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E85 | Patty McCord: Queen of the Good Goodbye

You may not have heard of Patty McCord directly, but if you’re in HR or recruitment, you’ll have likely heard of her work. Patty was Chief Talent Officer at Netflix for 14 years and co-author (alongside Netflix CEO Reed Hastings) of the infamous Netflix culture deck. This legendary Silicon Valley document was one of the first slides on Slideshare and is probably one of the most viewed documents up there too. 

Patty McCord has worked in many different tech companies in and around Silicon Valley, and today she is often in the media with interviews and articles, as well as speaking at CEO forums and business schools. But it is her work that she did during her time at Netflix that she is most well known for. 

While at Netflix she abolished performance reviews as well as challenged the need for policies. Patty firmly believes people come to work as fully formed adults with a desire to make an impact and be proud of what they do. 

“It starts with the idea that people are adults and that they’re smart, right. And so what I mean by that is, people who have demonstrated the ability to make a commitment and follow through, I mean, that’s sort of baseline 101 for adult behaviour.”

In her chat with Dominic Monkhouse, they cover some of the elements of the culture deck Patty McCord co-wrote with Reed Hastings, A-players and how to hire them, how to hire and build teams, what the main job of a team leader or manager is, and how to exit staff from an organisation with dignity and fairness.

On today’s podcast:

  • How the Netflix culture deck ended up on Slideshare
  • The difference between hiring adults and hiring children
  • Why Patty McCord hates the term ‘empowerment’
  • Why you should build a team for the future, not the now
  • Abolish the annual performance review
  • Why the Chief Talent Officer had to learn how to let people go


Future-proofing your company with Patty McCord

Patty McCord, along with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, created an ‘ugly’ document that they used to help onboard new talent at Netflix. Reed subsequently uploaded the document to Slideshare (now a part of LinkedIn), and it quickly gained notoriety as the infamous Netflix culture deck. Many firms have now used it as inspiration for crafting their own company culture.

Netflix today is worth over $20 billion, so Patty’s someone worth listening to when it comes to how you might future proof your company. 

Hire adults, not children

If you want your company to be successful, it starts with hiring adults not children. If you aren’t sure what the difference is, it’s simple:

“Children will sit there and ask you to tell them when they’re allowed to go to the toilet. They’ll put their hands up in class and ask your permission, but that’s not what you want.”

Hiring adults is what you need to be doing. Adults want freedom and responsibility.

Adults are smart, adults are people who have demonstrated the ability to make a commitment and follow through. Adults can have real conversations with people, they can take the initiative and create and innovate. 

“I’m so lucky because I’ve spent a bunch of my time at startup organisations. And the thing about creating something that nobody’s ever created before, like we did at Netflix, was that there’s no right answer, there’s no right rules.”

Living in the past

Another issue with today’s companies, according to Patty McCord, is that they’re run in the same vein as companies were in 1965. But the world moves faster now, people are more mobile, the divisions between organisations are fluid because of the way that people now work. 

“If you’re a bank, your future is probably not in bank buildings. It’s probably in mobile apps. You can bank on your phone, there’s no reason for you to go into a bank anymore. But a bank is organised now, they’re regulated. They have a lot of rules. And it has to be a precise organisation because it’s people’s money. But they can’t have it both ways right? You can’t innovate and move really slowly and do things the way you used to.”

Organisations need to understand that the world has changed – that the way we live and conduct our lives has changed, and they need to operate in the same way. 

For example, we no longer labour under the concept of a job for life, yet organisations still say to employees, ‘come work for us and we’ll take care of your career for the rest of your life’. Both employers and employees are fools for believing this lie. The average tenure of an employee at a company now is approximately four years.

Build future teams

“When I talk to leaders, I say, look, you must build the team for the future. That’s your job. Right, your job is to put together amazing teams that do incredible work on time, that serve the customer, and that’s gonna be it… My A-player might not be your A-player, it’s about the right people on the team.”

If you want to future proof your organisation, you can’t think of hiring people for the issues you are facing now, you should have thought about that before. You need to set a time frame, not just ‘in the future’, but ‘in six months’, and think about hiring for that. 

You need to think ahead of where you’re wanting to go and what problems you might run into in the future. What do people need to know in order to get to this position? What skills and experience do you need on your team? What is your team lacking at the moment – do your current team members have what it takes to get you where you want to go? Fire the people who can’t get you where you need to go, and hire people who can.  

How to fire people

Don’t hold onto people and put them on performance reviews because they aren’t delivering, get rid of them and bring in people who can deliver. 

So how do you give a good goodbye? How do you fire people without offending them? 

The trick says Patty, (and she learned a few tricks in her 14 years at Netflix) is to know what you’re going to say and practice it beforehand until the words feel comfortable coming out of your mouth. Write it down, then call your voicemail and have the conversation with yourself. Keep doing this until the conversation sounds normal, and you’re comfortable saying these things. 

“Saying firing people, saying goodbye, whatever it is, that ‘s just another difficult conversation, isn’t it? And if you’ve had practice having difficult conversations, giving and receiving feedback, then you’ve probably got some muscle that you can use to have these types of conversations with empathy.”

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