An awful lot of things go into the successful fit out of a workplace; from finding the perfect site if you’re relocating to agreeing on a layout, choosing furniture and moving people and equipment.
While the design process is often highlighted as one of the more important stages, at Paramount we put just as much emphasis on the stage that precedes this; workplace consultancy and strategy. In order to create a workplace that meets the needs of the people who will use it, we think that it’s crucial to explore the culture of a business; what it currently is and how that might change in conjunction with a new office design.
We already highlight some of the best examples of office design that we find across the globe in WorldWideWorkplaces, so we thought we’d take a look at some of the organisations whose company culture is as impressive as the design of their workplace.
The Company Culture Club
Continuing our use of alliteration, we’ve created the Company Culture Club. This is going to be where we seek out and share examples of organisations who have taken their culture and seamlessly blended it into as many aspects of their business as possible. Not just in terms of office design and layout but also working practices, staff benefits and more.
We’re going to start with a well-known but maybe controversial example – Netflix.
The Netflix Culture
On the face of it, Netflix is the poster boy for the importance of having a clear-cut, concisely-communicated company culture. Their 124-page document, entitled “Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility” has been shared over 14 million times on Slideshare. Sheryl Sandberg, former Google executive and COO of Facebook, called it the most important document ever to come out of Silicon Valley.
The streaming giant that produces hits like Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards was originally a DVD-by-mail business. Its transformation into the household name that it is today had a lot to do with a decision to shift the culture and focus of the business.
The woman behind this was Patty McCord, their chief talent officer at the time. Having worked with Netflix’s co-founder, Reed Hastings, at another company and disagreeing with the way that it had been run, they wanted to define precisely what Netflix valued, giving their employees a clear idea of how they could succeed in the business.
A Business Built on Self-Sufficiency
The Netflix culture document makes it clear that the business seeks excellence from every employee and highlights the seven aspects of their culture that can help them to achieve this.
Rather than a list of the company’s core values, which you’ll often find displayed on their office walls, Patty wanted to describe the things that mattered to Netflix and give tangible examples of what these values did and didn’t look like.
Netflix & Skill
The document was forthright in its opinion that the actual values of a company would be shown when you looked at who had been rewarded, promoted or let go since this reflected the behaviours and skills valued by the business.
Netflix highlighted the nine behaviours and skills that they valued, making it clear that people who demonstrated them were more likely to be hired or promoted. They were; Judgment (the American spelling), Communication, Impact, Curiosity, Innovation, Courage, Passion, Honesty, and Selflessness.
A Team, Not a Family
The story goes that when Patty was carpooling to work with Netflix’s CEO, she asked him why it was that she couldn’t wait to get to work, despite them being so busy. He asked her to find out, so she started to write down her thoughts on what should make up the culture of a successful company.
Ultimately, the crux of the Netflix culture is that they value results. They don’t care how long you are in the office, so long as what you are producing benefits the business. For this reason, they now offer unlimited vacation time, high salaries and one paid year of maternity and paternity leave to new parents, allowing them to return part-time or full-time and take leave as and when it’s needed throughout the year.
The important point here is that this isn’t presented to staff in a fluffy, family-friendly style. They speak bluntly about productivity being the driving force behind all of their decisions. One slide states “We are a team, not a family.” It’s why the Netflix culture has resulted in as many people being fired as it has new recruits.
Their headquarters in Los Gatos, California is relatively unassuming when compared to the offices of Facebook or Google.
When Gizmodo took a tour they noted that, despite a few cinematic references scattered here and there, the focus was definitely on it looking like a sensible place to work. Having said that, they do have an amphitheatre and a testing facility containing every conceivable make of TV, console and tablet to view their programmes on. Their shielded testing room is even named after The Shu, the solitary confinement cell from Orange Is the New Black, and their vending machine contains free chargers, USBs and other IT supplies for their teams of developers.
In terms of approach, Netflix’s offices reflect the need to recognise and measure the performance of knowledge workers, as highlighted in our Thought Leadership Event in 2015.
Stunning colleagues and hard problems
One final irony is the fact that Patty McCord suffered at the hands of her own culture. She parted company with the business as a result of backing a plan to split the business in two, which led to hundreds of thousands of customers cancelling their subscriptions.
Since they were nothing but blunt about the values that were rewarded, Patty didn’t seem to hold a grudge. Although it has been noted that their approach could be considered to foster a fear of losing your job. In an interview, Patty described it as keeping the business “lean and nimble”. The recruitment page of their website states that “A Great Workplace Combines Stunning Colleagues and Hard Problems” and still proudly presents the Netflix culture slide deck.
Netflix took the bold decision to recognise both the positive aspects of their company culture and the hard truths of measuring productivity and success. Businesses needn’t be as brazen as this, but it’s certainly worth considering that the values of a company should reflect the skills and behaviours that are rewarded, not just the usual buzzwords that can so easily be presented but not necessarily adhered to.
Proving that a company’s culture should never stagnate, as of today, June 21st, 2017, Netflix has updated their culture document for the first time in 8 years.
In a blog article entitled, Netflix Culture – Always Trying to Improve, they announced a major update to the original 120-slide presentation.
Evolving the format to 10 pages of prose, they wanted to clarify the many points on which people had questions.
You can read the new Netflix Culture document here.