NEWS14 March 2023

Netflix Emea insights director on research talent: ‘We need to give people freedom to have an impact’

Insight Alchemy News Trends Wellbeing

Autonomy is key to fostering wellbeing and creating good working cultures that people want to be part of, according to Patrick Collins, consumer insights director Emea at Netflix, speaking at today’s Insight Alchemy conference in London. 

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Speaking during a panel discussion on how research leaders can build stronger teams in a context of wellbeing challenges and talent shortages, Collins (pictured, centre) said: “I see it as my job to set the culture so that my team can do the best work of their lives, be happy and have a good work/life balance.”

For Netflix, freedom of responsibility is a key tenet of the company’s approach to culture, explained Collins, who manages research leads in six countries in Emea. “Increasingly, I feel that we need to give people the space and freedom of responsibility to have an impact on their world,” he said.

This means that people choose their own hours, approaches of working and even what areas they focus on. “My job is to create the garden my team can grow in. I can’t control what they do, but I can give them the business context and suggest areas for them to focus on,” said Collins.

Elaborating on Netflix’s approach to culture, Collins said: “We don’t optimise for short-term success, it is all focused on the medium or long-term. It’s about not doing projects where you don’t understand what you’re doing or you don’t give a shit.’

“I try to get my teams to try something new. If it fails, it doesn’t matter, it’s about honourable failure. You have an area, resources, and your own brain, and it’s my job as manager to support you.”

Accountability is an important part of the equation when it comes to giving teams autonomy, said Ann Constantine (pictured, second from right), until recently head of insight, marketing effectiveness and customer experience at Direct Line Group: “Accountability is a two-way thing. Accountability and autonomy go hand-in-hand; if you give people the space and freedom they need, that’s a great way to manage, but there has to be accountability over what is delivered and when.”

Constantine said: “As a people manager, you need to be very clear about what you are asking people to do, and why.”

Being a people manager is “not a side hustle”, added Constantine: “It’s a priority and part of your job. You shouldn’t feel guilty about sitting with someone for half an hour over a coffee.”

Discussing the importance of checking in with people, Collins said: “We have to give everyone the mental machinery to do their job everyday, making sure that everyone has a critical relationship with their job, and the business as a whole.” For Collins, this means saying hello at least once a day. “It worries me because I’m not seeing them face-to-face very often. I realised I have to say hello to someone at least once a day, giving them an opportunity to have a chat.” 

Opinium chief executive James Endersby, chairing the panel (pictured, left), pointed to the industry’s wellbeing challenges as highlighted by the recent Opinium and MRS survey on the issue, and the question of talent shortages. He observed that now is a crucial time for the industry due to these factors, saying: “We’ve got those two forces coming together.”

Inger Christenson, founder and partner at Daughter of Sailors and chair of the MRS Flex Forum (pictured, second from left), said: “People are seeking a better culture and more supportive working environment. Many are feeling unheard and not seen, and they are looking for somewhere they can thrive – somewhere that suits their individual requirements.”

Christenson also pointed to the power of clear expectations and saying ‘no’. She said: “Expectations with the client and also with your team, if they are clear and communicated well, can build trust. 

“We need to, as an industry, smash the myth that great client service is just saying ‘yes’.”

Lizzy Moroney, head of customer strategy at Firefish (pictured, right), said the agency is increasingly getting questions from candidates during job interviews about what the culture is like. “We need to have an answer and be ready to talk about that,” she said.

Moroney said one of the most important things agencies can do is to learn from others across the business: "Everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher. We've got to improve feedback as leaders, and not default to where the power is, for example – if someone regularly chairs a meeting, ask someone else to chair it."

The panel also shared how leaders can look after themselves in order to more effectively look after their teams: 

  • Christenson: “Yoga and choir bring me a lot of joy.”
  • Collins: “It’s very easy to take everyone’s problems and make them your own. Rather, it’s about giving your team the tools to solve them." 
  • Constantine: “Find the things in your sweet spot. What is your super strength as an individual? Do more of that.”
  • Moroney: “Find your allies internally, and hang on to joy. There is no greater buzzkill than a leader who can’t be bothered. Find a hobby you can be blissfully mediocre at, it helps to be a better leader."
  • Endersby: “It’s important not to be a workaholic as a leader, because people are watching."