Monday, September 6, 2010

Autonomy and Responsibility: The Netflix Approach

The Telegraph has a great article today on how Netflix has scrapped its vacation policy and now allows its employees to take as much time off as they need as long as their work is covered and their managers know where they are. Some excerpts:

As the company explains in its "Reference Guide on our Freedom & Responsibility Culture", a 128-slide PowerPoint presentation that has spread like samizdat literature on the internet: "We should focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked..."

...ever more companies are realising that autonomy isn't the opposite of accountability – it's the pathway to it. "Rules and policies and regulations and stipulations are innovation killers. People do their best work when they're unencumbered," says Steve Swasey, Netflix's vice-president for corporate communication. "If you're spending a lot of time accounting for the time you're spending, that's time you're not innovating."

...In his new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, New York University scholar, Clay Shirky, argues that when we design systems that assume bad faith from the participants, and whose main purpose is to defend against that nasty behaviour, we often foster the very behaviour we're trying to deter. People will push and push the limits of the formal rules, search for every available loophole, and look for ways to game the system when the defenders aren't watching. By contrast, a structure of rules that assumes good faith can actually encourage that behaviour.

So if you think people in your organisation are predisposed to rip you off, maybe the solution isn't to build a tighter, more punitive set of rules. Maybe the answer is to hire new people.