Awesome Resources: No Rules Rules, Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

andrea janov
5 min readApr 5, 2022

Two things to know about me, 1) I love to read. Being surrounded by books gets me excited like most other things cannot. 2) I am always learning. I know that things move forward quickly especially in People Ops, so I have to stay on top of what is happening and develop my own approach.

I read No Rules Rules with my CEO and some interested team members from various teams in our book club. We were a young start up and I was just about to dive into the project of creating our handbook. No Rules Rules was a great tool to help me inspect every policy that we thought we needed and also articulate why. Essentially, it helped us be more mindful of what we created for our team by offering us an outside perspective.

While the intro seemed hyper-aggressive, the rest of the book allowed me to loosen the reins and develop a more trusting approach to policies and operations. I think that a lot of us in ops who are writing policies and handbooks are unconsciously influenced by the idea of troublemakers and lawyers. We use these things to cover our asses rather than to build a great culture of trust, transparency, and respect. Which is what Netflix advocates for here.

While I haven’t totally drank the Netflix Kool-Aid, we did bring in a lot of their philosophies to develop light touch policies that assume that all your employees are good people and they will do what is best for the company.

In the absolute quickest of summaries, No Rules Rules states that if you hire really talented people, continually value those people, have trust in your team, lead with context (instead of control), establish that the north star principle where everyone does what is in the best interest of the company, and be transparent while being respectful, you will have unlocked the secret to their success.

Section 1

A lot of the book relies on a chain of interlocking ideas and approaches, all going back to the idea of talent density. Essentially, it means that people are happier when they work with dedicated talented people and everyone steps up to a certain level. Talent density creates an environment where everyone is motivated to perform better because they respect everyone around them and their abilities.

After you have your talent, you need to just put in a few guidelines to get everyone aligned and start removing unnecessary controls. The mantra learned in this book is that everyone should make all decisions based on “do what is good for the company”. This is not foolproof, but it aligns people with the same value and gives them a north star.

Removing controls is the area that affected me the most because it required a shift in perspective. Policies made for teams with a high density of talent are policies that can assume the best in the people who are following them. It was a shift from planning for the worst person/scenario to making policies that support the team. If we have a bad apple eventually, you will deal with that as a one-off occurrence. Sounds simple, but it was revolutionary.

This section also talks about increasing candor, which may be the hardest (yet worthwhile) exercise you do in this whole book. Essentially, the advocate for getting comfortable with saying the hard things if they will help someone or the company. You also have to get comfortable hearing the hard things. They have guidelines and a grid that is dope.

Four important factors to make removing controls and increasing candor work are: leadership needs to model behavior, set an expectation of respect, understand that individuals will interpret things differently, and move swiftly on anyone who abuses the policies.

Section 2

Second two talks about paying top of market and if you can’t, pay the top of your personal market. Define what that is for you, be transparent, and let employees know. It also takes some concrete stands on issues that are good ideas and approaches for any business to measure their own approaches and attitudes against.

  • Bonuses do not motivate people. Pay them what they are worth.
  • Many employees are not replaceable
  • Hiring one awesome person is more cost effective than hiring 2 or 3 average people
  • If you can’t afford to pay your best employees what they are worth, let go of some of your lower performing ones.

While I agree with some of these statements to one degree or another, I want to caution you, at most companies, things are not this black and white (nor should they be).

Transparency and no approval decision making are also here in this section. I think that both of these chapters boil down to the more honest information you give your team, the more you can trust them to make good decisions since they have access to the same information that you have.

They also talk about the room for collaboration, failure, and learning here. This idea pulls in so many of the things that they had already talked about: trusting your talented employees, stepping away and giving them control, giving them all the info they need, and candor to talk about the successful and failed projects and learning from those failures. Embracing some of these hard actions, really leads to creating a safe space (if done correctly).

Section 3

I will admit that I find Netflix’s approach of the Keeper Test to be a bit ruthless, but I have referenced it quite a few times since I have read this book (in conjunction with the right butts in the right seats approach from Traction, by Gino Wickman). So while Netflix is a bit more cut and dry than my approach, I have asked many managers if they would fight to keep someone, to help them clarify their assessment of an employee’s performance.

This section brings us live 360 reviews, which may be the place where I jive with Netflix the least. As an introvert who values one-on-one discussions and never wants to be on a stage, these sound terrifying to me. Unless we had a utopia type team atmosphere, there is no way that I would receive any of the constructive feedback given in a situation like this, my fight or flight reflex would kick in strong. Give me 5 back to back to back one-on-one sessions please. (That is a personal take, but as we think about policies and people ops, I am sure that you will have employees that run the spectrum of comfort about this type of environment.)

It concludes with, leading with context and not control, the culmination of everything in the book. You have people you trust, who are highly talented, who you are paying a top of your personal market salary, who you are fighting to keep, who feel empowered because you have removed artificial controls. Pair leading with context with north star goal or metric set by the CEO or leadership and the context you shared, frees and empowers teams do what they were hired to do.

Section 4

Is a great introductory resource for global companies or even small companies who have employees in other countries. To me, no matter where you are operating, you will encounter individuals from different cultures, backgrounds, and countries and you have to remember: You cannot transfer your culture-centric thinking and approach to another culture, you have to work within their norms and systems and develop the best way to work.

Conclusion

Overall, a great resource, even if you are just seeing what you do and don’t agree with and modifying your personal approach.

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andrea janov

Startup culture + people operations professional who believes in individuals, equity, nontraditional career paths, outside perspectives, + tattoos in boardrooms