Ace the Keeper Test

On the Netflix corporate culture site, it describes the Keeper Test that managers use to put together what Netflix refers to as Dream Teams:  

If one of the members of the team was thinking of leaving for another firm, would the manager try hard to keep them from leaving?  Those who do not pass the keeper test (i.e. their manager would not fight to keep them) are promptly and respectfully given a generous severance package so we can find someone for that position that makes us an even better dream team

That’s a load of pressure on you, the supervisor or manager who has to make that decision.  You know that “cutting” a player from your team will impact them emotionally, psychologically, and financially. 

As much as the Netflix credo is “we are a team, not a family” you have likely grown close to people on your team as you push each other to be better.  

You also know that how you handle that situation will reflect on your own Keeper Test, where someone else will decide if you should be on the managerial dream team.  

As a new leader at Netflix, how can you make the most of the Keeper Test and still treat your team like family?

The key is using it early, before they’ve attended a single meeting, written their first line of code, or pitched the next big TV series.

If you don’t do it already, make the Keeper Test part of the hiring process. Change the question and make the hiring panel answer the question “Would you fight to ensure this candidate gets hired?”  This is a great question for other team members on the panel as it recognizes their expertise and makes them feel accountable for that new hire once they join the team.  Once they join the team, ask it frequently and often, looking for toxic behavior or a poor fit that was missed in the interview.

If you are coming into an existing team at Netflix as a new leader, you can also put the Keeper Test on the table right away.  With each team member, you can outline the regular informal performance reviews you will have to ensure that goals and expectations are clear.  Netflix even references this process on the same page:

Given our dream team orientation, it is very important that managers communicate frequently with each of their team members about where they stand so surprises are rare.

In other words, by the time you get to a formal review process and employ the Keeper Test, it should be no surprise to the team member when they are shown the door. And this is how you can still treat someone like family.  Give them every chance to perform better and be clear on expectations and deadlines.  Give them Netflix acceptable, tools, time, and coaching to improve.  Be soft on them as people while staying hard on the facts.  

And finally, don’t do it alone.  Work with other managers who have gone through it or a coach who can provide advice and perspective.

Yes, it’s better for Netflix to be a team and not a family. 

But it's better for you to lead a team that you treat like family.

Are you a first time people manager who feels lost, overwhelmed, or like an imposter in your role?   

I am Jason Scriven and I am a coach who works with first time people managers or managers in new positions.  I will help you turn your insecurity about people management into a personal strength that gets you promoted into your dream job.  Email me at to discuss how.

Silence from the Black Box








It’s easier to remain silent.

We learn this  in our earliest and most foundational relationships:

  • Don’t talk back to your father (child/parent)
  • Don’t talk in class (student/teacher)
  • It’s my way or the highway (athlete/coach)

This socialization, combined with the wiring in our brains that makes us highly tuned to how other people feel about us, make it easier to remain silent.  More so in hierarchical environments, like the workplace, where many people feel vulnerable to the whims of their boss or team leader.  Despite their experience and training, the default is usually acquiescence.  After all, no one ever got fired for staying silent.

But what if you worked somewhere that silence could lead to death?  Like in the cockpit of an airplane.  The recent news of Boeing 737 crashes has reminded me that silence, deference or deafness in the cockpit is a leading cause of preventable airline crashes.  In this article from 2018, a retired airline captain reviews some of the crashes that lead to the creation of Crew Resource Management (CRM), a set of training procedures for use in environments where human error can have a devastating effect.

Learn more about Crew Resource Management

In describing two crashes from the late 1970’s he states “Neither accident should have happened because some of the crewmembers knew things were going wrong but could not persuade the captain.”  Now CRM, is a major component of every airline safety program.

Every pilot is taught the skills of leadership, followership and effective communication

Followership might not be a word in the English dictionary that we are familiar with, but it should be a skill that every manager tries to master.  It starts by giving a voice to everyone on the team and communicating with them in a style that works for them.  Some are extroverts, comfortable in large groups and are OK talking over each other in a meeting.  Others will need time to think, consider the options and craft a complete and thorough response.  It’s a manager’s job to hear them all and eliminate the silence that kills.

