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Building a high-performance culture: Lessons from Netflix


Building a high-performance culture: Lessons from Netflix

As leaders seek to drive innovation, efficiency, and sustained profitability, the necessity for high-performance business teams is becoming more pronounced than ever before. This environment of diminishing demand necessitates that companies not only adapt quickly but do so with a keen eye on optimising resources and maximising output. 


Successful leaders who have been able to strike this balance are those that have harnessed the collective strengths and diverse capabilities of their workforce, effectively and empathetically managing complex interpersonal dynamics to maintain morale and avoid employee burnout - all while driving their organisations to new heights.


Creating a culture of engagement and accountability


The foundation of any high-performance team lies in the cultivation of a culture that promotes engagement and holds all members accountable. While Netflix’s ‘Freedom and Responsibility’ philosophy sits on the most extreme end of the spectrum, it does provide us with a robust, albeit cutthroat, blueprint for this approach.     Netflix’s philosophy is rooted in the belief that employees perform best when they are given both the autonomy to make decisions and the responsibility to manage the outcomes of those decisions.


Driven by the mantra “Excellence is a non-negotiable”, their approach is rigorous and demands an extremely high level of performance and decisiveness from every team member. First, the company offers employees significant freedom, allowing flexible work hours. In return, employees are expected to take full accountability for their actions and decisions. This is supported by a culture of complete transparency, where all decision-making processes are open and accessible, and feedback is both encouraged and expected to be candid.


The potentially 'cutthroat' aspect of this culture arises from Netflix’s unapologetic stance on performance. The company is known for its high 'keeper test' standards, where managers regularly assess whether their current employees are those that they would fight to keep. Those who don’t meet criteria are let go immediately and a culture where only high performers thrive is reinforced.


The Blueprint


It’s definitely a controversial approach, but when distilled into its core principles, Netflix offers a valuable blueprint for other organisations striving to foster a high-performance environment to follow.


Empowerment through autonomy


Grant team members the authority to make decisions in their areas of expertise - giving them the freedom to lead on the tasks and projects to which they’re most suited. This will greatly increase their investment in outcomes and encourages a truly proactive approach to any challenge that might arise.


Transparent accountability


Establish clear metrics for success and maintain open lines of communication. Employees should know exactly what is expected of them and should feel safe in the knowledge that they will receive regular, constructive feedback on their performance.


Cultural alignment


Ensure that the values of autonomy and accountability are woven into the fabric of your organisation’s culture. This includes training managers to relinquish control and really trust in their team’s capabilities.


Maintaining high standards


Regularly evaluate team performance against the high standard of a best case outcome. Bear in mind that this will include being willing to make tough decisions about team composition and individual contributions as a means to maintaining overall team performance.


By carefully implementing these aspects of Netflix’s approach and tailoring them to suit your unique operational environment, leaders and organisations can foster a culture of real engagement and accountability. The key challenge is to couple the integration of this kind of model with a nuanced understanding of diversity and inclusion within the team and the organisation overall. It’s vital for leaders to not only push for and encourage high performance, but to also ensure that the drive for excellence does not devolve into a completely toxic work culture that sacrifices morale and employee well-being for outcomes.


Ultimately, the leader’s primary goal should be the creation of a healthy, inclusive workplace that values, engages and pursues the highest standards. Leaders must strive to cultivate a team that not only excels in performance but also thrives in a collaborative and supportive atmosphere. By setting this as your north star, you’ll not only enhance productivity but also ensure that high performance is sustainable in the long-term, that employees are deeply engaged and invested, and most importantly, that morale is preserved through every task and project.


Building high-performance teams is less about finding a perfect formula and more about adapting and refining that formula and your leadership strategies to the unique dynamics of the team. The ongoing challenge for modern leaders is to balance these elements in a way that promotes long-term sustainability and growth, ensuring that high performance does not come at the expense of team well-being or ethical standards. As organisations continue to evolve, the ability to successfully manage and nurture high-performance teams will remain a crucial competitive advantage.


At Acumen we are dedicated to equipping leaders with practical tools to tackle real-life challenges. Our comprehensive range of training and development programs, including customised interventions and off-the-shelf courses, helps organisations foster a culture of respect and empower their employees. To learn more about our programs and how they can benefit your organisation, please contact Simon at simon@askacumen.com.

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