuses; after all, we all want to shield our egos and reputation. Netflix encourages employees to resist this natural temptation, and instead think about the ways in which they can appreciate the criticism. They are encouraged to listen carefully to what is being said, consider the message with an open mind, and to not see it as an attack.

Accept or Discard:

At Netflix, regular feedback is imminent, and employees are required to listen to and consider each piece of feedback being provided. However, employees are not obliged to follow all of it. Respond to the provider with a genuine ‘thank you’; however, both the provider and recipient should understand that the decision to act on a particular piece of feedback is solely the latter’s.

1)    Lead through Context and Not Control:

Control-driven leadership is nothing new for most people. The boss directs and approves the initiatives, decisions, and actions of the team. At times, the boss even controls their subordinate’s decisions through direct oversight – telling them what to do, standing over their shoulder as they work, and demanding changes to any work that is not done according to the boss’s desire.

Leading through context, on the other hand, means helping your staff understand their purpose and how it is connected to the larger vision of the organization. This understanding will help employees make far better and wiser decisions than they would have been able to make with a top-down management approach.

Time for an example:

Let us assume that you are the parent to a 17-year-old son, who enjoys doing math, solving Sudoku problems, and playing the guitar. However, recently, he has started spending his weekend nights going out to parties with his friends, many of whom are in their early 20s. You have instructed your son to never drink and drive, and to also not be a passenger to a driver who is drunk. Despite being quite stern and clear, you worry every time your son goes out to a party.

There are two ways to address this problem:

  • Leading by control: You decide the parties that your son can (and cannot) attend. If he wants to go out to the party, he will have to have a detailed conversation with you in advance, on the basis of which you will decide if he should be allowed to go the party.
  • Leading by context: You talk to your son about the reasons that teenagers drink and why drinking and driving could be dangerous, even fatal. You tell him about the different types of alcohols, and how much of each type he would need to become tipsy, drunk, or completely blacked out – and how it could affect his driving ability. Once you think that your son has understood the severe dangers associated with drinking and driving, you let him go to whatever parties he wants to, without any oversight or processes restricting his decisions.

Now, as you probably understand, leading by context is only possible if you know your son well, and see him as dependable and sensible. By leading by context, you will not only help your son make smart decisions about his weekend parties, but also act wisely in the face of many ill temptations and seductions that might surround him in the present and future.

This is also the case with organizations – leading by context is only possible if your staff has a high talent density. If you are leading a bunch of high performers, they are likely to flourish when they are led with context and are given ample freedom and initiative. On the other hand, if your employees are struggling, you will have no choice but to oversee and check their work to make sure that they are not making the wrong decisions.

However, talent density is just one factor – you also need to consider your objectives, as well as the industry that you are operating in (safety-critical industries –such as the energy or medical industry –require a high degree of control, and leading by context may not be the best option for such industries.

Wrapping Up:

To sum up, Netflix dominates the OTT industry – not only because it has a premium streaming platform – but also because it has unparalleled HR strategies and an uncompromising work culture. Needless to say, HR managers have plenty to learn from the biggest player in the media services space.

WinMax Blog Team

Founded in 2005, WinMax is an IT recruiting firm that specializes in connecting the best talents from the tech world to the right organization. As technology recruiters, we can help you find the right IT personnel possessing the skills, expertise, and values that reflect your organizational needs and goals.


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