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Hard Work Is Irrelevant, But In The Absence AND Presence of Talent, We'll Take It...

Got a good play for you on the way home today - embedded below (email subscribers click through to see player) is a cool NPR podcast called Planet Money - the episode I'm sharing is with Patty McCord, former CHRO at Netflix.

The hosts do a nice job of tracking the build of the Netflix culture, of which one of the cornerstones is that "hard work is irrelevant", which seems a bit of a stretch.

Take a listen and see if you agree with the premise.  Here's some notes on what I thought about the stance that "hard work is irrelevant":

1. We all want unbelievable people.  However, most of us can never aspire to have all "A" players.

2. While mortal talent is ramping up, we'll most certainly accept hard work as a proxie for great performance.

3. Most of our companies have positions that don't require top talent - we just need someone to plow through some transactional work with excellence that a robot hasn't replaced yet.   

4. It's one thing to say that hard work is irrelevant, but what do you do with the average performer that's clocking in at 9am and clocking out at 4:59pm?  You ask for more work. Hard work would be nice.

5. At the unbelievably talented companies (those with the highest % of "A" players), you need a combination of great talent and hard work.  Just ask the people at Amazon if it's enough to be incredibly talented - the answer would be no - hard work is extremely relevant at those companies.

Take a listen to the story of Netflix from the lens of Patti McCord and hit me in the comments with your thoughts.  One thing I learned that I didn't know is that ultimately Netflix grew and the CEO called McCord up with the thought that it was time for her to leave.  Which means at the best companies, "Ask not for whom the bell tolls - it tolls for thee."

Comments

MattL

I understand "work smart" and being measured on results, but hard work irrelevant? Most of my career success has been working harder than people smarter than I. Did you notice how many people in that piece worked "crazy hard"? Yes, working hard and being busy are two different things, but hard work matters.

The thing I found most interesting was "We are not a family. We are a team, and we are a Pro team". I like that, but I think for some companies, "we are a family" can work.

--Matt

Anne

I heard them say that "hard work is irrelevant" doesn't mean that you don't have to work hard. It means that it doesn't matter how hard you work, if you don't perform, they don't care. From that perspective, Netflix would agree with you on 2-5. They'll keep the people that are doing needed work the best and fire the person who's clocking in and clocking out if the work isn't relevant or productive. I agree with number 1- this strategy works if you are growing and can have A players, but if you're an average company the B player hard workers will probably be your best contributors.

Teams have the same problem. For college teams, do you let the senior play or sit them out to win the game? Even teams become family. You can't cut the human element out unless you sell your soul for maximum productivity. Usually the ones that sell their soul come out on top because by the time the first best performer burns out, there's someone else hungry to take their place.

I don't know that this is good for the individual human soul, but it is profitable. In business and in sports.

JamesC

I get their point. I work at a company that started small and grew. Some people are hard workers but don't have the talent for the bigger company. There are also great and talented people but they don't build the right size team and delegate. It's a quick way to say it's not about you.

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