What if the Boss Has a Really Bad Idea?

Susan Hall

The New York Times reports Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, while soaking in a hot tub with a friend, spilled his idea to split the company's movie-rental business in two. The friend's reaction?

That is awful. I don't want to deal with two accounts.

A post at Career Upshift suggests that perhaps someone within the company should have said that. The company announced Monday that it lost 800,000 subscribers in the third quarter. Its stock price fell 30 percent Monday and another 35 percent Tuesday. Analysts told TheWrap there's more to come. It quotes Tony Wible, an analyst at Janney Capital Markets, saying:

Netflix has revealed a lot about how it cares about investors and customers through its actions. I think it would be wrong to say it cares about those people.

The Career Upshift post points to other big flubs: the Decca Records exec who didn't sign the Beatles, the launch of New Coke. Sometimes, someone needs to say something before these things take on a life of their own. But it recommends treading carefully. You'll get a reputation as a naysayer if you attack your boss's every idea. And it has more to do with how you say it than necessarily what you say. Perhaps the public broadcast of the Google engineer's manifesto wasn't the right forum. Nor the right tone. The article advocates:

Be respectful and polite. If you're going to point out a problem, be prepared to offer a solution. Anticipate that the first response will be, "What is your better idea?"

Couch it as being a loyal team player, wanting only what's best for the company. And, the article points out, speaking up might not change anything at all.


As to what Hastings has planned to fix the mess that Netflix is in, All Things Digital's Peter Kafka explains it this way:

When Netflix was a DVD company, it could afford to offer just about every movie or TV show every made. Now that it's a streaming video company, it has to pick and choose.

So Hastings is trying to build an $8-a-month version of HBO - a network you pay for in addition to your regular TV package, not one that replaces it. And to make that work, he doesn't have to have everything - but he has to have stuff you can't get anywhere else.

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