Bernard Moon pointed out these slides on the culture at Netflix, which may be the best presentation on company culture that I’ve ever seen. But does that mean that Netflix actually has an effective culture?
Of course not, you can’t tell from a slideshow how a company really operates. Employee comments are helpful, but not conclusive – Netflix has public reviews at Jobvent, Telonu and Glassdoor, which show a mixed approval rating. But from the outside you never know if the complainers are malcontent underperformers, or if the fans are deluded Kool-Aid drinkers.
At Linden Lab, we spent a lot of time on company culture, creating and periodically revising the Tao of Linden. That document was similar to the stated Netflix culture in emphasizing a high degree of both choice and responsibility. I loved the culture we built, as did many employees, but I can’t say that it’s a culture that works for everyone. And I won’t say that there’s any single best way to run a company (though there are many undeniably wrong ways).
I’ve worked in some centralized, command-and-control environments, and cultures based on internal competition and depersonalization to the point of dehumanization. And I’ve had plenty of fun in most of these places. I’ve come to believe that the single most important thing about a company culture is whether or not management truly believes the culture matters.
Every management team will give at least some lip service to company culture. The companies that stop at mere lip service end up with hollow words engraved in the lobby – these are the truly miserable places to work. The companies that put real time and thought into their culture, in the firm conviction that a great culture is required for enduring success – these are always great places to work, almost independent of the actual values of the culture.
Commitment to the culture, a genuine determination to fight the good fight to make the company a place with a certain cultural identity – this always leads to a great place to work for some set of people. A culture of choice and cooperation works well for certain kinds of people. A culture of command and competitiveness works well for others. Even a culture based on greed and amorality can work, depending on the industry.
Which is not to say that anyone can work in any culture – in fact I’m saying just the opposite: you should understand what preferences and constraints your own personal values carry, for this determines what kinds of cultures you will enjoy. And then it will be easy to identify the companies that express your cultural values. The hard part will be determining whether the leadership is really committed to fighting the good fight.