I had a truly inspiring conversation last week with Mike Kail, VP of IT Operations at Netflix. Mike’s perspectives on innovation and leadership are incredibly valuable, and I want to share them with you.
Netflix is a great example of a company that’s leaning forward and embracing new technology as a competitive advantage. The company recently migrated from a traditional enterprise finance platform to a cloud-based solution from Workday. The decision to switch from the classic platform to a relatively new, off-premise solution captures the innovative spirit of the Netflix team.
“We’re taking a bleeding-edge approach to replacing custom on-premise legacy enterprise software applications with cloud-based alternatives,” says Mike. “We’re enabling the IT team to focus on delivering results instead of focusing on bolting together infrastructure and maintaining a bunch of custom software.”
I love where Mike is going with this. He sees the cloud as a logical alternative for classic IT operations, and he’s moving aggressively to reduce complexity across the IT portfolio.
Mike’s ability to pursue a genuinely transformational IT strategy is based on trust – the C-suite relies on his judgment and his knowledge. At Netflix, trust is embedded into the corporate culture, and it enables Mike and his colleagues to move much more quickly than their counterparts at more traditional companies.
“We have developed a culture that embraces freedom and responsibility,” Mike explains. “We hire intelligent, fully-formed adults and then we allow them to do their jobs without encumbering them with processes that exist just for the sake of having processes. For example, if I want to move a service into the cloud, I don’t have to get a sign-off from our CEO or sit in a meeting with our CFO and explaining every detail. They trust me to make the right choices and to take responsibility for making it work. That’s a big part of how we can move more quickly than the competition.”
When I listen to Mike, I hear the future of IT. It’s a future in which IT leaders are given the freedom and the responsibility to make the best decisions for their companies, a future in CIOs have more than “a seat at the table” – they are trusted members of the executive leadership team.
At Netflix, words like freedom, trust and responsibility aren’t used lightly. They define the culture. Reed Hastings, the company’s CEO, lists nine behaviors and skills that are highly valued at Netflix: judgment, communication, impact, curiosity, innovation, courage, passion, honesty, and selflessness. Those qualities are encouraged, supported and rewarded across the Netflix corporate culture.
When Mike hires new staff for the IT team, he looks at more than the applicant’s technical abilities. He also considers how well they understand the culture. “We probably put as much, if not more, emphasis on the cultural fit. Working here requires more than being smart. It requires the ability to work in a high performance culture of innovation.”
You can read more about Mike and other visionary IT leaders in my blog, The Transformational CIO. Please feel free to join our ongoing conversation about innovation, and email your comments to me at email@example.com
You can also order copies of my newest book, On Top of the Cloud (Wiley, 2012) from Amazon and other online vendors.