Patty McCord on Language, Culture and Leadership

Patty McCord is an original Culturati member, one of our most popular speakers at the first Culturati Summit. We’re excited she’s coming back in 2018 and have a surprise for everyone who attends.

From her many years working with companies that range from very large global tech companies to small very small innovative start-ups, Patty saw first-hand how companies can become slow and complacent and employees become cynics and whiners. She spent 14 years at Netflix experimenting with new ways to work. Making the Netflix culture deck become reality for the people who work there. From abolishing performance reviews to challenging the need for policies, Patty believes people come to work as fully formed adults with a desire to make an impact and be proud of what they do and she’s on a mission to spread the word that we can do this differently. She is frequently in the media with interviews and articles from Harvard Business Review, NPR, Fast Company and The Wall Street Journal. She speaks at CEO Forums, Business schools and for large groups around the world.

In addition to our interview of Patty, you might enjoy her Nimble Hippo radio interview too — immediately below.

Q: I understand you have a book coming out early next year. I assume it’s about building an awesome corporate culture. Can you give us insights into the book? What’s the title?


A: When it comes to recruiting, motivating and creating great teams , Patty McCord says most companies have it all wrong. McCord helped create the unique and high performing culture at Netflix, where she was chief talent officer. She takes what she learned there and elsewhere in Silicon Valley and spells it out in her new book, POWERFUL.

In her own irreverent voice, McCord promotes radical honesty at the workplace, saying good bye if they don’t fit the emerging needs of a company, and motivating employees with challenging work, not promises, crazy perks and, bonus plans. McCord argues that the old standbys of corporate HR departments — annual performance reviews, retention plans, employee empowerment and engagement programs — often end up being a colossal waste of time and resources. POWERFUL will change how you think about work and the way businesses should be run.

Q: This month’s issue of In Practice is focused on leadership and culture. You’ve been at lots of startups, a crazy successful startup, and now consult with the biggest companies in the world. How are the two connected, or would it be easier to say how are they not connected?

A: Every company has a culture that guides how people work. But it’s not a specific thing but the whole system that supports what you say and do. I’ve seen companies large and small speak poetically about their wonderful cultures and then enact policies and procedures that directly contradict that. Worse yet,is when leaders don’t embody the culture themselves or tolerate other members of their leadership team who dont either

Q: What’s it mean to treat employees like fully formed adults, to see our team as more of a pro-sports team rather than a family?

A: First, define what that is. Honest, respectful, direct, non-political. Then give people feedback real time. Fully-formed is a desired state of being and we all should work on it all the time.

Q: Why do you gag at the use of the word “empowerment”?

A: Because I think we all have power, every day when we walk in the door to our companies. But we take it away over and over again with rules and policies and procedures. No one has a magic wand and the ability to grant power. Hence, the name of my book.

Q: What do you know about culture today that you wish you had known why you were CPO of Netflix?

A: That culture is actions. Not words or slides. Not perks. Not always nice. Like showing up on time, listening, solving problems- not just pointing them out.

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