Make it up as you go along…there is no such thing as best practice!

It has been called “the most important document to ever come out of the Valley” – a 124 page presentation about company culture that has been shared over 15 million times on Slideshare. The document – Netflix Culture: Freedom and Responsibility – is the work of human resources veteran Patty McCord, who spent 14 years building the company’s unique culture.

McCord’s presentation explains the rationale behind some of Netflix’s very unconventional HR policies – such as unlimited vacations, no annual reviews, a travel and expense policy that’s exactly five words long, and a policy of not treating employees like family - and is a veritable treasure trove of insights into how we organise ourselves to think and work as groups. I highly recommend you read it.

While I could spend days dissecting her thinking and work, let’s peek behind the scenes and look at the best practice that made Netflix’s culture a best practice, in and of itself.

"If you look at an innovator’s mind, the innovator never says, ‘I know what we should do. We should look around and see what everyone else is doing and do it a smidge better,’" said McCord. "We just took risks with the people stuff, just like we took risks with the business."

While creating the streaming giant’s revered culture, McCord adopted a heads-down approach, isolating herself from anything beyond Netflix’s walls. She refused to read what other companies were doing with their culture and only attended HR conferences every two or three years. She basically refused to be influenced by what others were doing – and it paid off.

In short, Netflix’s best practice was to totally ignore what others were doing, and to figure things out for themselves. They wasted no time or effort looking into current best practices because nothing was good enough. They wanted something custom fit for them – so they created it themselves.

Their best practice was no best practice at all!

And with no playbook to follow, they essentially had to make it up – and make it work – as they went along. They harnessed the collective experience of their own people to design solutions that they could live and work with on a daily basis.

So my question is, why aren’t more organisations doing the same for themselves?

In truth, I’ve always loathed the term best practice because I’ve seen it keep organisational mindsets rooted in mediocrity, but I do appreciate the irony of a best practice proving my point.