Netflix Culture Presentation: College Staff Culture #Fail

I said in my eduWEB reflection that I was going to start up a fail series. And this post simply jumped off my fingers.  When I was first exposed to this material I wasn’t even thinking about how it applies to my current job and work experience.  I immediately thought of my experience in higher education and many of you whom I’ve stayed closely connected with.

If you haven’t seen the slides from the Netflix presentation floating all over the web entitled “Reference Guide on our Freedom & Responsibility Culture” I highly recommend that you give the 128 slides some of your time.  In fact I’ll make it extremely easy on you by embedding the presentation below.

These slides have  made quite a bit of noise in web and tech companies, including the company I work for.  I know for a fact two of my coworkers have already blogged them.

View more presentations from Reed Hastings.

Understanding Work Context

So after viewing the slides and viewing the title of this post, hopefully you can see where I’m going with this.  Colleges & universities do not treat STAFF like Netflix and probably never will. From my personal experience they are treated as second-hand citizens compared to faculty.  I still hear all the time about the bureaucracy and chain of command that members of a higher education web staff run into.  The responsibility and environment of a faculty are much more linear with less layers of bureaucracy, and they are not only given more freedom to be creative but are actually encouraged to be.

There are lots of great reasons to work for a university.  Way back in the day (that would be eighteen months ago in web time) College Web Guy put together a great post: Ten Reasons Why my University Job is Better Than Your Corporate Job.  I’m not saying you can’t make a great case for why one should work at an institute of higher education, but from the points in this presentation, what is so frustrating is I’ve seen lots of these points applied to faculty and not staff.  Heck, one of the things that makes higher education so frustrating sometimes is the fact that people can get away with complete incompetence and still not get fired.  I’ve heard the joke that someone would have to rape a student to get fired in higher education, and although that’s not funny at all, I’ve heard about situations where that is not too far from the truth.  It’s sad that is a joke and it’s sad that levels of incompetence are allowed to fester.

Now I understand all the reasoning here.  Higher education is all about educating the minds of tomorrow.  Staff members do not educate these individuals, so they are not given the same resources and freedoms as college educators. They are not the core reason for the existence of a university… I get that.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t play an important role in building the brand and specifically the Web presence. They play a huge part in putting together a compelling image that will draw future students.

I know a handful of really great web people who have recently left higher education and a handful more who aren’t that far from jumping into the corporate world.  Now I can only speak from my personal situation and would never claim to know all of their motives for leaving, but freedom of creativity and personal opportunities to grow were HUGE reasons for me leaving for the corporate world.

Read the seven aspects of the Netflix Culture and tell me how those apply to your university web developer/marketer job:

  • Values are what we Value - Most of the time web staff is undervalued and overworked-because people don’t understand at all what you do.
  • High Performance - One of higher ed’s biggest perks is the fact that you can go home at 5  o’clock on the dot.  How often are you given a review and told what standards your performance is based on?
  • Freedom & Responsibility - The only freedom and responsibility you have a lot of times is to do what comes down from the “higher ups” who ask you things like, “What’s this thing called Tweeeeter?”
  • Context, not Control - When is there a meeting about the web that doesn’t involve someone trying to control what you do?
  • Highly Aligned, Loosely Coupled - Do you get to work in the freedom of what needs to be done without input from people who have no idea how the Web works?
  • Pay Top of Market - Web people in higher education are some of the lowest paid web professionals out there.
  • Promotions & Development - Where exactly can a web person be promoted in higher education?  Do you really want to manage an entire marketing department?

What Do You Think

I know, I know.  It’s sad that I can have this much passion about something I’m no longer a part of.  Maybe it’s because after being out of higher education for eight months, I finally feel free to speak my mind about the situation.

So what do you think?  Am I full of crap and just don’t get it?  Do colleges have much more appreciation for their staff than I understand?  If you only want a stable job and to work forty hours a week then a job in a college or university web office is a great place to be.  If you are hungry for more freedom to be creative and innovative it might be extremely hard to find that opportunity in this industry.

6 Responses to “Netflix Culture Presentation: College Staff Culture #Fail”

  1. Says:

    I agree to an extent. I feel like I’ve had total flexibility and creative space to work at both of my previous institutions. At Butler, my job description was two lines: Use the web to recruit students, and integrate it into traditional methods. From there, I was pretty much given a blank slate.

    Sure, I ran into the occasional red tape and bureaucracy with some more my bolder ideas, but you’ll find that in nearly any industry. Rare is a company that totally understands it and gets it, and it’s usually a top-down culture shift. With nearly all university and college presidents climbing the ladder on the faculty side, it’s no wonder where resources and priorities go. Just like the CEO who climbs from janitor to the top; you can be guaranteed the custodial staff is going to be treated a heck of a lot better once he’s in place, and the culture will remain as such for quite some time!

    As far as pay, promotion and development goes… dead on. :)

  2. Says:

    Kyle, I find it interesting that you see the distinction between faculty and staff that black and white. I think the environment depends a lot on the leadership, and I’m not talking about the President.
    I’ve seen people like what Brad describes, who might have to go through the occasional red tape but overall were hired to do a job and then allowed to do it - the end. I’ve seen others who were hired to do a job and have a ton of great ideas, but are micromanaged into mediocrity - and I’ve seen it happen in the staff and the faculty. I don’t think institutional culture matters nearly as much as the culture and leadership in your individual department.
    And you’re right about the promotions and the pay. At many places, the people in senior roles have been there forever and will be there forever - and if they leave, they’ll be replaced from the outside. You have to get out to move up.

  3. Says:

    Nice Post !! But Dont bother. Save your money and your time. I grew up under those same religious beliefs and went to another college that taught the same. If you need someone to tell you what to think, go join a cult. what you think?

  4. Says:

    The netflix thing is very nice and i’m sure there are a handful of companies who espouse this and a much fewer number who actually live it (thanks Craig). I don’t think I’ve seen this in action in any company I’ve worked at, HigherEd or corp.

    “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is.” - Yogi Berra

  5. Says:

    As an ex-employee I can tell you Netflix does not even come close to living up to that culture deck. The culture is actually known as a culture of fear inside the company. Most people are worried about losing their job, and why shouldn’t they be, the termination rate is astronomical. Put that together with NO REVIEW SYSTEM and you end up with a very hysterical work environment. No one knows who is going to get fired next, and the ones that are fired are usually pretty well liked. It’s just a total madhouse. To envy the Netflix model is a complete absurdity.


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