Netflix on encouraging ‘honourable’ failure to drive innovation in market research

Marketers and researchers should be given the freedom to test the waters with new ideas, the brand’s insight director argues – but their work has to be tied to business outcomes.

netflixNetflix deliberately creates a culture of “honourable failure” to encourage innovation within its market research teams, says the streaming giant’s EMEA insights director Patrick Collins.

Innovation can only happen when people are given space to fail, he said at the Market Research Society’s Insight Alchemy conference today (14 March). It “doesn’t matter” if ideas don’t succeed – instead the company is focused on the wider goal of creating an innovative environment where fresh ideas can emerge.

“Productivity is not about volume,” he added. Those managing teams “increasingly need to give people space” to do their job and have an impact.

Indeed, Netflix’s working culture encourages staff to take agency over what they do, Collins said.

He explained: “You own your job, you’re allowed to do your job in whatever way you want, you’re allowed to take holidays whenever you want, you’re allowed to work the hours you want, but you have to take responsibility for the impact your role has.”Reach’s Andrew Tenzer: Market research ‘is not doing enough to prove its worth’

Direct Line Group’s former head of insight, marketing effectiveness and customer experience, Ann Constantine, agreed that accountability must be a two-way street.

“If you give people the space and the freedom to get on and do their job…that’s a great way to manage. But there has to be accountability that goes with it, there has to be expectations,” she said.

People managers need to be clear on why they are assigning tasks as well as what the tasks are, she explained. From a market research angle, managers should be clear on the impact pieces of research will have, whether that is tying it to return on investment (ROI) or business outcomes.

If team members feel they have “skin in the game” in driving wider success, they are likely to work much harder, Constantine claimed.

Netflix’s Collins concurred that it is important for team members to see the wider impact of their work and understand why they are doing it. The brand “doesn’t optimise for the short-term”, he added.

Centring people management

Constantine observed that in a busy environment, leaders can sometimes lose sight of managing team members properly. However, managing people is “not a side hustle”, she said, and should be prioritised.

Netflix is a business which inspires many brands’ human resources strategies. A slide show on the brand’s talent management created in 2009 by then-chief talent officer Patty McCord and co-founder Reed Hastings has been viewed over five million times online and was termed “the most important document” to come out of Silicon Valley by former Meta chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Collins noted that the brand’s talent management practices have “had to evolve” in the almost 15 years since. The streaming platform still prioritises its working culture, but that culture differs throughout its international teams.

The Italian market research team’s working culture now differs slightly from that of the UK’s, he said. However, “the key pillars” of the strategy laid out by Hastings and McCord in 2009 remain consistent. These include expecting staff to “do big things”, but enjoy themselves while doing it, Collins said.