Keeper Test

I learnt these two above words last week. These words denote a process used by Netflix to evaluate employees continuously. As I learn, Netflix has a very demanding high achievement work culture. Netflix is all about hard work and efficiency. There is no scope for poor or underperformance. The organisation has promoted a perception of a lot of freedom with more responsibility and very high perks.

Keeper test is a unique process. It is the central element of the approach to hire, retain and reward the employees. The test is a simple way to check whether the right people are in the right place. The employee gets feedback at every step in her or his technical skills, presentation skills, teamwork and client interaction. The manager often needs to answer the question: Would he fight to keep the employee in the organisation? The super performers get a lot of promotions, vacations and bonuses etc. However, there is always a constant threat of losing the job in this ‘pressure cooker’ environment. The employee has a daily dose of anxiety, riddled with stress and fear. The underperforming soul gets the message one day that one of his deputies would replace him. He does not know the ‘D-day’.

I had the privilege of working in a similar high-pressure organisation. The organisation had global ambitions. The promoters had a great vision and a grand roadmap to achieve a grandiose plan. The best and the brightest came into the organisation. A lot of excitement was in the air with detailed blueprints of product maps and execution strategies. Modern learning and development methods were in place. Twenty-three days of training days were mandatory for every employee in one year. We learnt to use American and Japanese methods in business operations. We dressed like and behaved like Japanese workers. The manufacturing site was a cynosure of all eyes — real world-class.

All went well, except for the ‘keeper test’. This test had different components here, unlike Netflix- unquestioned loyalty, non-dissenting and non-complaining behaviour. In the beginning, none of us aware of this test. The CEO was always very keen to know whether we measure up to the above parameters of his ‘keeper test’. He was very eager to know what we do, how we do, where we go and whom we meet. His idea must be to evaluate and understand our shortcomings to provide us with the necessary management interventions. He developed a network of informers in the organisation to update him regularly. These observers always kept an eye on us. We did not have smartphones for the observers to take photos and send them on what’sup. It was still an oral tradition. We were under the constant surveillance of the ‘operatives’. Minute details — the condition of dress, shoes, informal networks, and all the trivial information became a part of the detailed report. We never knew that the big man was also working on our back-ups in case we fail the ‘keeper test’.

The loyal employees got rewards. The employees who failed the ‘keeper’ test got indirect feedback that we are no good, and it is time to move on. Unlike Netflix, we received the unceremonial marching orders when we fail the ‘keeper test’. Some of my senior managers moved to a corner office with no responsibility. There were no severance packages. It was a period of a lot of anxiety and distress in my career.

It was a great idea to drive extraordinary performance by routinely culling the bottom performers. The whole concept back-fired and the top talent quietly left the organisation looking at the headwinds. The ill-conceived ‘keeper test’ brought the organisation down. All the initial efforts to create a global organisation became futile.

What happened to the organisation?

I leave it to the imagination of the readers.

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Dravida Seetharam

Dravida Seetharam

Life long learner with interests in reading and writing