Hey, boss, do you encourage employees to openly voice their opinions, even when they disagree with a company policy or with a decision you’ve made?

Do you pay salaries above market rate because you know it costs more to lose a top performer and re-train a new person than it costs to pay a top performer enough to keep them?

If you said “No” to either of the above, you’re not Netflix material.

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Hey, employee, do you make decisions based on the long-term outcome rather than short-term results?

Do you seize opportunities to make contributions to the company even in areas which are not your primary responsibility?

If you said “No” to either of the above, you’re not Netflix material.

CODE OF NETFLIX

I hear you saying, “Who cares if I’m Netflix material?” And you’d be right. It’s not everybody’s dream job. But enough people are curious to know what it’s like to work at Netflix that its cultish “Culture Deck” has been viewed 8 million times.

At more than 120 slides long, it holds revered status, especially in Silicon Valley, as a modern business Code of Hammurabi.

Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings, who authored the Culture Deck, is the first to acknowledge that his philosophy of “No Rules Rules” (the name of his best-selling book, by the way) is not for every industry or company.

It sure seems to work well for Netflix, though. The streaming service, which started life renting DVDs by mail—a seemingly crazy idea 20-plus years ago (when I knew Reed in my role as a journalist covering home entertainment)—now has more than 8,500 employees, in excess of 180 million subscribers worldwide, and a market cap of $230-plus billion. Reed’s done OK for himself, too, now worth nearly $6 billion. Not bad for a guy who once taught math in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Africa.

INTENTIONALLY INTIMIDATING

The Netflix Culture Deck, posted on its website in memo form (jobs.netflix.com/culture) is required reading for anyone who yearns to work there. Apart from openly sharing with the world the beliefs that underpin its innovative culture, the intentionally intimidating Netflix Deck serves to quickly discourage unqualified applicants from wasting everybody’s time. Very few people could live up to the high expectations of this rarefied workplace.

Whether or not the Netflix culture is relevant to every company, it nevertheless has plenty of gold nuggets to mine for anybody who’s ambitious at any career stage—senior exec, middle manager, entry-level.

Rather than impose often dehumanizing, restrictive rules on employees, Netflix codifies its culture through shared values. They are summed up by the paired practices of Freedom & Responsibility.

The premise is that pedestrian workers prefer guidelines that clearly define their job, whereas exceptional workers’ impulse is to run free and make their own rules as they go, as long as they do it responsibly, in the company’s best interests.

KEEPER TEST

That’s why there is the Keeper Test, Hastings’ most cited—and arguably most controversial—instrument for consistently motivating quality work. It’s designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. Managers must continually ask themselves, “Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving, for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep at Netflix?”

In a classic example of the “iron hand in a velvet glove,” Reed Hastings is fond of saying that, for those who do not pass the Keeper Test, “adequate performance gets a generous severance package.” Translation: merely doing your job, without distinction, could be cause for termination. Good is not good enough. Tough crowd.

Another revealing insight into Netflix’s unorthodox approach is the Culture Deck slide headlined “Hard Work -- Not Relevant.”

Once you get past the shock value of such declarations, the logic is hard to dispute. “We don’t measure people by how many hours they work,” says Netflix. “We do care about accomplishing great work.” In other words, it values quality work over quantity work.

PEOPLE OVER PROCESS

Then there are those questions I started with at the top. They too clarify what Netflix calls its “core philosophy of people over process.”

Netflix conveniently compartmentalizes its worldview into a set of 10 singular values.

Below, I’ve chosen one bullet point from each category, to offer a taste of what the company looks for in the elite candidates who aren’t deterred by that boot camp of a Culture Deck.

  • Judgment – You are good at using data to inform your intuition
  • Communication – You listen well and seek to understand before reacting
  • Curiosity – You seek alternate perspectives
  • Courage – You say what you think, even if it is uncomfortable
  • Passion – You are quietly confident and openly humble
  • Selflessness – You make time to help colleagues
  • Innovation – You challenge prevailing assumptions, and suggest better approaches
  • Inclusion – You intervene if someone else is being marginalized
  • Integrity – You admit mistakes freely and openly
  • Impact – You make your colleagues better

Come to think of it, every one of those serve as wise life lessons from which we all could learn to be better human beings.

Bruce Apar is a writer, actor, consultant, and community volunteer. He can be reached at bruce@aparpr.co; 914-275-6887.