We are all working to the same goal – whether that be landing a plane safely, completing an open heart surgery or making our revenue targets – and everyone is responsible for that goal. If we learn from the CRM playbook, we can still be the captains of our team at the same time we are being responsible to the concerns and needs of our fellow crewmembers.

If you’d like to discuss your followership, click here to Pick My Brain for free.



The Drive Thru Manager

This week my daughter’s class at school watched a Ted Talk by Jamie Oliver about obesity.  Her big takeaway was that there are many people who have never learned how to cook and because of their socio-economic position eat all their meals from fast food restaurants.  One generation to another, overall health is declining because they never learned how to cook and simply use the drive thru.

A similar decline happens in business, on a much more immediate timeline, due to a drive-thru, fast food type of people management.

There are managers everywhere who have never known anything except the fast, easy way to manage people – from a hierarchical position of authority, with a heavy dose of telling and directing.  Like poor eating, It’s an easy habit to get into.

Too much work and not enough time for your team leads to shortcuts when it comes to people management.   Busy work takes the place of important work – the most important work you will do as a people manager.  Instead of personal meetings driven by the manager where you are truly listening, you say my “my door is always open” leaving it up to them.  When they do come in, they don’t get all your attention, and since they are only likely coming to you for a decision, that’s all they will get.  That’s drive-thru managing.  Fast food, when they deserve something fresh and home cooked.  Wouldn’t you?

Read more about when to close your open door here.

If this behavior continues unabated, then it becomes accepted, then it becomes expected, then it gets rewarded with promotions.  Then it’s modeled for the people down the chain, and as they are promoted, it’s the only way they know, too.  Before you know it, the health of the company declines as every manager is giving direction instead of engaging.

There are two easy changes you can make if you find yourself headed to McDonald’s,  First, making your own food takes time, so plan to spend 50% of your time (at least) on your people.  Think about and plan your interactions with the team and each individual ahead of time.  Prioritize this work before doing your own busy work.  Second, eliminate the drive-thru.  By creating regular interactions with your team, there will be less need for pop in meetings.  Give them more autonomy and ask for an email update after instead of them asking permission before.

Now get in the kitchen and whip something up!

If you’d like to Pick My Brain about your recipe for being a better people manager, click here and schedule a free call.

Labels Change a Manager’s Expectations

Tall people in basketball can’t dribble.  I laugh when I heard this because it was a label that I heard all through high school as a tall guy playing on a good high school team.  While in my case it was true and I was better off playing down low with my back to the basket, I can see how this belief from a coach could limit the reps and take away the practice time of a player who wanted to be a better ball handler.  Magic Johnson is 6’9″ (pretty tall) and was a hall of fame point guard, so tall guys can dribble the basketball at an elite level.

Take this use of labels and apply it to the business world and we can see how labels change the expectation of the manager and the employee and have a big impact on the growth and development of our teams.

As a teenager, I worked at McDonald’s and from the first day, I worked in the kitchen.  Frying burgers and loading supplies from the storeroom – he is tall and strong and male, so keep him in the back. Had they asked, I would have chosen to work the counter and been in front of people all day.  I would have been awesome.  The label they applied put me in a storeroom with no way out.

Here is a discussion on the negative impact of labels, in this Train Ugly podcast on the Pygmalion effect with great examples from science, business, education, sports, and the military.

Consider these workplace labels (and their built-in limits to growth):

  • They are not a people person (so we won’t put them in front of the customer)
  • They are a quant (so they won’t be asked about theory)
  • They don’t know the new development language (so they can only maintain the old system, not build the new one)
  • They come from accounting (so they can’t be on the product team)
  • They are a star (so the sky is the limit)

These labels changed the manager’s expectation of an employee’s performance – limiting the growth of some team members and making special opportunities available to the star.  In the workplace, people are treated more favorably if their manager has higher performance expectations. 

You’ve heard the expression “I expect more from you” – which means I am treating you differently because I have higher expectations. 

