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.

Managing from One Foot Away

A recent interaction with another coach affirmed for me the wisdom of “Praise in Public, Correct in Private” and confirmed for me how personal an experience it is for anyone to receive criticism, correction or discipline from a leader, manager, coach or in this case a fitness instructor.

It’s this simple, when I’m corrected in public I feel rebuked and when it’s done one-to-one I feel encouraged.

As part of my belief in Training Ugly and getting out of my comfort zone, I take a weekly TRX class at the local rec centre.  TRX stands for Total Resistance eXercise and it’s a suspension training system that relies entirely on your own body weight to provide resistance. It’s not easy to master and after a year of classes, it continues to challenge my limits each week.

Our instructor preaches form over speed and corrects posture and position as she walks through the room.  With music playing and many other bodies planking, pulling and squatting, sometimes that correction comes in a shout from across the room and sometimes it comes from 1 foot away.

It’s amazing how the correction from afar feels like stinging, personal criticism.  It’s the affect of the audience.  Most people are OK with an expert correcting us, but not OK with other people knowing our weaknesses.  Like the first tee in golf, we feel like everyone is watching and critiquing us.  They are not, of course, and are likely too focused on their own posture or position to be worried about the tall guy in the corner not lunging correctly.

While correction stings from long distance, from 1 foot it feels collaborative and inspirational.  Like we are working toward a common goal and the small correction is a missing piece.  Many of my personal “Aha” moments in the weekly TRX class are from the softly spoken comment, suggestion or correction. From one foot I am thinking about the message and not how it was delivered or perceived in the room.

The same applies for managers that are delivering feedback.

If you can create an environment where the receiver feels the information is being shared with collaborative intent for their benefit, it’s more likely the message will be understood and acted upon.

Even disciplinary meetings should be delivered in this way.  The higher the stakes for the individual on your team – and a meeting that could lead to termination is as high as it gets – the more important it is for the manager to create a safe and personal environment.  This gives you the best chance for the message and proposed corrective action to be heard and not get lost in the emotion that the person is feeling.

So move a little closer, don’t be shy.