The Wall Street Journal recently had a story on Netflix’ corporate culture. It reads similar to the 2015 New York Times piece on Amazon’s culture or going way back to the late 1980ies piece on Microsoft’s culture. There are probably a lot of pieces about other high performing companies that hit a similar note: high performance comes at the expense of a humane culture. I’m not sure whether I agree with that.
An anecdote between Steve Ballmer and Mark Zuckerberg in the early days of Facebook comes to my mind. Mark asked for some leadership advice and Steve recommended writing down “what it means to be one of us”. The story goes that Mark took that advice to heart and compiled a list of ten-ish traits, which were highly opinionated. Most people who read the list would have a hard time identifying with those traits, but the few who that list spoke to were highly attracted and motivated by it.
The lesson here is that culture is not one-size-fits-all. In that it can produce work environments that look very odd and even hostile to most, but appealing and accommodating to some. In that I wouldn’t view those articles as condemning write ups, but rather an (at times sensationalist) account for a moment in time. I’d even go as far as saying that those cultures drive higher employee satisfaction and performance than most cultures that don’t take a stance.