Messing up a Change Implementation with Someone Else’s Learning Culture?

Netflix culture and their lack of need for leadership development is SO attractive, like the siren song of Greek myth.  It creates great press for Netflix, yet it is so un-duplicatable without the right staffing & culture values mix.  

Once again, culture trumps strategy every time.  Helping culture to shift using smart, agile strategy is the big challenge of change work.  It’s not work for the amateur.

Siren Song This is the one song everyone would like to learn: the song that is irresistible: the song that forces men to leap overboard in squadrons even though they see the beached skulls… Excerpt from Siren Song by Margaret Atwood

Siren Song
“the song
that is irresistible:
the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls…”
Excerpt from Siren Song by Margaret Atwood

 

___________________

Helping culture to shift using smart, agile strategy is the big challenge of change work.  It’s not work for the amateur.

___________________ 

In the case of Netflix,  they’ve created press with news that they dispense with formal development like leadership academies and programs, because they’ve explicitly hired high performance people who have signed on with the understanding they will develop themselves through experience observation, introspection, reading and discussion with respected colleagues.  The challenges offered to new hires include tackling complexity with simplified, elegant tools and systems.  

How many business organizations can say, “Yep, that’s us!  Exactly!  Mirror image!”

Truthfully wouldn’t you say, not many?

Without a clear-eyed look at who your staff mix is now and your seen/unseen culture, leaders might try to retrofit someone else’s culture onto your managers and staff and so do real harm, while wasting a lot of money in the process.   This is an expensive way to sponsor the amateur hour on the change management, on-the-job training show.

The siren song of Netflix’s attractive sounding culture could drown some serious productivity in your organization.   Note the welcome offered to new staff in certain roles at Netflix via regular training, as described on Hacking Netflix here.

Getting real:  Does your organization have any of the following culture characteristics?

  • Bigger than 200 employees, but not necessarily taking the elegant & simple approach to managing complexity in your systems
  • Decentralized, but not for the reasons that management advisor Peter Drucker would advocate:
    • creating small groups where people felt (and could see) that their contribution was important and was high quality compared to the work of specialists, those with deep expertise
  • Longevity, age (young/old), status and traditions are deep, perhaps as hidden values and are not used in a positive way
  • Poor performers are retained for reasons that are unclear to many who know and are impacted negatively by low performer behaviors
  • The business is centered in an area ripe for disruption by newer, entrepreneurial business
  • The business wastes money on ill-conceived projects

___________________

This is an expensive way to sponsor the amateur hour on the change management, on-the-job training show.

___________________

 

Those organizations who have cultures that are more agile and adaptable like Netflix are probably on the voluntarily nominated “Best Employers” list by GlassDoor for this past year 2012, each one with a very unique and un-duplicatable culture.  Also note that success is difficult to sustain, via the chart below featuring lessons learned including SouthWest airlines.

___________________

“Glassdoor announces the results of the 50 Best Places to Work in 2013, their fifth annual Employees Choice Awards.”

___________________

Glassdoor website published in late January 2013:

To be considered for Glassdoor's annual Employees' Choice Awards, companies must have at least 25 approved company reviews every 12 months.

To be considered for Glassdoor’s annual Employees’ Choice Awards, companies must have at least 25 approved company reviews every 12 months.

 

This lends credence to a post I offered awhile back on talent development.

Is your talent development approach for stars or community? Does this approach match your culture? Organizations that retrofit a learning approach (including one as loose as Netflix or Facebook) onto their own organization are as doomed to fail, as much as the sailors who’ve already jumped overboard lured to their watery fate.

Consider just two vastly different perspectives of talent development. I labeled one the Talent Constellation (stars) approach and the other the Talent Community approach.
Author Tony DiRomualdo (stars approach) and Jeffrey Pfeffer of the Standford Business School have written about these approaches.  For this post, I contrast Netflix, Google and Southwest Airlines side-by-side (downloadable pdf.)  

Here’s a snapshot:

Snapshot of Learning Cultures & Blindspots comparisons

Snapshot of Learning Cultures & Blindspots comparisons

Learning Cultures FULL Chart 2013

(.pdf download)

Also see the original Talent Development article here.

From a change communication colleague, Liz Guthridge, I offer this practical final approach to change and the learning approach to go with it:

1) help people understand what’s at stake,
2) why they should care and
3) what they need to do.

What have you found most helpful to building and sustaining a learning community culture that BEST FITS your culture and positive contributions?

As always, your comments enrich the learning and discussion.  ~  Deb

Sources:

What you can learn from Southwest Airlines’ culture, The WashingtonPost, 2012

Is Southwest Airlines losing the Luv?, Los Angeles Times, 2013

Why Southwest Went Silent During a Meltdown, CBSNews.com, 2011

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action (Harvard Business School Press, 2000), Jeffrey Pfeffer & Robert I. Sutton

How Google, Microsoft and Netflix Failed At Tech Transitions, Peter Cohan, Forbes, Tech, 10-19-2012,

“Global Software Top 100 – Edition 2011″.  Softwaretop100.  Org. 23 August 2011.

Talent Management Choices: Who is the Star, the Individual or the Organization?, REVELN.com, 2009, 2013

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