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.

It’s a Good Sign When a Manager Feels Bored

That’s right – a good manager should be trying to get to “bored” as quickly as possible .

It means you have delegated, managed and assigned all the urgent and not important work that makes you feel busy.  And it will allow you to spend serious, quality, slow moving time on the really important stuff -strategy, hiring, team building, coaching, and your own personal development.

What does bored feel like?

Many managers will never know because they only know busy.  Busy is not a bad thing when things need to get done that need a manager’s input , or their presence at 4 key client meetings and a dinner in one day, or at the end of the quarter when the financials need to be carefully reviewed and signed off.

A full day of performance reviews.  That’s good busy.  That’s busy with long term, important things that affect the whole company.

Bad busy is logging into your email at 7am and never leaving your desk.  It’s arbitrary deadlines, unrealistic client deliverables and last minute requests that are out of process – all on top of your normal day.  It’s going back to the office after you take two hours for your own personal life.  It’s logging in while you sit in bed.  It’s trying to do too many things in too short a time.

That kind of busy is pretty common and even held up as a badge of honour, especially at small start-ups or fast growing companies.  If we are moving fast and sleeping less, we must be growing and making more money.  I can sleep later.

But it’s not sustainable or healthy for a manager or their company and leads to burnout personally and a decline in performance professionally.  Unfortunately, many managers never escape the cycle of bad busy.  When they do escape, that’s when they feel bored and start looking around for another crisis, another deadline, another project or another job.  So they can find that quick rush of bad busy – which is the only rush they’ve ever known.

So the next time you feel bored – celebrate it and start adding long-term important work to your daily and weekly calendar.

Large blocks of door closed, out of office time that will make you and the company better.  Recruiting meetings with star candidates from other firms.  Industry conferences and seminars.  Workshops on new skills.  Weekly one to ones with members of your team.  Lunches with other managers in the same company.  You know, the work that is expected of a leader.

Pretty soon you will be good busy.

Vacation Days Are Not the Answer

There was a great article in the Globe and Mail about the trend toward young tech companies in Canada following the lead of their Silicon Valley counterparts and offering unlimited vacation. In the company profiled, this pot ‘o’ gold at the end of the benefits rainbow backfired spectacularly when less than half the employees took any time off in the first year it was offered.

The co-founder attributed the failure as follows:

“…employees may have felt uncomfortable taking time when he and his co-founder hadn’t taken a single day off themselves since founding the company three years before.”

And there you go – young teams are more impressionable more likely  to model themselves after the manager in the room.  Even when you say, “Do as I say, not as I do” they will do exactly what you do.

It’s interesting that a benefit like unlimited vacation is almost always offered at companies where the employees still have spots.  While Millennials may be part of a generation that is often considered entitled, unjustly I believe, their need to believe in a cause and commit to something bigger than themselves outweighs their need to climb the Andes.

From that same co-founder:

”…he attributes the policy’s failure in part to the military-like camaraderie of the startup world, where taking time off can feel like leaving your fellow soldiers behind on the battlefield.”

At this stage, when the company is fighting to survive and become something with staying power, everyone needs to be suited up everyday.  It’s an exciting time and who would want to leave that – even for a surfing vacation in Bali.  Something important, earth shaking and difference making might happen while you are away.

Perhaps a generous vacation policy might be better served at the next stage of a company’s development, when everyone is out of the foxholes and there is less uncertainty about the future of the company.  That’s often a pretty crazy stage, too.  At least it’s a manageable stage, because there is more people and more cash flow and some professional managers, HR people and accountants who will make sure that one person or one bad decision won’t bring the company down while you are hiking the Grand Canyon.

As a founder of a start-up, if you have to offer people unlimited vacation to recruit the talent you need, you might as well shut the doors now and save yourself the time and agony.  If your idea, your product or you personally are not enough to bring in the foot soldiers who want to make a difference, then vacation days are not the answer.

Being a Manager in 2016

As part of the SOHO (Small Office Home Office) event in Victoria on January 21, 2016, I was asked to join some of the other speakers, panelists, and experts to provide predictions for 2016.

As I am a manager and my coaching is primarily with managers and business owners that manage small teams, my items are focused on what these “people managers” might see in 2016:

Your employees will get younger and they will better connect you with a younger customer.
Your younger staff will want to mentor you and your business will be better for it – so listen up!
More small business owners or sole proprietors will retire and sell their business – creating an opportunity for you!

The overall demographics of the workplace are starting to get younger as the largest generation in history, the Baby Boomers really start to retire.  2016 will be year 10 of a 25-year retirement window for most Boomers.

As the next group up, Gen Xers will move into executive roles and start or buy companies from retiring Boomers (my third point) the natural generation to fill the empty spots are Millenials, who are already the largest generation in the workforce:


This generation of workers will connect you to a younger customer – and you want these people as customers.  They are the largest segment of the working population – also known as people with regular income to spend at your business –  and will be for the next 30 years.