Someone else on the team who has been labeled a “B” player or underachiever is not expected to behave or perform at the same high level.  As a manager, you are doing yourself and your team a disservice if you label too quickly.

I challenge you right now to review your team one by one and identify how you have “labeled” each person.  How would you treat that person differently if you replace the label with “star”?

Everyone is capable of growing and should be given the reps – an opportunity to practice the skills –  to become better.

Click here if you’d like to Pick My Brain for free about the impact of labeling in your team.

From People Manager to Results Coach Using ROWE








In the past week, I have begun receiving updates from and enjoyed their recent link to this article on ROWE, or Results Only Work Environment.  In summary, it’s an organizational philosophy that is not concerned how, or where the work gets done, as long as it gets done.

ROWE gives everyone 100 percent autonomy and 100 percent accountability –  no results, no job.

That’s pretty scary if you are a manager as it sounds like it eliminates a large part of your job.  You no longer have to organize when people arrive, leave, take vacations, go for lunch, or attend meetings.  You don’t have to give direction.  They will do all those things on their own around the requirement to get the job done.  It blows up the traditional source of a manager’s power.  What does a manager manage if they don’t manage people?


What I like about a ROWE environment is that the traditional manager becomes a results coach, and I think most managers would like that better, too.

And when it’s all about results, you get a highly motivated team.  The drivers of motivation that Susan Fowler describes – Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competency – are off the charts in ROWE.  We would all be motivated to work for a company that:

  • Did not tell us how, but rather expected us to choose how to get the job done (Autonomy)
  • Did not care who worked the most hours or had the bigger office, but was full of people all focused on results (Relatedness)
  • Did not reward tenure or attendance, but instead recognized performance (Competence)

I think it can apply to any work environment, too. Taking the bus in Vancouver last week, I observed many drivers who knew their passengers by name, were helpful with new riders and drove skillfully and smoothly through big city traffic to arrive safely on time at each stop.  In an environment where they could just be counting the hours, driving in silence, ignoring the passengers and other drivers, they took ownership of the results.  It was their bus, their passengers and they were 100% accountable for arriving on time.

A ROWE is a serious thing when it comes to the consequences of not delivering the results you promised. If that bus driver is frequently late getting to stops or gets into accidents, what happens?  In a ROWE, that driver would lose their job.  Brunt and brutal?  Sure, but what if they agreed to those terms ahead of time?  Now it’s not brutal, it’s just about performance.

If you’d like to Pick My Brain on being more Results Oriented in your current role, click here to book a free call with me.

When Scratch is Not Good Enough

The best amateur golfer that I ever played with had an official handicap of zero (0) – also know as a scratch golfer.  We only played once, paired together at a charity tournament and when I asked how many rounds he played a year he admitted that he played more than 90.  If I played that much golf, my boss would wonder how much time I was actually in the office and it turns out his boss was the federal government and he worked from home or on the road, giving him plenty of time for golf.

Like we all do when paired with a great player, I wondered whether he was good enough to play professionally.  He was young enough and a good enough athlete – what would it take?

3 less strokes per round – at least.

I arrived at this number by checking the handicap of the best Canadian professional golfer that I have ever played with – Adam Cornelson from Langley, BC.  Adam has an official handicap of +2.8. and won for the first time on tour in 2016, his fourth year as a pro, and earned a spot in the Tour which is the next closest level to the PGA tour. And he did this by playing on much harder, longer courses than an amateur scratch golfer.

And in the world of professional golf, 3 shots a round is a huge number.  On the PGA Tour, the difference between a top 10 player and the player at number 125, just barely holding on, is 1 shot per round.  And most players feel lucky if they can improve their game a half a shot per round per year.  At that rate, the scratch golfer may just be ready for the first level of pro golf in 6 years and making a living playing golf 6 years after that.

Like these golf pros, good managers should be trying to get incrementally better every year.

Similarily, success as a manager is not something that comes easy.  There are no great leaps forward into a better understanding of how to manage people, yourself or your boss.  It’s all incremental.  One inch at a time.  One performance review, one project schedule, one hiring session, one team meeting and one little thing to make someone happy that adds up to being a good manager.

