Streaming giant Netflix is well known for some of its unusual company guidelines, for example the lack of an expense and holiday policy, and its well known ‘keeper test’.

It’s the latter notion that Netflix managers are being asked to revisit, after the company announced an update to its culture strategy yesterday. Netflix outlined its ‘keeper test’ pushes managers to ask themselves: “‘If X wanted to leave, would I fight to keep them?’ Or ‘knowing everything I know today, would I hire X again?'”

If the answer is ‘no’, then it’s “fairer to everyone to part ways quickly”.

In a post titled ‘The Best Work of Our Lives’ the company doubled down: “In the abstract, the keeper test can sound scary. In reality, we encourage everyone to speak to their managers about what’s going well and what’s not on a regular basis. This helps avoid surprises.”

But the memo also had some good news for the 13,000 staffers at the entertainment giant: if they’re going through a rough patch, their job isn’t on the line. The memo continues: “Managers evaluate team members on their whole record, rather than focusing on the mistakes or bets that didn’t pay off.

“On the Dream Team, you need people who challenge the status quo and try new things. So we stick with employees through short-term bumps.”

The keeper test also has a rather sweet backstory, the memo adds, as it’s a name derived from the business’s co-founder Reed Hastings. “[He] remembers catching a fish as a child and his dad saying, ‘That’s a keeper, Reed!'” Netflix wrote.

Teammates not siblings

Speaking of family, this presents another difference between Netflix’s culture and other brands. While some businesses like to refer to their staff as a family, it’s a notion the US$288bil company resoundingly rejects.

“We model ourselves on a professional sports team, not a family,” the memo adds. “Families are about unconditional love. They can also be dysfunctional, as anyone who’s watched Ozark or Wednesday knows.

“Professional sports teams, on the other hand, focus on performance and picking the right person for every position, even when that means swapping out someone they love for a better player.”

The brand, which has exclusive rights to shows such as Stranger Things, Bridgerton and You, knows this culture isn’t for everyone. It adds: “Many people will be happier at companies that are more stable or take fewer risks. Netflix works best if you value experimentation, enjoy the uncomfortable excitement of a new or challenging project and have the resilience to thrive in this environment.”

On top of that the company laid down some ground rules for staffers working on Netflix’s wide range of content, which highlights a plethora of backgrounds, cultures and experiences.

“As employees, we support these principles, even if some stories run counter to our personal values,” Netflix adds. “And we understand that, depending on our roles, we may need to work on TV shows, films or games we perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support the breadth of our slate, Netflix is probably not the best place for you.”

(Almost) no rules

Netflix, which reported it had just shy of 270 million subscribers in its Q1 2024 earnings call earlier this year, also reaffirmed its stance that it is fairly hands-off when it comes to rules for staff.

In an announcement accompanying the updated culture initiative, which was 12 months in the making, Sergio Ezama, chief talent officer, wrote: “I’m often asked – does Netflix seriously not have an expenses or vacation policy? The answer: we don’t.

“You might think that this kind of freedom leads to chaos. While we’ve had our fair share of failures – and a few people have taken advantage of our culture – our emphasis on individual autonomy has created a very successful business… we’ve found that giving people the freedom to use their judgment is the best way to succeed long term.”

As a result, those looking to land a job at Netflix need to be an “unusually responsible person.” For anyone looking to add their CV to Netflix’s potential candidates pile, its latest culture note adds it wants people who are “self-motivated, self-aware and self-disciplined, who doesn’t wait to be told what to do and picks up the trash like they would at home”. – Fortune.com/The New York Times