Learnings from Netflix: How to build a high-performance culture

Wendy McDougall

In this article, Wendy McDougall, Founder and CEO of Firefish, looks to the example of Netflix when learning how to build a high-performance culture.

When the world went into lockdown and business slowed in 2020, I chose instead to accelerate.

After reading the autobiography of Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer, Patty McCord – “Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility” – I was inspired not just to pull my company through the pandemic but to emerge stronger than ever.

In 2021, my team grew from 36 to 50, was listed for the fifth consecutive year in the top 5 fastest growing tech companies in Scotland, and our revenue rose by 30%.

As we enter the aftermath of the pandemic and recover from a global recession, a business cannot go on as usual. Instead, leaders and managers need to adapt to this new environment and challenge some of the best practices that dominate their management style.

But what style of management can help companies grow?

Give people the power

Employees have the potential to deliver outstanding results. That is, only if they have the space and opportunity to do so. By giving employees more responsibility and trusting them to take initiatives, they will feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work. This will not only foster team morale and motivation but it will also be a driver of growth for your company as empowered employees will always give 100%.

Unleashing the full potential of employees can also be achieved by encouraging radical honesty. Indeed, ‘feedback culture’ should instead be reformulated as ‘telling the truth’. By encouraging all staff members to speak out, your company will confront its problems and ultimately grow. For example, instead of hiding a flaw in an ongoing project, employees would have the chance to call it out and find innovative ways to change it. In this sense, honesty fosters a company culture based on trust, accountability and growth.

Build a high-performance culture

To become a leader in their industry, companies have to create an optimal workplace that makes employees more effective. The key to achieving this is adaptability and flexibility: by allowing employees to adapt their schedule to their needs and objectives, they will focus on performance and results rather than the number of hours worked. For example, employees working from home have been shown to be 47% more productive than the ones working in the office. Businesses will, therefore, gain from investing in people who can deal with rapid change and energise teams in a fast-paced and evolving environment.

Treat people like adults

Employees are adults who have goals, career aspirations and ambitions. And they should be treated as such. As adults, we need to know why we do things and how they impact our environment. As such, when managers give employees assembly-line work instead of explaining their role in achieving business objectives, they will not be as keen to complete their tasks.

In contrast, challenging employees to think innovatively and work in a team to achieve results creates a culture of collaboration and excellence. For example, coaching employees and guiding them through the milestones they need to achieve to progress to the next stage of their career creates incentives to work harder and focus on performance. Likewise, ensuring that every employee understands the business model of the company is key to sustaining a cohesive and motivated team.

Remove the rules

Rules are meant to be broken. So when they don’t exist, people are more likely to communicate and respect each other’s work. Indeed, collaboration is higher in environments that are less strict as employees understand why specific practices are adopted and have the opportunities to challenge and improve them. It allows companies to strip away bureaucratic and time-consuming processes and instead focus on business models that are adapted to their objectives and flexible to future changes.

This can only be achieved through constant communication. For example, weekly and monthly meetings can be put in place to discuss performance and company updates. Additionally, focus groups and boot camps can be organised to encourage teams to meet and collaborate with each other, ultimately creating a tight-knit workforce where each function works together. In fact, there is no magic recipe for collaboration, but the key factor should be encouraging employees to be curious and work together to foster innovation.

Work on the company you want, not the company you have

The way the company is managed should always be oriented towards innovation and improvement. No matter how many experts are hired, the right structure needs to be in place to allow businesses to grow. Again, the key action to create this structure is communication. Each department and team is a source of endless ideas on how the business can grow and what can be improved – use it! By asking each functional head what their department should look like in six months and what can be done to achieve this, managers can put in place a plan with clear objectives to ensure that the company is constantly growing and adapting to changes.

Finally, ensuring that your business employs the right people is necessary to build the company you want. For example, you need capacity builders who know how to lead teams and coach their peers. Likewise, managers should also recognise the value of external input and find the balance between novelty and internal promotions. Every employee should be excited for change and able to find new creative ways to add value to the company.

So, the recipe for successful management boils down to empowering employees and fostering communication and collaboration. As the pandemic has shown, the new leaders of their industries are the companies who have adapted to their new environment whilst ensuring that their teams remain cohesive and innovative. So this is the right moment to rethink team management and form the future leaders of UK businesses.

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