The Keeper Test

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to do a talk and spend some time with a senior management team at Netflix. In preparation for the event, I read through the Netflix Culture Doc, a document about what Netflix call their “unusual corporate culture”.

While there were many, many things I loved about their approach, one of my favorite bits was how they determine whether to let an employee go during their periodic reviews:

We have no bell curves or rankings or quotas such as “cut the bottom 10% every year.” That would be detrimental to fostering collaboration, and is a simplistic, rules-based approach we would never support. We focus on managers’ judgment through the “keeper test” for each of their people: if one of the members of the team was thinking of leaving for another firm, would the manager try hard to keep them from leaving?

…Given our dream team orientation, it is very important that managers communicate frequently with each of their team members about where they stand so surprises are rare. Also, it is safe for any employee at any time to check in with their manager by asking, “How hard would you work to change my mind if I were thinking of leaving?”

In the tension between honesty and kindness, we lean into honesty. No matter how honest, though, we treat people with respect.

While some people would argue that this kind of subjective test is too subjective to be of any objective use, I respect it because of one simple principle I’ve noticed across the board in pretty much any arena I’ve worked, coached, or played in:

Our feeling is fundamental to our impact and effectiveness.Click To Tweet

In other words, our genuine appreciation and enthusiasm for what we are doing and the people we are doing it with pay huge dividends in relation to both how much gets done and the quality and impact of our work in the world.

As a business owner, I love “the keeper test” as a tool for employee management, as it fosters genuine heartfelt honesty on the part of both employer and employee. But as a coach, I think it’s equally helpful as a tool for goal and project management:

How hard would you fight to keep going with your individual goals and projects if you were going to be forced to abandon them?Click To Tweet

In the Creating the Impossible program, I talk about it in terms of checking in to see that your levels of inspiration, engagement, and enjoyment for a project are consistently at an “8+” – that is, an eight or above on a scale from 1 to 10. Here’s how I write about the link between that kind of inspired feeling, impact, and effectiveness in the book:

Have you ever been so inspired by a subject that you stayed up late studying it? Have you ever got so into a project that you had to make yourself (or be told to) stop working on it and go back to your ‘real job,’ or even stop to eat?

While inspiration is often equated with enthusiasm, it’s a closer cousin to fascination – a genuine interest in a particular topic or goal.

While it may seem as though it’s the result of something outside us, it’s actually a capacity inside us. We’ll naturally become fascinated with pretty much anything to which we give our full attention. It’s built into our system. And that fascination will in turn heighten our senses, allow us to respond intelligently and directly to the world around us, and bring forth fresh thought from the invisible giant of our creative mind.

Allowing yourself to become inspired by your impossible project will lead you to higher levels of engagement and resilience. You won’t have to remind yourself to make time to work on your project, though you may have to remind yourself to take time for other things.

Time and energy will even become more malleable. You might feel exhausted one moment and then your imagination will catch fire and you’ll think, Well, maybe I could make one more call! Well, maybe I could put in just one more hour! Well, maybe I could paint one more bit of this! Well, maybe I could talk to one more person!

And because you’re inspired, it won’t even matter so much how things are going. You’ll be more interested in the project than the result. You’ll tend to get fresh new ideas and insights without even having to go and look for them. You’ll start to notice new possibilities and opportunities on a regular basis. And if you keep seeing new possibilities, some of them will inevitably come to fruition.

That’s not to say your mood won’t go up and down. Thought will still be a constant variable. But as long as you allow yourself to be really present and engaged with your impossible project, you’ll be able to ride out your moods and keep moving forward with your creation.

Here’s how we employ this idea in my own company guidelines:

We are an 8+ company

We choose projects to work on and people to work with that are an 8 or above in terms of our enthusiasm, engagement, and resolve. If we can’t or won’t find and sustain high levels of enthusiasm, clarity, and resolve around a project or person, we either address it or move on. Consequently, we do less better.

When we first instigated this idea, I sometimes struggled not to self-delude, trying to convince myself that “If I really understood the thought-created nature of personal reality, I wouldn’t blame the project or person for my lack of enthusiasm, so if I’m not at an 8+ that’s my fault.”

But eventually I came to realize this:

While it’s theoretically possible to fall in love with anything and anyone, sometimes it’s easier to just admit that you don’t and move on.Click To Tweet

Here’s a simple way to put the keeper test to work on your own goals and projects…

1. Make a list of any significant projects you’re currently working on

2. Rank each project on your list from a scale of 1 – 10 for how inspired you are to work on it.

3. For any projects that aren’t an obvious 8+, run them through the keeper test:

How hard would you fight to keep going with this project if you were going to be forced (or given the opportunity) to abandon it?

If your answer is anything other than “very hard indeed”, you not only know why you’re probably struggling with that project, you also have a clear idea of the way forward…

With all my love,