If I Told You I Were Leaving, How Hard Would You Work to Keep Me?

This wonderful 128 slide presentation from the CEO of Netflix on how they think about corporate culture — truly awesome stuff — has the following two gems:

The Keeper Test for Managers: Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving in two months for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep at Netflix?

Corollary: To avoid surprises, periodically ask your manager, "If I told you I were leaving, how hard would you work to change my mind to stay at Netflix?"

And this quote:

 "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

6 Responses to If I Told You I Were Leaving, How Hard Would You Work to Keep Me?

  1. That’s an insightful question for a boss to think through re his/her people. However, the corollary lacks street smarts. Many, if not most managers would view it as at the least a sign of unhappiness. Knowing the ego of some execs, they’d give consideration to letting the person go who asked that question whether he/she was valuable or not.

    Most upper level managers are strongly oriented to protecting both their organization and their own reputation…and the corollary hints at some negatives. Lindsey Pollak suggests that Gen-Y has a reputation for lacking street smarts. That’s not my experience, but the corollary suggests I revisit her conclusion.

    Here’s my relevant blog: link to tinyurl.com

  2. Honesty always?

    There’s such a thing as too much honesty.

    This might work in the corporate culture at Netflix, but in my rough-and-tumble world, if an employee asked me, “If I told you I were leaving, how hard would you work to change my mind to stay?”, I’d tell him, “Sayonara, and don’t slam the door behind you.”

    It’s come to near fisticuffs with more than one self-regarding asshole who thought he was indispensable and was shocked when I called his bluff, and even more shocked when he discovered I was ready to go toe-to-toe with him.

    “Stunning colleagues” is not a term I would use under any circumstances, unless I was a porn star.

    For me, this admission: “We realized… we should focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked” was the most profound statement in the whole presentation.

    I learned a long time ago that the amiable party-guy who shows up two hours late, but gets his tasks done, and done well, is a better employee than the nose-to-the-grindstone automaton who’s punctual to the minute but produces inferior product that has to be redone.

    I do like Netflix’ lack of a clothing policy. In my business, a pair of boardshorts is the preferred costume. I look askance at someone who comes to work with his hair gelled up and jewelry on, not that I would even consider hiring a lame-ass metro-sexual.

    I imagine my customers like to see ripped bodies and six-packs, and so do I, but that’s immaterial to quality product.

    I think another quote from Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince is appropriate here:

    “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

  3. Krishna says:

    Loyalty a virtue…? I think it results by default. Brilliant guys neither bother to run `keeper tests’ nor do they expect managements to `perceive’ their contribution. They just focus on delivery and if managements are not perceptive enough, they get drafted by others. Loyalty is a term often used by mediocres that get rooted in an enterprise not because of perceived latent value, but because they’ve no clue how to market themeselves.

    That said, if I face a question like that I would first try and figure will his departure trigger top customer exits. If the answer is yes, it’s time for introspection and enterprise remediation to establish a greater organizational connects with customers than executive connects. But I won’t let this guy hold me to ransom for long. He’ll go out of my chum list will be slowly eased out of customer facing roles.

  4. Kevin Cassidy says:

    @Dan: From all I’ve read here, I take Ben’s corollary as a thought experiment, not necessarily real-time advice. But don’t let that stop you from revisiting a white-washing stereotype.

    My read is that Ben has been on a brut-honesty kick for the last several months.

    Having said all that, now to approach it at face value:

    I could imagine companies, even industries, where this works with a supervisor. My ways are more subtle or more hard-nosed: I’m either asking my supervisor what more I can do to better meet expectations (read: I think I’m doing a good job and expect you to inform me otherwise, keep the raises rolling) or I have another offer in hand, and this isn’t a hypothetical question. The middle-of-the-road approach may create the surprise it was meant to diffuse. Surprising a manager may get an honest answer, but the side effects can be painful.

  5. Ben Casnocha says:

    Right. The spirit of the advice is what matters — the word by word example
    might be a bit harsh for real use….

  6. sfordinarygirl says:

    I’ve thought about saying something along those lines to my supervisor. But then I decided not to bother.

    As much as managers like having productive, happy and forward-thinking employees, some just want to do their job, collect a paycheck and go home. They don’t want to be bothered with ideas on growing the company or thinking about the inefficiencies. Those aspect disrupt their comfortable routine which sometimes creates extra work on top of being a manager. And where I work is a lot like that. People come in 9-5 focused on getting the work done and meeting deadlines. There’s no stress or extra burden to go beyond because that’s just our office culture.

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