I’ve been lucky to work in a sales environment at many good companies,  and in each one sales success is all about the incremental .  What revenue are you going to bring in that is new for us this year?  You did great in 2015 with $1 million in sales and we gave you a nice bonus to recognize it, but that was last year.  How are you going to get better this year?  What new industry are you going to develop as a sales channel?  What new product line are you going to upsell into your best accounts?  What are you going to do differently to push that huge, game-changing account across the finish line after 3 years of pitches?

In managing, what one new thing have you added to your repertoire, or what existing skill have you improved or what knowledge have you gained to make you a better manager than you were a year ago?

In golf, the magic elixir for most amateur players is to improve your short game – chipping and putting as they represent 50% of the shots you take every round.  If your regular score is 90 and you can make a 10% improvement in the 45 shots you take with a wedge or a putter by chipping it closer to the hole and holing more putts – you can drop 5 strokes pretty easy.

For a manager, the short game equivalent to improve as a manager is to Become a Better People Mgr.  

Your ability to make things happen on your own is finite – there is only one of you and only so many hours in a day.  But once you begin to see yourself as a people manager first and a “doer” second, then the possibilities are infinite.  Recruiting, developing, managing and promoting people is the easiest path to successful projects, departments, companies and careers.

Start with owning the fact that your primary job is as a people manager and spend a larger percentage of your time each month on managing your team as opposed to “doing” your own work.  An incremental change of one additional hour per week “managing” can make a huge difference between now and this time next year.  I’m writing this in October and if you started now and added one hour per week each  month, you’d increase your managing time by 10% before Christmas.  Think your team would notice?  They’d wonder what the heck was happening and then just roll with the new you – and you’ll be thrilled with the results.

When you take small steps like that over time, one day you will look up and find that you are a pretty good manager.  And like golf, where there are new courses, new equipment, and new teaching methods, you can always get better.  Your situation  is always changing – new projects, new people, new companies, new customers – the dynamic is never the same and you have the opportunity to learn over and over again in order to be just a little better today than you were yesterday.

Anyone Can Be a Good Manager

That’s right, anyone.

It does not matter how much experience you have, your age, your level of education, your communication style or your personality.  You can be a good manager.

Because being a good manager is a process.  And this process has steps and concrete things you can learn and apply that are universal to managers everywhere, no matter the size of company or the country it’s located in or the industry it serves.

The process begins by MANAGING NOT DOING.  When you move from a “doing” job into your “managing” job it’s important to remember that the managing is the work, and your habits should reflect that.  Spend 50% of your time on your team – coaching, training, praising in public and working the big boss and the system to make sure they get the resources and the love they need.  But let them do the work.  You may have been the best sales person, CSR or accounting clerk before you were promoted, but now your success depends on their ability to perform.  Imagine what they can do with a superstar manager.

Your long term success as a manager depends entirely on the next part of the process, getting your team to KNOW, LIKE AND TRUST you.  This requires you to consistently be yourself – whether introverted or extroverted, numbers driven or big picture dreaming – so your staff can count on you being the same person every day. It matters less about who you are and more about being that person consistently and authentically.  Brooding and locked in your office on Monday and giving high fives and playing rock music on Tuesday will only confuse them.

While they are getting to KNOW you, you can get to know them by paying attention to them as individuals and listening to what they have to say.

People are hard wired to LIKE other people that are interested in who we are and what we care about – and all it takes is regular, careful listening.

The final component is TRUST  – hardest and longest to win and the easiest to lose.  You will be trusted if you do what you say you will do and deliver for your team and the team as individuals exactly as promised.  Great things have been accomplished on the backs of making sure someone has the exact colour post-its they feel they need for the job.

The final step in the process is living a managerial life dedicated to SERVANT LEADERSHIP.  You can always tell a bad manager because it’s always about them. In the meetings with the big boss they refer to themselves and not the team, they suck the oxygen out the room during meetings, deliver sermons from on high and assign themselves the key accounts and the high profile clients.  A good manager is about the team – first, last and always.

Time to stop doing.  Time to start the process and Become a Better Manager.