Unpacking the controversial Keeper Test policy at Netflix

Photo: Thibault Penin

In 13 short years, Netflix elevated television standards, popularized binge streaming, and supplied an entire generation with a new pithy way to seal the deal. However, since then, some of their managerial tactics have begun attracting more and more criticism from industry insiders.

A sizeable portion of this criticism is premised by the Keeper’s Test: a technique that Netflix Co-CEO Reed Hastings defines as “unencumbered by emotion.”

Employers are encouraged to habitually ask themselves whether or not they would fight to keep an employee. If the answer is nono matter how long an employee has been with the companythey’re gone. No one knows this quite as pointedly as Cindy Holland, Netflix’s former vice president of domestic content.

Holland helped evolve the company from the place that mails DVDs to the $223 billion streaming service currently supporting over 193 million subscribers. Still, after 18 years with the company, she was let go by co-CEO Ted Sarandos.

Holland was replaced with Bela Bajaria back in September, who now serves as head of global TV.

Holland was later appointed to the board of Horizon Acquisition Corp in November; a company that specializes in media and entertainment.

In his new book, No Rules Rules, Sarandos defends the keeper’s test as a sure-fire way to maintain a fresh pool of talent and a product always edged toward innovation.

“If a person on your team were to quit tomorrow, would you try to change their mind? Or would you accept their resignation, perhaps with a little relief?” Sarandos wrote. “If the latter, you should give them a severance package now and look for a star, someone you would fight to keep.”

Two things are hard to argue here.

  1. Holland, who developed massive hits like House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Stranger Things propelled Netflix to new heights.
  2. In order to conquer international peaks, the company would do well to hire someone with that particular expertise.

Perhaps Bajaria is that person. The most compelling censure against the keeper’s test is the effect it most certainly has on the mental health of staff.

In the US. work anxiety is pervasive enough as it is without mega corporations advertising an: everyone’s expendable policy.

Having said that, the turnover rate at Netflix is actually lower than it is at most US-based companies (4% versus 13%).

“We have to hire the psychological type that can put [fear] aside and who aspires to work with great colleagues and that that’s their real love,” Hastings has said in the past.

Ultimately, the keeper’s test is a transparent approach to recruitment that is every bit as productive for output that it is destructive in its potential with regard to employee retention.

“I guess the most relatable comparison would be to ask yourself if you’re in the “friend zone” with your job. With personal relationships, the “what are we?” question is maybe the most avoided of all… Maybe you sort of like your job, cause it’s there, it keeps paying, and it’s comfortable. There are a million reasons not to pry. But are you happy?” career expert Garrett Rubis writes. “The “keeper test” seems equivalent, cause it kicks things into gear one way or another. It can be the scariest truth ever, but you know what? Why settle? There’s a “job” out there for you. They say, “Relationships can be like jewelry… You see something that might look nice on someone, but it just doesn’t look good on you.” That’s just fine! Jobs are the same. Find the piece that wants to wear you as much as you want to put it on.”