KEEPERS

Posted by jlubans on July 04, 2022

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Netflix has gotten some recent notice.
First was the corporation’s rejecting internal censorship of a production deemed offensive to transgenders.
Netflix’s response was notable since it was opposite to what many corporations do when confronted with a social issue campaign: Fold.
Netflix, in keeping with its public stand on what it expects of its “Dream Team” members, offered no abject apology. Instead they said No to the censorship.
Doing so, they referenced their public statement on “Netflix Jobs”:
“As employees we support the principle that Netflix offers a diversity of stories, even if we find some titles counter to our own personal values.
Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful.
If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.” (Emphasis added)
It’s the italicized last several words that got attention.
Of more interest to me was their revealing something they call a “Keeper Test”.
“To strengthen our dream team (s), our managers use a “keeper test” …: if a team member was leaving for a similar role at another company, would the manager try to keep them?
Those who do not pass the keeper test (i.e. their manager would not fight to keep them) are given a generous severance package so we can find someone even better for that position—making an even better dream team.”
Well, in the places I’ve worked (large research libraries) more than half of the staff would fail the keeper test.
Now, I understand, research libraries are not for-profit (un-competitive), nor are they centers of innovation.
Many of us appreciate job security and in return make a decent contribution to the well-being of our organizations; but few of us give much thought and effort to being the best.
Also, any of us that have worked in research libraries or any large bureaucracy (education or government) have to deal with the employees we inherit, some good, some not so good.
Whether its our innate kindness or fear of conflict, the “deadwood” employee is rarely told "Adios!"
Netflix’s keeper test reminds me of the much ballyhooed “rank and yank” process at General Electric. Each manager, each year, had to grade his/her team members and the bottom ten percent were shown the door.
GE no longer does this but then GE is a failing dinosaur thrashing about to survive. Did the rank and yank process work? Hard to say. One might say that rank and yank (fear) led GE to its present unhappy state.
Back to the keeper test. I have been known to offer contrarian views:)
One such view is that when a star worker comes to me with a job offer, I shake them by the hand and wish them well.
I would fail Netflix’s keeper test since I would not fight hard for any employee who wants to leave. I am not going to play the game.
Instead, I see a star’s departure as an opportunity to find another star, someone with a new perspective and energy.
Alas, I know this is not how it works.
If you have read this blog you know I detest performance appraisal (PA) systems.
Not a one has been shown to have positive effects on job performance and is largely something endured rather than embraced.
PA gives managers something to do to appear in control; that seems to be the main rationale for why so many organizations have PA.
In reading about Netflix I did come across an idea I wish I had used when I was managing/leading a dozen or so direct reports.
As part of the performance-development role of a manager (in lieu of the dreaded sit-down annual appraisal),
“Ask every manager to check in with each team member for 15 minutes every single week. In the check-in they’ll ask just a couple of questions:
What did you really love doing last week, and what did you loathe?
And,
What are your priorities this week and how can I help?
I may have done some of that with my stars but I should have been doing it with all team members.


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And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

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