Feedback At Netflix: 4 Powerful Guidelines

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree December 05, 2020

Netflix - one of the pioneers on our Bucket List - is known for doing things differently: not just revolutionizing the entertainment business, but also by experimenting with radical management principles. The most eye-catching are its famous culture deck, the unlimited vacation policy, and the 5-word expense policy "Act in Netflix's best interest". Even more powerful than these 'exotic' practices is how they give and receive feedback.

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I recently read "No Rules Rules" by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer, business school professor and author of "The Culture Map". It is a great read on organization culture and how Netflix fosters one of honesty, trust, and responsibility. Highly recommended!

I especially loved the parts on candid feedback. Having visited many workplace pioneers over 5 years, we have seen how powerful this can be. Equally, giving candid feedback to employees is one of the toughest aspects of building a progressive culture.

In most companies the most valuable feedback is never given.
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Many people struggle to give helpful feedback. They find it hard to be critical because they are afraid of hurting the other person. To stay friends, team members keep the tough feedback to themselves. The result? The most valuable feedback is never given.

But there is another pitfall in giving feedback.

Selflessly candid or a brilliant jerk?

Reed Hastings: "If you are promoting a culture of candor on your team, you have to get rid of the jerks. Many may think ‘This guy is so brilliant; we can't afford to lose him’." But it does not matter how brilliant your jerk is, if you keep him in the team you cannot benefit from candor. The cost of jerks on effective teamwork is too high. Jerks are likely to rip your organization apart from the inside. And their favorite way to do that might be to stab their colleagues in the front and then say "I was just being candid."

Giving feedback is a delicate art. A good thing about "No Rules Rules" is that it does not just point out difficulties. It also provides guidelines on how Netflix is trying to master the art.

4A feedback guidelines

They summarize it in a '4A format'. I know, corny as hell, but do not be put off by the name. The content is great.

Giving feedback

  • Aim to assist: Feedback must be given with positive intent. Giving feedback in order to get the frustration off your chest, intentionally hurting the other person, or furthering your political agenda is not tolerated. Clearly explain how a specific behavior change will help the individual or the company, not how it will help you. “The way you pick your teeth in meetings with external partners is irritating” is wrong feedback. Right feedback would be, “If you stop picking your teeth in external partner meetings, the partners are more likely to see you as professional, and we’re more likely to build a strong relationship.”
  • Actionable: Your feedback must focus on what the recipient can do differently. The wrong feedback to me in Cuba would have been to stop at the comment, “Your presentation is undermining its own messages.” The right feedback was, “The way you ask the audience for input is resulting in only Americans participating.” Even better would have been: “If you can find a way to solicit contributions from other nationalities in the room your presentation will be more powerful.”

Receiving feedback

  • Appreciate: Natural human inclination is to provide a defense or excuse when receiving criticism; we all reflexively seek to protect our egos and reputation. When you receive feedback at your workplace, you need to fight this natural reaction and instead ask yourself, “How can I show appreciation for this feedback by listening carefully, considering the message with an open mind, and becoming neither defensive nor angry?”
  • Accept or discard: You will receive lots of feedback from lots of people while at Netflix. You are required to listen and consider all feedback provided. You are not required to follow it. Say “thank you” with sincerity. But both you and the provider must understand that the decision to react to the feedback is entirely up to the recipient.

Following these guidelines is not easy. It requires serious practice. But the potential is huge. Quality feedback is fundamental to a more progressive way of working.

For more on the streaming service's way of working, check an earlier post on how Netflix ditched the traditional annual performance review.

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Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
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