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Former Netflix Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord on how to embrace your power at work

Corporate America is known for specific kinds of standards, practices, and initiatives, but one person has thrown how organizations commonly operate today under the microscope.

Along with CEO Reed Hastings, former Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord helped develop the Netflix Culture Deck — a manifesto which helped define the culture and values of the company — which made waves through Silicon Valley. “It may well be the most important document ever to come out of the Valley,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg reportedly told GQ in an interview.

The original presentation racked up more than 17 million views since it was first published in 2009, and was updated in June 2017.

On the heels of the release of her new book, POWERFUL: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, McCord spoke with Ladders News about what she learned during her 14 years at Netflix.

In the second of two parts, McCord discusses what employees can do to better themselves, and her time after leaving Netflix.

On the power that she says people already have:

“When you layer processes, permission, and policy on top of each other over and over and over again, and then you wonder why people don’t innovate or act independently, It’s because you took all their power away from them. That’s my whole thing, that’s why I named the book POWERFUL.

On what can be gained from open debate and questioning authority:

“Some people translate open debate into, ‘She just wants to pit people against each other and watch them fight,’ and that’s not what I mean at all. What I mean is that when we challenge each other’s assumptions, we often end up at a better conclusion in the end. … If I listen to you with the idea that I’m just going to disagree with you, and I don’t say, ‘Now, help me understand why you came to that conclusion. What are your facts? What’s your perspective? Where are you coming from?,’ then I’m not gonna be as informed as I can be and [won’t] make the best decision for the customer. So, the reason why I encourage debate is … on behalf of who you’re serving, not on behalf of who wins the argument. Tease out the best ideas.”

On how employees should take control of their career development:

“You need to know what it is you love to do, that you’re extraordinarily good at doing, and make sure that’s what you’re doing. Pay attention to the business as it shifts and changes, because if you wait around for the company to decide on the next career move for you or whether or not you’re paid fairly … it’s not going to happen.”

“What I mean is a big shift away from, ‘The company should realize who I am and how wonderful I am, and take care of me, and realize that I need to pay attention to if I’m enjoying what I’m doing, and if I’m doing a great job at it.’ … I’m not sure [working hard is] as important of a part of the equation as we think it is. I’ve known people that have worked really, really hard; really, really long hours; and not gotten much done. And so, it’s more about what you accomplish than how hard you work because that’s what you take with you for the rest of your career.”

On people pursuing lifelong learning:

“I think that if you get up in the morning and you get ready to go to work and you say to yourself, ‘Ughh, I don’t wanna do this anymore, I hate my job,’ then do something about it. You know, diagnose it. What is it that’s missing?

“Are you still slugging away, doing the same thing over and over again and you’re bored? But there’s no challenge for somebody like you in the organization in the next year or so? Then do something about it, go talk to people. … Keep accomplishing things. Be aware of it. Have it be your problem, not somebody else’s problem.”

On ‘one company’s failure might be another company’s treasure’:

“It means, just constantly looking for another way to contribute to the world. Thinking about how you go to bed at night a better person than when you woke up. Or you contribute something. Again, it’s that same thing of proactively taking charge of your own life.”

On what she’s been up to since her departure from Netflix:

“As a part of working on the book, I did a lot of … speaking, and that’s really helped me hone the message that I want to send to the world. I left Netflix and I thought, ‘I’ll go out and see what everybody else is doing that’s kinda innovative in the world of work,’ and to be honest, I couldn’t find very much.

“I wanted to be able to kind of write … ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Culture’ … a way to start thinking about how to do things differently.”

On the impact her book has had:

“Somebody sent me a note and said, ‘I’m a 22-year HR professional, I’ve been doing this my whole life. I just finished reading your book. … I was finishing up in my office, my CEO came in and said, exasperatedly, ‘I guess it’s time for us to do the annual performance review again.’ She said, ‘You know, I just kind of turned [the book] over and looked at him and said, ‘not anymore.’ I thought he was gonna faint … Finally gave me the courage to try and rethink all of this.’ And I thought, ‘There it is, I’ve made it. That’s all I wanted.’ ”

On her favorite Netflix programming:

“Oh, it’s always what I’m currently watching. I go back with Netflix over 20 years now. So I mean, do I love Orange is the New Black? Oh, hell yeah. … Godless is my new thing now. When I travel from Europe or something, I download a whole season, and I binge the entire season on the plane. Tonight, I’m like, ‘Ooh, I wanna see the new Queer Eye.’ It’s impossible to have a favorite, I think.”

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