The Netflix ‘Keeper Test’… And the Courage to Take It

Accountability Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: I was revisiting the now famous set of slides developed by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and then (2012) Netflix chief talent officer, Patty McCord. The Netflix “people philosophy” was posted on the web for anyone to read. Over five million people have now viewed the principles behind Netflix culture and HR strategy. The PowerPoint itself is without any “whiz bang.” In fact, by presentation standards, it’s lousy. It went viral primarily based on the merits of the slide content and challenge to much conventional thinking regarding people and culture.

One my favorite pieces from the slides is the Netflix “keeper test.” And after my vacation, it got me wondering what would happen if everyone in our company initiated a “keeper test” conversation. Here is how it would go:

All Managers would ask themselves the following: “Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving for a similar job at a competitor or peer company would I fight hard to keep?”


All team members would ask their managers: “If I told you I was leaving the company to work for a competitor, how hard would you fight to keep me and try and convince me to change my mind?”

If you’re a manager and you have people you wouldn’t fight for at all to keep in the company, then they are likely placeholders at best, blockers at worst. They are taking up a spot an “A” player could be in. Your job is to give them a generous severance package and replace them ASAP. It is the honest and respectful thing to do. If you, as an employee, ask your manager the “keeper test” and they can’t look you in the eye and tell you unequivocally, “YES,” they’d try and fight for you… Then you need to know what is missing so that the answer could be a clear “yes.” A respectful leader will let you know where you stand… No material surprise.

Character Moves:

  1. Apply the “keeper test.” If you’re a leader, be honest… Be respectful. Who would you fight for? Be ambivalent about? Or wish they’d just disappear? At minimum, if you have anybody outlined on the “disappear list,” can you imagine how he or she must feel working for you? Kindly and respectfully give them a generous severance. Their replacement, assuming you know how to attract “A” talent, will give you a 10 fold productivity increase in return. And of course you will soon ask yourself why it took so long to make the decision. (Btw, do not fight to keep “brilliant jerks.” They get results but the cost to the culture is usually way too much. These so called “brilliant” people are more easily replaced than you might think).
  1. As an employee, have the self-accountability and courage to ask your boss the “keeper test” and expect an honest response. Now you’re on the receiving end of No. 1 above. How does it feel to be on that side of the equation? How do you wish your boss would respond? Don’t you wish your boss would be letting you know where you stand regularly so that you didn’t have to ask the “keeper test” and/ or knew well in advance what the answer would be?
  1. Remember that “stars” can hit a rough patch too… Just like great organizations sometimes do. They deserve a near term pass, reasonable loyalty, and we don’t want to give up on people without understanding context. However, as they say at Quicken Loans, “The trend needs to be your friend.” If you’re performance is trending continuously downward, well you should not be surprised if things end unhappily. What you and I did “great last year” only lasts for a while. The trend has to be “up” in terms of value and contribution, or no one will fight to keep us.

Keeping in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: I guess the most relatable comparison would be to ask yourself if you’re in the “friend zone” with your job. With personal relationships, the “what are we?” question is maybe the most avoided of all… Maybe you sort of like your job, cause it’s there, it keeps paying, and it’s comfortable. There are a million reasons not to pry. But are you happy? The “keeper test” seems equivalent, cause it kicks things into gear one way or another. It can be the scariest truth ever, but you know what? Why settle? There’s a “job” out there for you. They say, “Relationships can be like jewelry… You see something that might look nice on someone, but it just doesn’t look good on you.” That’s just fine! Jobs are the same. Find the piece that wants to wear you as much as you want to put it on.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis