Freedom And Responsibility Culture

with Allison Satterlee from Netflix

About the host

  • Jacob Shriar
  • Growth Manager
  • Officevibe
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Passionate about company culture. On a mission to make work better.

About the interviewee

  • Allison Satterlee
  • Recruiter
  • Netflix
  • Los Gatos, CA
  • 1,000-5,000 people

Video Summary

Allison Satterlee is on the recruiting team at Netflix, and tells us how they hire, and are able to maintain an incredible company culture built on freedom and responsibility.

Related resources

Video Transcript

Jacob Shriar: Hello everyone, I’m Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe, and today I’m with Allison Satterlee, who’s on the recruiting team at Netflix. Allison, thank you so much for being here with me.

Allison Satterlee: Thanks for having me.

Jacob Shriar: Awesome. So so excited to have a chat with you. Netflix, really one of my favorite companies for sure and pretty famous for their culture. So let’s dive right in. Really, first question right off the bat, just tell me, from a high level like, what’s the culture like there I mean, what’s it like to work there? I mean, it must be amazing. Talk to us a bit about that.

The Culture At Netflix

Allison Satterlee: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we have a pretty unique culture here, and I think that the way we describe it is it’s our freedom and responsibility culture. And, that really relies on us finding top performers and hiring you know, the best of the best. And we’re able to have, you know, these very high-talent-dense teams of rock stars who don’t necessarily need to be micromanaged or told how to get their job done and you know, and still able to make such a huge impact. So it means that we do have to hire people who are extremely…not just talented and have the right skill set for our role, but are passionate about what they do and who really want to make an impact.

So I mean, we’re transparent in that it’s not the perfect fit for everyone, because it does you know, it doesn’t mean that you have to be somewhat autonomous in understanding, you know, having the judgment of how to get your job done. When it makes sense to take time off, because we actually don’t have a vacation policy, or much policy at all, actually. We find that to move really quickly, to have this very fast-paced almost-a-start-up environment, we need to kind of throw out a lot of the process and the policy that will often get in the way in some bigger companies. So you know, again it’s kind of unique, it’s very,very fast-paced. I love that about Netflix, and I think that when we hire the right people, that’s what they love about it too. The pace and being surrounded by just amazing, amazing colleagues.

Scaling The Team At Netflix

Jacob Shriar: Awesome. Thanks so much for that, yeah. And I mean, you guys have grown so quickly and so much really in such a short time. I’m wondering if you think maybe that you’ve scaled too quickly. And I know you know, a lot of times people talk about as companies grow a lot and quickly, the culture starts to lose itself a little bit. So I’m wondering where your thoughts are there. I mean, do you think that maybe you scaled a little too quickly, and do you think, are you concerned at all that as you guys continue to grow so quickly, the culture might you know, you might have some trouble maintaining the culture?

Allison Satterlee: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. I think you know, I’ve been here for a year and a half now and Netflix has been growing quickly long before I was here, and I think that in my time here at least, I’ve seen that the way we are able to scale and, you know, as the business grows and you know, the business needs change, we still just have to always keep that bar for a lot of talent we bring in. So even as more work needs to get done, we don’t settle for someone who’s not going to be a perfect culture fit, though.

Because, in a lot of this, you know, a lot of the quick movement and avoiding all the process, it means you have to find people who have really really great judgment, and so at the moment that we slip on that, you know that’s when I think we would need to implement more process and more policy. So I’d say that we’ve done a really great job of keeping the culture as we grow in scale, by never letting go of the idea of hiring top performers.

The Hiring Process At Netflix

Jacob Shriar: Awesome, yeah. And that leads me perfectly to my next question, which is, like I really want to understand how you guys hire there. Because I think, you know, like you just said and like I’ve seen in the SlideShare document that you guys are kind of famous for, you really set the bar like you said, pretty high in terms of who you hire, and based on what it kind of says in that slide show presentation. It looks like you really look for the best of the best, it almost seems that you’re looking for someone that’s too good to be true. So I’m wondering, if you can, maybe if you can share some of the secrets. Like how do you look for culture fit? What are some of the questions that you might ask? What are some you know, of the key things that you look for, for example? I’m trying to understand how you guys hire at Netflix.

