Netflix: From Culture Code to Employer Brand

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

It’s impossible to have a conversation about company culture without bringing up the famous Netflix presentation, “Freedom & Responsibility Culture.” The 127-slide deck made waves and introduced ideas that are now commonplace, like unlimited paid time off with a radical approach to employee empowerment.

That’s why we were thrilled to sit down for a conversation with Sergio Ezama, Chief Human Resources Officer at Netflix. With 20 years at PepsiCo, he’s no stranger to managing employer branding at big brands. We got to pick his brain about Netflix’s unique approach to company culture and how they attract and recruit top talent in both tech and entertainment.

An Employer Brand Built Around Simplicity

When Netflix’s slideshow on culture was first publicly released in 2011, it turned heads as a completely different way to think about running an organization. The document, and the philosophy behind it, is striking in its simplicity. Everything is based on five simple principles:

  1. Encourage decision-making by employees
  2. Share information openly, broadly, and deliberately
  3. Communicate candidly and directly
  4. Keep only our highly effective people
  5. Avoid rules

Those guidelines inform all sorts of management policies that were unheard of at the time. For example, if we truly trust our employees, why should we spend the time and energy keeping track of their vacation time? And if we truly have the best people, we should pay them top-of-market rates so they stay on our team. If we’re not willing to do that, shouldn’t we be looking for someone better?

Another example is Netflix’s expense policy, which is five words long: “Act in Netflix’s best interest.” Employees are empowered to interpret what that means in any particular situation.

This management structure, which Netflix sums up as “highly aligned and loosely coupled,” enables them to grow while still retaining the ability to make big pivots quickly. In short, it’s how they were able to transition from mailing DVDs directly to customers into becoming a video streaming platform, and then make the jump into producing their own high-quality content.

Work with the Best

Ezama is quick to point out that the Netflix culture memo is an external document, not an internal one. They want it to be the first thing a candidate reads about the company and the first document you receive if you’re applying for a job.

“We want to strike a balance between being a bit different, being credible, and being aspirational,” Ezama says. That means putting what they stand for front and center and being OK with the fact that it’s not going to appeal to everyone. The work is challenging and excellence is expected because that’s what it takes to be the best at what you do.

For Ezama and the candidates that he’s looking for, the chance to be on a dream team that comes together to solve very challenging problems is what makes working at Netflix so rewarding. It’s the central Employer Value Proposition that drives all of their employer branding work. “Industries will change over time, and cultures will change over time,” he says, “but working with the best people is something that will remain constant.”

Measuring Success

As the CHRO of a large organization, we wanted to get Ezama’s perspective on how to get executive buy-in for employer branding. When someone comes to him with an idea, the first thing he’s looking for is conviction. Are you passionate? Are you really, truly behind this? And secondly, what is the evidence? What output can we measure? “You need to have some sort of data to back your hypothesis,” he says.

At Netflix, they rely on the Employer Brand Index to give them the data they need to measure their employer branding efforts. “The work that we do with Link Humans helps us understand if we’re being competitive or not, not only with Netflix but also relative to those we compete against,” Ezama says. And, at the end of the day, they need to know where they stand if they want to be the best at what they do.

To follow Sergio Ezama’s work in employer brand, connect with him on LinkedIn. For help gathering data and insights you can act on to improve your own company, get in touch.


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