Patty McCord isn’t pulling any punches in her first book “Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility.” The co-creator of the Netflix Culture Deck — the famous 120-page doc that has been shared over 20 million times — has reemerged to set the HR industry straight on a few key things.
After leaving her post as Chief Talent Officer of Netflix in 2012, McCord consulted and advised fast-growth enterprises like Warby Parker and HubSpot. In boardroom after boardroom, she heard one common refrain: Give us a version of the Netflix culture deck. “I would say, ‘Okay, well you know it took 10 years to write that. We can get started, but this isn’t gonna happen tomorrow,’” McCord says.
Rather than make the masses wait a decade, McCord has synthesized the road-tested lessons she’s learned in Silicon Valley into “Powerful”, out this month, a must read for employers and employees alike.
First things first, she says, forget words like ‘empowering’ and ‘engagement’, because the HR jargon doesn’t fly. When it comes to recruiting, motivating and creating great teams, Patty McCord insists most companies have it all wrong. McCord’s book takes the position that radical honesty in the workplace is what employees need, not a false sense of security.
“[Lifelong employment] hasn’t been true for 30 years, and it’s certainly not true now,” says McCord of HR’s favorite little white lie. “We gotta stop telling it, and more importantly all of us have to stop believing it.”
Instead, she proposes, companies, CEOs, HR pros and employees, as well as job candidates, need to be unabashedly honest about the future of work. “We can be straight with people and treat them like grownups to have real conversations about work. We’ll both be better off for it.”
Glassdoor’s Amy Elisa Jackson caught up with McCord before she speaks at the Glassdoor Best Places to Work Tour on February 27th to get her take on everything from company culture to sexual harassment in the workplace and her secret to getting the truth out of every candidate she interviews.
Patty McCord: When I was at Netflix for all those years, I was pretty heads down. I always say I lived under a rock for 14 years and then came up. The first year I got out I thought, “Well, this will be fun. I’ll consult with some startups and I’ll see who else is doing interesting work in my field ’cause I haven’t been really paying attention.” I was profoundly shocked at how little innovation was happening in HR. We’re using all the same language and people had the same eye roll whenever you started talking about HR. Everyone was clamoring for data and tools, but they weren’t doing anything with it.
Glassdoor: Many will wonder whether this is a narrative version of the Netflix Culture deck. Is it? What can readers expect?
Patty McCord: After I left Netflix, at every startup that I went to, they’d throw the Netflix Culture deck back on the table and go, “We want to do this.” I would say, “Okay, well you know it took 10 years to write that. We can get started, but this isn’t gonna happen tomorrow afternoon.” And everybody had read it, but nobody had any idea about how to actually do it.
Glassdoor: So frustration with the status quo made you want to step out and write this book?
Patty McCord: I was certainly frustrated about it. Every company I consulted with reinforced to me that people didn’t know how to build culture, or where to begin. All of these publishers were pushing me, saying, “You ought to write a book.” “You ought to write a book.” “You ought to write a book.” And I never … It’s not something I ever wanted to do, like I’m not the kid that wrote stories in my journal.
So, I got an editor in New York and we did a series of interviews over about a year-long period of time, and we just started shaping it, a bunch of conversations. Also, when I was at speaking engagements my ideas started to take shape. Then, I started talking to HR people, you know, talking to HR groups, and I would close the doors and say, “Listen you guys, we’ve gotta knock this shit off. You’re all here at this HR conference and back at home all the employees are rolling their eyes and making fun of you.” I said, “We can do better than this.”
Glassdoor: What do you hope employers take away from your book?
Patty McCord: Two things — Lose the language and lose the lies. By losing the lies I mean let’s stop with the mythology that we still preach, that we’re gonna be your paternalistic employer for the rest of your life and provide you with career ladders and promotions forever. It hasn’t been true for 30 years, and it’s certainly not true now. We gotta stop telling it, and more importantly, all of us have to stop believing it.
Glassdoor: And “lose the language”?
Patty McCord: Words like engagement and empowerment — I find them really nauseating. The HR language covers up the truth that we should just be talking to people straightforwardly. The language we use in HR now makes me just scream because not only do we make up this language and words like “culture fit,” but we call what we do best practices. The language isn’t connected; it isn’t human. In this book, I wanted to say, “Look, I think there’s a better way. I think that we can be straight with people and treat them like grownups and have real conversations about work that are about reality, and we’ll both be better off for it.”
Glassdoor: Given this, what should recruiting look like in 2018?
Patty McCord: There’s a couple of things that I think really need to change. One of them is the timeframe. Let’s stop talking about forever, and let’s start talking about specific problems within timeframe wrappers. For example, a manager should say, “In the next couple of years we want to build a car that does X.” And, “This is how we’re gonna know it’s successful and here’s the kind of team we want to put together to do that. We’re going to put together a great team of people who are fabulous, amazing A-players who solve that problem.” A-players are your A-players for whatever it is that is at hand. Hire people to build stuff, they build it and then it’s done. You don’t need them to build it again, they finished it. Then, if some other thing needs to be built, you probably want a team of really excited builders to do that, but if it’s about scaling or maintaining it’s a different group of people. That’s what I mean by timeframe wrappers.
