I was drawn to a post on LinkedIn this morning concerning Netflix employee retention policy. It seems there isn’t one. There is a “Keeper Policy”, rather like a sports team where at any point someone good is liable to be replaced by someone better, and in turn, that person by someone better still. If the reporting is right, no dialogue, just action.

The Performance Algorithm

It’s the inescapable logic of the finite game. Clear rules, identity, timescales, winners, losers. In a company where the fortunes of those who run it are based on quarter by quarter performance, it makes perfect sense.

It also raises the question whether Netflix has an “infinite game” in mind, or whether it’s here for maximum performance while the opportunity presents itself. Again, a perfectly valid strategy.

What interests me is the mindset of those who work for it. The “keeper policy” is effectively an algorithm, and if we expect an algorithm to enter into a dialogue, we’ll have a very long wait.

Maybe working for a company like this is more akin to playing a video game, except that when you crash and burn you stay crashed and burned – no second life.


I’m not buddy-buddy with the players. If they need a buddy, let them buy a dog.

Whitey Herzog

It takes a while to get past the PR and HR hype, and the danger is that if we project a Labrador image onto a Rottweiler business, we’re going to be disapointed and suddenly surprised.

I think working for Neflix could be a really interesting experience, as long as you go into it clear headed. Rather like the line in “Top Gun”, no prizes for coming second. If that’s what you sign up for, enjoy the ride. Understand the game you’re playing and don’t be a sore loser. Because, there’s always going to be a faster gun.

Which brings us to agency. In an emerging age where more and more of what we have learned to do at School and University can be done by algorithms, there’s going to be more and more competition. Picking a fight with the Terminator is a high risk strategy.

No matter the hype, we are our own masters. We can’t outplace our challenges, or hide behind a corporate skirt. Our fate is a combination of our ambition, our purpose, the work we do on ourselves, who we choose to trust, and luck.

The Key

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun Tzu, Art of War

If you work for a company like Netflix, they are not your enemy until you fail to perform, but if you don’t know you’re not performing ’till you’re gone, it’s probably wise to categorise them as such.

Which brings us to knowing ourselves. Our intellect, our qualifications, the school we went to are only a small part of our armoury, but the one we, and our employer tend to focus on. It is of course, the parts that we downplay that hold the key to success.

There are at least three other ways of knowing – our intuition, or emotions and our senses. All hugely powerful if we choose to engage them and listen to them. Being fired is rarely a surprise, but more a confirmation of something we sensed was coming but chose to ignore.

If we go back to the combat analogy, John Boyd was the strategic genius behind the F-15, the F-16, and the strategy of the first gulf war. He was a complete iconoclast, mastered the thinking of everbody from Sun Tzu, through Gengis Khan and Clausewitz to General von Moltke (the architect of Blitzkrieg). His work is complex, but can be boiled to down to a process:

  • Observe. Look dispassionately at what is going on inside you, and outside you. Understand the system you are part of.
  • Orient. Position yourself accordingly. Understand your options. Be prepared physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • Decide. Male a decision.
  • Act.

And do all of this, continually, and faster than your opponent (or employer). Get inside their “decision cycle”. If you want to see his original papers, you’ll find them at Chet Richards site. They’re hard work, but in my view more valuable than any business book you’ll read this year.

Sounds like a reasonable strategy for a Netflix.

The key is our agency, our self respect and the work we’re prepared to do.

I think working for Netflix is a great opportunity, as long as it’s on your own terms, and your own terms are a choice.

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