13 words (a story about Netflix and Slack)

On the one hand... yes, but on the other hand... Heck with it, you tell me. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Do you remember this?

Twelve [short/long] years ago (depends on your POV, I suppose), the top execs at Netflix had a surprising viral hit on their hands: a PowerPoint deck, plain black-text-on-white-slides, outlining the culture their company espoused.

“[W]e had no idea it would go viral,” explained Patty McCord, who was the company’s chief talent officer from 1998 to 2012, adding: “[W]e were surprised that an unadorned set of 127 slides—no music, no animation—would become so influential.”

Indeed, it was influential, and not just because Neftlix was already big and growing, and not only because it included at-the-time unusual details, like an unlimited vacation policy, no formal employee reviews, and initiatives to root out merely “competent” employees—as opposed to “exceptional” ones—by offering them “a generous severance … so we can open a slot to try to find a star for that role.”

Honestly, I think a lot of the controversy and popularity of this deck had to do with pure volume. I tried rereading it yesterday for the first time since 2010, in preparation for writing today’s column. I only got as far as Slide 59.

So, let’s go to the important one for our purposes: Slide 17.

It’s entitled “Honesty,” which is one of “nine behaviors and skills” that Netflix supposedly “particularly valued.”

Here’s the whole thing. (If you can’t see the slide below, please enable images—otherwise the rest of this newsletter won’t make much sense):

You see the part I’ve highlighted? The 13 important words?

That’s the buzzsaw into which a trio of senior marketing executives just ran. Because, as The Hollywood Reporter was the first to… um, well, report

Netflix has dismissed three senior film marketing executives—about half its staff at that level—after they were discovered grousing on Slack about management…


The episode is a window into Netflix’s unusual culture, which calls for radical transparency. Under the heading “Real Values” on its job website is an entry reading: “You only say things about fellow employees that you say to their face.”

Apparently, the executives in question thought the messages were private. An insider says an employee stumbled across several months’ worth of these messages and reported it.

This story popped up over and over again on my social media feeds during the past few days. I’m writing about it today because, honestly, I have gone back and forth 37 times (estimate) on whether this was the right call or not.

  • On the one hand: Netflix has a written code.

  • On the other hand: What, you can’t get together and gripe a bit?

  • On the other hand: Either culture means something or it doesn’t.

  • On the other hand: But wait, another unnamed employee “stumbled across” messages the execs thought were private and turned them in? If we’re going to follow this through, shouldn’t that employee have been willing to attach his or her name to the allegation?

  • On the other hand: Well, come on, Murphy: “Snitches get stitches” is not exactly the kind of corporate value that most publicly traded companies want to espouse.

  • On the other hand: Well, you get the point.

Compare this to a few years back, when Netflix very publicly fired its chief communications officer after he used the N-word repeatedly in discussions with his team.

“Unfortunately I fell short of [the] standard when I was insensitive in speaking to my team about words that offend in comedy,” the executive, Jonathan Friedland, wrote at the time.

That makes it sound as if he’d been saying: “Here are some words I never want to hear on Netflix: [BLANK], [BLANK], [BLANK].”

I assume was a bit more nuanced than that. But still, that one wasn’t a hard call.

As for this latest episode, though? I’m really not sure. So, I’d love to hear your take in the comments:

  • Was Netflix right to fire half its senior marketing executives for griping about other employees?

  • Or is this overkill?

  • Or—and this is an option I feel like more writers should be open to: Do we really need more information than I’ve been able to gather to make a judgment?

Leave a comment

7 other things worth your time

  • How a Utah coffee company leaned into politics to try to become “the Starbucks of the right.” (NY Times)

  • No one seems bothered that COVID-19 has arrived at the Tokyo Olympics. (Globe & Mail)

  • More than 60 people have died, with dozens more still missing, after record floods in Germany and Belgium last week. (AP)

  • In an attempt to quell anti-Asian racism, the waterway-threatening Asian carp has been renamed the “invasive carp,” by US Fish and Wildlife and a coalition of American and Canadian government agencies. (AP)

  • Protect your breakfasts: We’re facing a potential maple syrup shortage, largely due to climate change and temperatures that aren't conducive to sugaring. (Food & Wine)

  • I’m disappointed to learn it wasn’t “867-5309,” but Comcast changed a retiree’s phone number, which she’d had for 29 years, without warning or explanation. So she went on a PR campaign to correct the “data entry error,” and it worked! “Don’t mess with old ladies!” (CBS Sacramento)

  • Best cities for remote workers, worldwide: Melbourne, Dubai, Sydney, Tallinn (Estonia), London, Tokyo, Singapore, Glasgow (sorry, Kate), Montreal, and Berlin. (CNBC)

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