Allison Satterlee: Yeah. You know, I think a lot of it is how much value we put on recruiting and hiring, and so our talent team is you know, we’re not just resume pushers, we’re partnering very very closely with these hiring managers. You know, we partner with designated teams to really understand, you know, what is it that you’re looking for, not just from a role fit but from a team fit perspective, and from also that culture fit, which will change, you know, all of those things will change from position to position. So it’s that close relationship we have in understanding what is the perfect fit. And then also I think you know, what’s great about how we hire is we don’t have quotas to reach. I think if we did have numbers we had to hit, that’s when it would be a little trickier to really evaluate each candidate in the way that we do.

But I mean as far as how would we evaluate culture fit, I think again it varies from person to person, but a lot of it’s just listening to how a candidate has been successful in their past roles. If you’ve been successful in an environment that’s slow-paced and has a lot of policy and process and is very structured you know, you might not do as well here. If you’ve done really well in a start-up environment where you weren’t micromanaged and you had kind of a lot of autonomy, then maybe you will do better here. So it’s really about kind of figuring out those two components, figuring out what is a perfect fit for this role, and then understanding from the candidate where they’ve been successful and figuring out if they’ll be successful here.

Unlimited Vacation Policy At Netflix

Jacob Shriar: Yeah, thanks for that, that makes a lot of sense. I appreciate you kind of going into detail there. I’d love to ask you about your unlimited vacation policy. Us too, actually, where I work, we kind of modeled it after you guys, to be honest, and we also have an unlimited vacation policy. But, I’ve heard and I’ve read a lot of articles and things like that about some potential downsides to the unlimited vacation policy. So I’d love to get your thoughts on that. What do you think? Are there any downsides to having unlimited vacation policies?

Allison Satterlee: You know, I think it comes back to the people that you hire and making sure that you have employees that have great judgment. Because with a no-vacation policy, of course there is that you know, for some people it could be either taken advantage of or that you would never take a vacation at all. So of course it comes back to you know, every person’s different, every job is different you know, the business needs ebb and flow. So it really comes down to figuring out with your team and with your manager when that makes sense to take time off and still be the most effective you can be.

But, an example, I took the whole month of December off you know, and it’s because I knew that was a good time for you know, in the recruiting sense to take some time off. I communicated that, of course, really well with my manager. I see that across the board here. I see that at all different times, people taking different-length vacation. We just would rather give our employees the freedom to decide when it makes sense for them to take time off rather than saying, you know. Because this is a holiday, you get to, you know, this is the day you take off, or the whole accruing P.T.O. days. That’s another policy we found, just takes time and doesn’t really add any value.

Employee Engagement Initiatives At Netflix

Jacob Shriar: Yeah, awesome, so it’s all about using good judgment, like you said. My next question for you is, I’d love to know, what are some initiatives that you guys have going on there at Netflix like in terms, for example, of promoting employee wellness you know, social interactions, community involvement, anything along those lines?

Allison Satterlee: Yeah. Well, so, kind of in line with our culture, we don’t have much you know, formalized initiatives in that sense. Of course, for team-building purposes we’ll do offsites you know, we’ll have some sort of team-building exercise, and that’s more on an individual level, what makes sense for different organizations here. When it comes to I guess health and wellness, you’ll hear some of the better companies that have you know, the rock-climbing gym, or the yoga, daily yoga classes. Don’t get me wrong, maybe I would use a rock-climbing gym. But for us a really great workplace isn’t necessarily about those types of initiatives, it’s about amazing, stunning colleagues you know, amazing challenges to work on, and then the flexibility to decide what’s a healthy initiative for you. Maybe it’ll be different for you than it would be for me, so again, why it wouldn’t make as much sense for us to put you know, resources toward something that may or may not make sense for you, rather than just let you make that decision.

Flat Hierarchy At Netflix

Jacob Shriar: Cool, thanks for that. I’d love to understand how you’ve used in a few of your answers, like the word good judgment and autonomy and things like that. I’m wondering how flat of an organization Netflix is, or if there’s a certain level of hierarchy because I know there are a lot of people there, so I’m just wondering kind of how that all works.

Allison Satterlee: Yeah. It’s a very flat organization. And I think that, you know, it means that you trust all of your employees at any level to make decisions. Some companies do have a lot more hierarchy to get a project done, you’ll need to go through eight, ten levels of approval, of course that takes longer. We want to move really fast, so our approach is hire people who can make that call on their own and not have, you know, a bunch of levels to determine whether something, a project, will be finished. So yes, it is very flat even as we grow in scale and I think it’s really helped us innovate and move as quickly as we go.

