This book lives up to its name – No Rules Rules. I came across it quite by chance. And learnt about it not by discussing management strategies or work issues but over the dinner schedules! When I refused to have a cuppa tea late in the evening, my neighbour (another fellow bibliophile) said “No rules rules a cup of tea!”. And that launched the discussion about the book and at the end of the passionate overview, I was hooked. I wanted to read it myself to see if what was said was true.
Reed Hastings, the co-founder and co-author of the book, founded Netflix in 1998 as an online DVD mail order service. His first company, Pure Software, was a software set-up built in the era of the dot-com boom. It’s here that he learnt his first lessons which he tried to modify and metamorphose into something totally radical in outcome.
The format of ‘No Rules Rules’ is also unique. It’s more of a first-person narrative by Reed and Erin as they go about explaining the various processes, how it came into being, the trials and tribulations of getting it almost right. Though a multi-million-dollar company, Netflix’s diametrically opposite work culture, attitudes and policies are unique and unconventional.
The whole process of creating an out-of-the-box work environment started with the building of a workforce with high talent density. Only the best were retained; the average Joe was asked to leave with a generous severance package. This ensured the formation of highly charged, focused and compatible teams, with no holds barred for creativity and innovations.
Despite having the best in their respective fields, Netflix never suffered from fear of losing them as it paid them the market value as salaries, no carrots of better bonuses or performance-based promotions. If one is the best, one gets paid what one is worth. Instead, it created a minor tremor in its office when it encouraged its employees to go ahead and give job interviews from other organisations to better appreciate their own worth in the market! So there goes another conventional policy of control by the organisation.
Another policy that got chucked out was the no-vacation policy. You could work at your convenience and not wait for the vacations to recharge yourself. What mattered was the product, the end result, that your work speak for itself. After that, if you want to go for a 6-week vacation or want to work from some remote corner of the world, it’s your choice. And you don’t have to seek approvals from ten people! Amazing, right?
But it’s not something that was achieved overnight. The culture of freedom had to be developed into the employees, who had worked till then in conventional straitjacketed organisational rules. Building a culture of 360-degree feedback was not an easy task. People were not used to giving feedback to their managers or anyone above them. It needed constant practice until it became ingrained in their system. The focus was on getting corrective feedback and not just positive feedback.
Another policy that Netflix did away with was the chain of command. It removed the traditional control mechanisms like policies or approval procedures. It did not matter what your position is in the hierarchy, if you are the one driving the process, or are the ‘Informed Captain’, then you call the shots. This leading by context, and not control, allowed people to make decisions involving millions of dollars sometimes. If not for this freedom, we wouldn’t have seen Stranger Things, Mighty Little Bheem or Narcos. Netflix believes strongly in its ‘Freedom and Responsibility’ policy. The freedom from controls makes the employees feel more responsible towards their work.
The list of unconventional policies discussed in No Rules Rules goes on building, from the basics established with the environment of high talent-density, to freedom from time-consuming policies, condor, corrective feedback and being open to evolve and grow. As its organisation kept growing internationally, efforts were made to modify and customise the policies to suit employees from other nations while maintaining their uniqueness. Like the 360-degree feedback, which was unheard of in countries like Japan, Singapore, or Brazil. The employees had to be gradually inducted into the policy, albeit with minor tweaking.
This book No Rules Rules opens our eyes to endless possibilities of improving work environments, but one must remember the industry it’s operating in. it might not be possible to implement such policies across all industries. Also, it’s not something that will happen overnight; it needs time and effort to let it grow organically.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Read No Rules Rules with an open mind. Maybe it will allow one to look at the traditionally structured and rigidly governed corporate culture from a fresh perspective, allowing some much-needed changes to take shape.