The long-term success of your business will depend upon your ability to sell to a Millennial.

Lucky for you, as Millennials join your team they can help you market and sell to their own kind.  And they won’t be shy about telling you how to do it (my second point) – and that’s OK.  Soak in what they have to share, give them a job with a purpose that they can pursue with passion and then lean on them to recruit more Millennials, as customers and as team members.  It’s an ambitious generation that will jump to the next job at dizzying speeds – and that is also OK.

Don’t fight it.

In 2016, embrace how Millennials can make your business better now and in the future.




Driving the Bus – Part 2(b)

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.  I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the Bus going?
  2. Who should be on the Bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success. In Part Two A, we started with a section about Who Should Be on the Bus by talking about asking existing staff to get off the bus.  In this post, we are going to invite some new people to jump on the bus. What an exciting time! Bringing new people into an organization or onto a small team can send a shock of energy through the building.  Look what just happened with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Against 10 years of history, they made significant trades for better players to help them win this year and the jolt was felt right through the organization.  Their Monday game after the big trade was sold out and electric at the ballpark and the team is undefeated in the last week.  Contrast that to a year ago, when the Jays were in it and did not make a move. The fans howled, the media questioned and the players grumbled – and then started losing and missed the playoffs. Don’t miss the playoffs!  When you have a chance to strengthen your team through the hiring process, spend time on it and get it right. But where do you start?  Certainly not with a help wanted ad or a hiring ad on Monster.  Yes, you will post the ad internally and send it out online as part of the hiring process but your best prospects will not likely come from a stack of resumes.  They will come from your own personal list of superstars you want to hire, who do the same job with better results, better attitude and a new outlook at their existing company.

Do you keep a list of superstars?

If you are not, I would suggest that you start.  Start with your competitors locally, then nationally and find the person that kicks your butt at every pitch or who designs a product two upgrades more advanced than yours, year in and year out.  In baseball, one phrase you hear a lot is “Glad he’s on our side”  – because you’d rather not face them when with the game on the line.  Hire that person.

I would also suggest that you don’t limit your superstar list to your own industry.  Good sales people, CSR’s, coders and project managers work right down the street from you.  Identify the best companies around from their local press, awards for results, venture capital funding announcements, workplace awards, whatever and target the people you need who have proven results.

There is no better way for you to shine as a manager than to hire a superstar – both in the short term exhilaration of the moment when you hire a superstar but also when the results start improving as a result of that hire.

Driving the Bus – Part 2 (a)

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.  I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the Bus going?
  2. Who should be on the Bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success.

In Part One, we talked about the pre-hiring process and in this post we are going to review Who Should Be on the Bus, which covers both existing staff and new hires.

Not many managers are fortunate enough to be able to form their team from scratch. In those cases, likely a start-up or small business, you can skip right to hiring after you decide Where the Bus is Going.  On the other hand, most of us inherit a team when we become a manager and then are expected to add and subtract members from that team as the company goals and team performance change to ensure the best possible results.

So before you start hiring, take a look at your existing team and decide who should not be on the bus

There are many reasons for showing someone the door, including obvious ones like poor performance (even after coaching) and destructive or criminal behaviour.  Not so obvious, but just as important, is when the company goals, focus or business model changes and team members motivation, skills and attitude do not change with the times.

I was lucky enough to work at a company for 11 years that grew very quickly and at every stage long term, high performing team members found their way out of the company because the fit between their skills and the kind of company they wanted to work for changed as the company became larger.  I made it through several changes in service and product focus, an acquisition by a larger, public company and finally a venture supported return to a private company before the fit wasn’t right for me.

I wasn’t asked to leave, but the role the new organization had for me was not a good fit.  And that’s how it will work with your team – you won’t be able to find a fit for a good person and hopefully they will recognize that they can find what they are looking for somewhere else.  If they hang in there, then you either:

  • Live with it and let them limp along riding on the glory of their former self while in a lesser role, or you
  • Invest in re-training to help that person find the new motivation that will help them become truly engaged at work, or
  • You have to cut them loose. Respectfully, honourably and honestly while recognizing that firing someone is an extremely personal act

Deciding who’s on your bus not only means asking some people to step off, but also involves inviting new people to jump on – which we will cover in the next post.

Driving the Bus – Part 1

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.  I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the Bus going?
  2. Who should be on the Bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success.

Hiring is the perfect time for a reality check on Where the Bus is Going.  Hiring is an opportunity for rebirth – out with the old and in with the new, or in with more new because we need additional resources.  A little blue sky thinking before you get into the recruiting process could lead to the kind of radical change that makes a big difference, or lead to a subtle change in an existing dynamic that creates a much more harmonized team.  You are not Carnac and cannot see into the future to evaluate how a new hire will impact the business, but before your start you can ask yourself:

How can a new hire change our business for the better?

Asking this question gives you permission to dream big.