Netflix CEO advises not to please your boss. One thing I must say upfront that I don’t know if this is a practice or just a high level fancy statement. Such statements are common in all kind of scenarios; political, religious, corporates and even social. One can see such statements mostly during elections, TV interviews, public meetings, in corporate documents on so on. It is another thing what happens in the background. Nevertheless, when I heard this statement, I had a quick flashback of my career. In this case I can actually include experiences from school time! As the neurons in my brain fired a chain of reaction from this sentence, I thought why not take this opportunity to write down some of those experiences. Maybe, if I write down the situation may not come out to be as it seems in the fast paced mode of the electric firing in my brain.
The earliest I can remember now is the time, when we a got a new mathematics teacher in our school. For some reason, I liked mathematics as a kid and was always ahead of class sessions. The numbers were very interesting to me; probably thanks to our math’s teacher. One day, we came to know that we have a new teacher for maths. He had a different teaching style, but that did not matter to me. As what the teacher would cover in the class, I had already finished it. Soon, came the time for our internal class test. I solved the test and in my mind I did good. When I got the result, I was surprised that it did not match my expectation. I reviewed my answer sheet and could not understand why I was marked wrong in some questions. I confronted the teacher and he said that I did not use the method he taught us in the class. I asked, “Is my math wrong? Is there any mistake in the steps or something missing?” He said, “No, but I should have used his method”. I told him that has nothing to with the questions, as questions need an answer and I used my method following the rules of mathematics. It cannot be marked wrong because I did not used his method. I did not accept his rejection and complained to the senior teacher. She checked my answer and agreed with me.
I recall a similar incident during my engineering bachelors. We finished our semester project and were scheduled for viva voce. When my turn came, I presented my project. I was one of the few in electronics batch who submitted a computer program as a project. The interviewer had recently joined the college and we did not know much about him. But he was in charge of the campus placements, so was an important figure. I am not sure how much he understood computers or programming as rather than asking any valuable question he asked me how many words and line is my code and what is my typing speed. I told him, I am not sure and I believe in the functionality rather than lines of codes. He said, “well, it is nothing more than typing. I have typewriters that can type at high speed and can finish this program in may be a few hours”. I told him, “Sure, you can call them now and ask them to start typing. Only thing is that they won’t have a copy of this code”. He was furious, but did not press it further. Later another senior professor who was sitting next him came and asked me to apologize to him as he is senior and is in charge of placement. I told her, If she thinks I was wrong and can give me in writing, then I will go immediately. She did not ask me again.
With such experiences, I somehow finished bachelors and then masters before landing on to my first job in corporate world. The world here was more tuned to “Sir” or “The boss” mentality. The IT world was just starting to expand in India during those years and it was common to hear how much better it is than government system. However, as soon as I entered I realized that at the core they are not so different. It is common practice in IT service industry to have surplus employees to be ready for any new project. As fresh recruit from the college, I was in the same boat. Soon, I got into a project and was doing the regular job. I got to learn that our senior boss, who at that time was probably about 6 levels higher in the company’s structure, was a strict one. Just after a month, he caught me while leaving at 18:00 and remarked, “It is not a government office, where you come at 8 and leave at 5. You need to work here”. I was surprised as to what is his complaint about. I do my work and my deliverables are on schedule. I reflected back, “Of course it is not and sure I will stay longer when and if the work demands. Till that time, better not waste time sitting idle in the office”. Maybe nobody ever responded back to him so he was kind of shocked and did not say much.
During the same project few more incidents happened. I will pick just one of those. We had an onshore/offshore model as it is valid for most of the Indian IT service industry. This project was in UK and part of the senior team was located in UK. They collect requirements from the customer and we were delivering from India. I was part of the technical team working in collaboration with functional team. When we got the functional requirements document, I talked to my functional teammate in India for a clarification. He was somehow reluctant to verify with the UK team (Probably afraid of upsetting the senior guy there). I told him as he wish, but he should get it verified now before we take the wrong path. He didn’t and came the day when we had to move the code to UK servers. I got the feedback that UK team says the code is not meeting the functional requirements. I asked my teammate in India and it was related to the same functionality that I mentioned to him earlier. It was Friday evening and already 20:30 in office. My project manager was also there and asked my technical lead how much time will it take if they had to change the program. He said that it could be a complicated change and may take many hours. Manager then asked me, if I can do it. I told him that, he should get the final confirmation on functional requirement and I will do it in 15-30 min. He looked shocked as he tried to share glances with my team lead. He tried to reach the UK guy and told me that it is evening in the UK so probably the team left the office. He asked me to come on Saturday. I told him, “It is Friday here too and it is now 23:00 in India and I am still in office. I am in office till 05:00. If you can get the UK team to work then we solve it now. If not then I am going home (300kms away) and we will continue it on Monday. He just could not hide the shock he got. He came back in 30 min that he cannot reach UK team. I went home, came back on Monday. Rest of the team came to office over the weekend, but still no progress was made! Just that after that deliverable, my project was changed :).
My career was full of such experiences. Maybe it is valid for a lot of people. But I am sure most of them do not behave the way I do. People remain silent when they should not and then go to smoking corners or coffee places to gossip and complaint about their bosses. They may feel that way that the boss is the bad guy, but if they take a deeper look they would realize that in fact that they have only themselves to blame for. I encountered many different people and bosses in different countries. I don’t think anyone of them would say that I pleased them.
As I said earlier I don’t know what happens inside Netflix. But while giving food to a wolf seems like a nice gesture, but when a wolf gets used to it, it transforms him into a dog. The statements like below usually don’t bring all flowers, but some thorns too.
- “make your holidays without limits”,
- “goal is to get people to think about what’s best for the company”,
- “how do we grow”,
- “how do we please our members”,
- “be independent thinkers”,
- “don’t hide anything from the manager”
- “Everybody is playing for their position”
If you read through it again, it is like I won’t force you to work hard, but if you are willing to do so because of the rules of the game, then hey, don’t blame me for it. I can say that usually, one can only blame themselves if they later realize that they don’t want to play this game. It is very clear in those companies with flexible working hours policies. On paper they all are saying that we don’t like to have old fixed hours of work. What happens at the end is that human nature drives the momentum that slowly everyone is working longer everyday. Similar is the situation with “be your own boss” or “break the 9-5 paradigm” movements. In theory all of them promotes to work less, value your time, take breaks and holidays etc. In reality, the market competition makes them work longer, burn mid night oil and lose health while chasing the sold dreams.
On the other hand, if it is true what is said in the video, then I hope at least some other companies can change themselves and rather even improve on this model, if they can. But, to me it is not possible without the right kind of people and that is the key. The same way people are the key to share and appreciate smiles and laughter. I hope at Netflix when the employee is “not pleasing” the boss he can still do it with a smile.
Mulla Nasrudin was applying for a job. “Does the company pay for my hospitalization?” he asked. “No, you pay for it,” the personnel director said. “We take it out of your salary each month.” “The last place I worked, they paid for it,” said the Mulla. “That’s unusual,” the personnel man said. “How much vacation did you get?” “Six weeks,” replied the Mulla. “Did you get a bonus?” the personnel man asked. “Yes,” said the Mulla. “Not only that, they gave us an annual bonus, sent us a turkey on Thanksgiving, gave us the use of a company car and threw a big barbecue for us each year.” “Why did you leave?” asked the personnel director. “I DIDN’T!. THEY WENT BUSTED,” said Nasrudin.