Who’s in your ‘A team’ now?

Back in 2014, Harvard Business Review (HBR) ran an article entitled ‘How Netflix reinvented HR’ https://hbr.org/2014/01/how-netflix-reinvented-hr . The slide deck at the centre of all this had gone viral and as a result HR specialists and leaders began quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) comparing their own recruitment and talent ID policies against what was happening in Netflix.

We’ve referenced the deck ourselves over the years and every time, without fail, the same few slides have generated a disproportionate amount of discussion and debate in the teams we’ve been working with;

  • ‘Netflix leaders hire, develop and cut smartly ensuring we have stars in every position’
  • ‘Sustained B-level performance in spite of ‘A for effort’ generates a generous severance package’
  • ‘The keeper test – which of my people if they told me they were leaving would I fight to keep?’

What caught their eye, and their attention, was the language (severe bordering on ruthless) and the simplicity and clarity of the message – if you don’t make the ‘A team’ then, with respect, you’re not for us, and we’re probably not for you. There was a mutual element in all of this too.

Not all customers look like customers

What we loved about the Netflix deck (and still do) is its insistence on the employee experience being every bit as important as that of its customers. For Netflix it all begins on the inside – getting it right here means excellence is guaranteed elsewhere.

Part of ‘getting it right’ in terms of employee experience is understanding and appreciating who our internal customers are, what their expectations might be and what our responsibilities are in meeting them. As Netflix puts it, ‘great workplaces are made up of stunning colleagues’. ‘Stunning colleagues’ who know the best ways to bring people together, where the important touch points are in the journey and what keeps it all moving. Sure, doing this remotely makes it harder, but not impossible. As leaders one of the ways we can help is to rework the internal map to reflect new ways of operating – what’s making it easier, or harder, for people to do their jobs at the moment? A  worthwhile exercise anyway but vital as things are now.

Past, present and future

Of course, a position in the ‘A team’ isn’t necessarily a life-long subscription. Even the brightest ‘stars’ don’t shine all the time. That said what leaders really need to be thinking about now is where the next ‘A team’ players are coming from.

Before COVID very often the ‘go-to’ people in the organisation were those seen as ‘the connectors’. They were both visible and vocal. They knew who the influencers were and weren’t afraid to cross department boundaries to get to them. They were active in and around the business. Some of these key players will still be effective even though remote, but for others they may have found it more difficult to convert the energy they gained from ‘face to face’ interactions into ‘screen to screen’ ones.

The new generation of ‘A team’ players are more likely to have the skill set best suited for the here and now. They may be more tech savvy. Lockdown may have given them an opportunity to demonstrate their creativity or their pragmatism. Their networks inside and outside the business may have helped resolve or even avoid potentially limiting issues. As one of our clients pointed out last week in a team session we were running, ‘The talent pool has shifted. Titles don’t matter – if the skills we need are there let’s not get hung up on hierarchy.’

Harnessing brilliance

We’ve perhaps been so caught up in ‘how we work from home’ or ‘how we’ll be working once we begin moving back into offices’, that we’ve overlooked the real question, just ‘how are we going to do our work? How can we continue to deliver success regardless?’ The answer, in part at least, is by having the best people in the right roles and by giving them license to experiment with their ideas.

The question for leaders is how do we empower and encourage our teams to turn improvisation into innovation. The work-arounds that have enabled us to deliver thus far could be the seeds of evolution or even revolution in terms of how we work in the future – within our own teams and across the organisation. The slide we’d add to the Netflix deck is; ‘You can have more than one ‘A team’’ – brilliance shouldn’t be exclusive, it should be contagious.