Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams
Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.
Erin Meyer is the author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, and coauthor of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention. She is also a professor at INSEAD, one of the world's leading international business schools. Her work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, and Forbes.com. In 2019, Meyer was selected by the Thinkers50 as one of the fifty most influential business thinkers in the world. She received an MBA from INSEAD in 2004, and she currently lives in Paris, France. In 1994 and 1995 Meyer also served in the Peace Corps as a volunteer teacher in southern Africa. Visit erinmeyer.com for more information.
ERIN MEYER: When Reed started Netflix, he had this question, this experiment in his mind, which was: Would it be possible, if he created an organization that was made up entirely of top performers? Would it be possible to give them an incredible level of freedom without having to worry about the organization descending into chaos? Because, of course, in most companies, most of the rules and process are put in place in order to deal with employees who are underperforming, or who are maybe not the best employees of the batch, right? So that led him to this idea, this idea of talent density, of creating a high performing team that had very little rules and process tying it down. And the idea is specifically not just that we're any other team, but we're a high performing Olympic team. And I think that's actually an interesting image, because we can all think about top athletic performers, that they recognize that if they want a spot on that top Olympic team, that they're going to have to fight hard to get that spot. Meaning they're going to have to really be performing at their highest level. And when they get there, they know every year they kind of have to try out again. It's not like they're going to be in that spot for life. So, I think that that's an atmosphere that is very attractive to some of the younger generations today that aren't thinking about employment for life, but instead are thinking about opportunities that can allow each of us to shine to our full potential. And then, when that opportunity is done, we can move on to another opportunity. Of course, that also means that Netflix, I would say, is a rather high adrenaline place to work. Just like being on an Olympic team may be high adrenaline. And what I found is that people are both excited and delighted and a little bit exhausted. So, you have to be a person who really is looking for that level of freedom and opportunity, knowing that it may be a position that is also going to use every inch of your neurons while you're working there.
So of course, saying that you want to have a team of all high performers is easy enough, but figuring out how to do that is not so easy. Historically, companies like GE and Microsoft have dealt with this idea of trying to get all top performers by using these processes, which are sometimes called things like "Rank and Yank," where you rank your employees from top to bottom. And for example, with GE, for a period of time, managers were then asked to fire the bottom 10 percent. But since been shown to not be a great management tool, because it creates a lot of internal competition and even backstabbing. Plus, because Netflix is so anti-process, that wouldn't work there anyhow. But instead, what they do at Netflix, which I think is actually a very interesting exercise for any manager at any company, is something that they call the keeper test. And the keeper test is just a very simple exercise that you, as a manager, do alone, which is that maybe once or twice a year, you kind of sit down by yourself and you reflect. And you imagine, okay, Crystal comes into your office, someone on your team. And she says, 'Erin, I've come here to tell you I'm leaving your company. And I found a great job somewhere else. And I really enjoyed working with you, but I'm sorry, it's over.' And when this employee tells you that she or he is going to leave the company, what's your reaction? That's the keeper test, right? You have to ask yourself, how would I react? And with some employees, you might think, 'Oh my gosh, if Crystal told me she was leaving the company, I would be devastated. I would fight hard to keep her.' Right? Then you know she's a keeper. The other option of course might be less positive. Maybe you would feel kind of neutral about it. Maybe you would even feel kind of relieved. And you might even feel a little bit excited about who you were going to be able to get in order to fill that role. And of course, that's the test, right? If you wouldn't fight hard to keep that person, then that's not someone that should be on your team.
Performance is contagious. And what that means for a manager is that if you have one individual on your team who's a little bit of a performance problem, that's not an individual problem. An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team. And if you've got enough of those in your company, that impacts the entire organization. So I think it's really important that we think about that kind of idea of that one mediocre employee pulling performance down, or that if you have a team of all stunning colleagues, how that may just then cycle up. And that's what we've really seen at Netflix, like an organization where they've kind of weeded out the adequate or mediocre performers. And then we've seen just the success of that organization cycle up.
- There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
- Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
- "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
- Study: Teams often win after leaders give negative speeches - Big ... ›
- Silent Killers of High Performance - Big Think ›
- Highly intelligent people make the worst leaders, study finds - Big ... ›
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.