“Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost to teamwork is too high.”
~ Reed Hastings, CEO, Netflix
The Netflix “Culture Deck”, updated in 2018 and hosted on their site prominently here , is full of gems of great clarity around the Netflix culture, including this one around “brilliant jerks”. I do encourage all leaders to read this, as well as the original deck (you can find it here)
I’ve worked for many years around culture in business, with a primary and all too common gap being that culture is seen as “soft and fluffy”, whereas a values-based business, in fact, uses their culture as the toughest measure of all.
To use the Netflix culture quote above, again and again, I have had clients talk to me about a difficulty they are having with someone. They wring their hands as to whether or not to discipline or fire them.
Sometimes, no, often, the behaviour of the individual is way beyond unacceptable for the business culturally, but they are so valuable commercially that they “can’t” fire them.
In short, they are brilliant but they are jerks. What do to?
My simple advice to leaders? Let them know they cannot stay.
If you are at the point where you are struggling with someone who is brilliant and also a jerk, it is past time to act.
The damage such people cause to teamwork, morale, and productivity will far outweigh the value of their brilliance. At a macro level, tolerating jerks who are brilliant means that you as a leader are not living to the values and culture of your organisation, so your own leadership credibility and that of the organisation will be greatly undermined.
Now, I could say “fire them”, but, as I will go on to write about in the coming days, I believe in the power of a “no fire” policy for many reasons, and one of them is that when one has “adult to adult” conversations (a theme from “Transactional Analysis” which I will also write on), people will take responsibility and leave of their own accord when they don’t fit with the culture.
“Too easy, Tom!” some may say. Perhaps, but I have seen again and again that there is far more power in having adult to adult conversations and living a culture of self-responsibility than there is in maintaining an old-school HR structure of policies, procedures, compliance, control, discipline. Parent to Child in TA terms.
More to come. For today, please simply listen to the words of Reed Hastings and do not tolerate Brilliant Jerks. Be rid of them. End of story.