Work-Life Balance At Netflix

Jacob Shriar: Cool, that’s great. You know, Netflix is really a pretty complex product. There’s a lot of technology in the back end, I mean, it’s a really innovative product for sure. So like I said, it’s a very challenging product to work on. So I’m wondering kind of, is working overtime common there? And I’d love to, if you could, tell us what the work-life balance is there you know, do you promote and support a really good work-life balance?

Allison Satterlee: Yeah. Well, because we don’t track hours, I wouldn’t be able to honestly say you know, whether someone works overtime or not. And that changes so often, I think, because the business needs change so quickly. I do believe that you know, I work with so many different teams here so I do see a really healthy work-life balance across the board. But that ebbs and flows, you know, from day to day, from week to week because you are working on this amazing product that is, you know, used by 40 plus million people, we do need to, you know, innovate and be at the forefront of this technology. So I think that, you know, that it again it changes all the time.

But it’s about, you know, having the judgment of when it makes sense for you to, you know, work more hours or less hours. Again, communicate really well with the team. And, know how you are the most effective in your role. For a lot of people, working overtime, you end up not being as effective. And so it’s really understanding how you work as an individual and to make the best impact while you can.

Maintaining Company Culture At Netflix

Jacob Shriar: Great answer, yeah. I love that. Again, it’s about using good judgment and really ties back into how you hire and who you hire, right? You know, you guys are sort of, I guess, famous or well known for this SlideShare presentation that went out. Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook called it “the most important document ever to come out of the Valley,” but the truth is, it was written in 2011, I think, so it’s quite some time ago. I’d love to understand how relevant it still is today, I mean, has it changed a lot, is there anything, is it still the same, have you guys tweaked it? What’s going on there?

Allison Satterlee: Yeah. I was surprised to hear, too, that it stayed. You know, the actual deck has stayed the same this whole time. And, you know, earlier you asked about you know, as we grow in scale, does our culture stay the same?’ That is proof that culture deck right there is proof, you know that it has really really remained the same, and again it’s because we kept up with our priorities and our values of hiring top performers.

But, you know, when I read through it now versus the first time I read it, it is kind of amazing to see that because that’s our… that’s how we operate in the way that we do, we really really put so much effort in keeping it you know, in keeping it the same. So answer the question, yes, it is still very true to that culture slide deck that we wrote up quite some time ago. And I think that’s one of the greatest parts of working here is to know that a lot of the company’s success has been because of really you know, figuring out a great way of operating and keeping it that way.

Jacob Shriar: Yeah, that’s awesome, and I’m assuming that, you know, through all this time, that if there are ever any questions or ever any doubts, you know, you can always just refer back to that document. It’s almost like the go-to doc to you know, for any questions on what we should do in terms of let’s say hiring or culture, things like that. My last question for you is just, if you have any sort of, ’cause no company is perfect, but I’m wondering if you have any negatives about your company culture, or if you think there’s anything, like if there’s anything that you think you should be improving on? Or if you guys can do a little bit better. Any thoughts there?

Allison Satterlee: Well, you’re right. So, I don’t think any company is perfect, similar to I don’t think any person is perfect. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be someone else that’s perfect for you. Similar to the culture here, I think it’s not a perfect fit for everyone, right? So I think there are a lot of people who probably would change things about the Netflix culture.

For me personally at this time, I think it works great for the way that I operate. You know, come back in three years, maybe I would have something different to say. But again it’s about finding people who work well with this environment, and if the business needs change or if the person changes and that’s no longer the case you know, we’ll part ways. So I don’t know, I mean, that didn’t really answer. I don’t have anything I would necessarily change about it, but that could change as I change. It’s about finding people who are going to be a perfect fit for what Netflix needs now, and being okay with that evolving over time.

Jacob Shriar: Yeah, I like the way you said that. At the beginning, especially, was more like if you can fit into the culture, then it will be perfect for you, but you just kind of have to be able to, let’s say, adapt to that culture and be able to be autonomous and you know, work by yourself and make those good calls and be able to keep up with all the other rock stars that are probably on the team, right? So I guess we’ll end it here, but honestly, Allison, I want to thank you so much for taking some time to chat with me. This was really a lot of fun. Like I said, I’m a huge fan of Netflix and a huge fan of the culture there. But yeah, honestly again thank you, and hopefully we can do this again soon, right?

Allison Satterlee: Yeah, definitely. Thanks so much, Jacob.

Jacob Shriar: Okay. Take care.

Allison Satterlee: Bye.