Glassdoor: Do HR pros and recruiters need to be honest with candidates about that time wrapper, as you put it?
Patty McCord: Sure. Be honest with the candidate when they ask, “Well, then what happens.” It’s okay to say “I don’t know. We’re making this shit up, but probably something else amazing.” HR should be honest enough to tell employees that they have done or built this amazing thing and that XYZ company “will be a great company to be from.”
Glassdoor: Talk about radical candor. That can seem a bit harsh, no?
Patty McCord: That phrase for me — “a great company to be from” — changed my whole attitude about what I did for a living. I said, “Look, what I want to build is a company that’s a great place to be from.” Where working there you can say, “Look, I did this. I was part of this team.” And with a company like Netflix, I did that; you know what I’m talking about when I say that Netflix is a great company to be from.
Glassdoor: Is this what you mean when you talk about a “culture of freedom and responsibility” in your book?
Patty McCord: Give people the honest gift that really matters in their career. My background is recruiting. I know what makes a great career: accomplishments, not your job title, not your tenure.
Glassdoor: 2017 was a huge year for whistleblowers speaking out on sexual harassment, bias and poor company culture. Where do companies that had a rough 2017 go from here?
Patty McCord: Yay for 2017! Yay for women stepping up to the plate and saying, with both feet planted firmly on the ground, “I’m not taking this shit anymore.”
It’s fascinating to me because when you press C-suiters and you press CEOs about why there aren’t more women on the board or in leadership positions, they give you this tired line of, “It’s a pipeline issue.” They say there aren’t enough qualified women. But just this month women have been named as the replacements of male TV anchors and co-hosts. They replaced Matt Lauer with the woman sitting next to him. It’s not a pipeline problem, there are women already in the room. They’re just not in positions of power, but they’re qualified, they’re capable. Hoda [Kotb] is a qualified, capable journalist. The only reason she hasn’t had Matt Lauer’s job is that Matt Lauer had it.
Now we have an incredible opportunity for all of us to look around and see the capable women who are among us.
Glassdoor: You are right. That’s an interesting outcome.
Patty McCord: I spoke to a reporter at TIME yesterday and she said that they have a running list of men who have been accused of sexual harassment and [they are] up to like 110. And I said, “You know what? It’s too bad you don’t have a running list of their victims.”
Glassdoor: Why is that?
Patty McCord: Because it would be in the thousands. To deal with the victims of sexual harassment from an employment perspective is to look at all that talent wasted. Thousands of people over the years who either gave up or didn’t get an opportunity to rise up the ranks. It’s wasted talent. All of us, companies included, need to take a step back and do something about it. If you want more women in leadership positions in our workforce, hire them. Interview them and then hire them.
Glassdoor: Now for a few fun ones, what was your first job?
Patty McCord: For my first job I filed stuff in a used car dealership, and speaking of sexual harassment, the guys always wanted me to reach to the bottom drawer and get stuff.
Patty McCord: I know! But my first real, grown-up job that wasn’t a summer job was I worked at a lumber mill in Oregon. I was a lumber girl. I worked on the green chain. The green chain is when they take the raw logs and saw them into boards. They’re super heavy and they’re 10, 20 feet long.
The men would grab the logs from the end and just use their big muscles or brute force to move them. You’d have to take them off of this conveyor belt and put them on a pile behind you in a tidy square, and I wasn’t strong enough to do that. So I’d pull the log halfway and I’d flip it, I’d use leverage to get the log on and off the conveyor belt. The guy next to me said, “Goddammit, Miss Patty, I’ve been working here on this green chain 15 years and never thought about flipping them suckers in half.”
What I learned from that job was that I did not want to do that work, but I knew that I could.
Glassdoor: Next up, do you have Netflix, if so what is your favorite Netflix show?
Patty McCord: Of course I have Netflix! This is my lifeblood, are you kidding me?! My favorite show is always what I’m currently watching so I just finished binge watching The Crown.
Glassdoor: Lastly, what is your favorite interview question to ask candidates?
Patty McCord: I don’t have one.
Patty McCord: I don’t buy into it. My favorite interview question is not the first one, it’s the nine follow-ups.
Glassdoor: Explain more.
Patty McCord: I pick virtually anything on your resume and say, “Oh look, you were responsible for this. Tell me about that.” “You were in charge, were you the boss?” “Oh, no you weren’t. You were part of the team. How big is the team? Oh, 800 people. I see. Okay, so it says here that you were personally responsible for delivering that part, but … okay.” And, “If you did it over again, how would you do it differently?”
Glassdoor: Sounds like an interview with you would be pretty intense.
Patty McCord: I get people to tell me the real stuff. And that’s why I don’t have a favorite interview question because it’s a trick, it’s a setup, and you don’t really want to trick anybody, you want to find out, “Are they the right person?” The interview conversations have to be real, and what is a clever interview question for you might be really irrelevant for the role I’m trying to hire for. It’s very much matchmaking.