Book notes: Powerful by Patty McCord

Powerful by Patty McCord book summary review and key ideas.

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Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord


“When it comes to recruiting, motivating, and creating great teams, Patty McCord says most companies have it all wrong. McCord helped create the unique and high-performing culture at Netflix, where she was chief talent officer. In her new book, Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, she shares what she learned there and elsewhere in Silicon Valley.  

McCord advocates practicing radical honesty in the workplace, saying good-bye to employees who don’t fit the company’s emerging needs, and motivating with challenging work, not promises, perks, and bonus plans. McCord argues that the old standbys of corporate HR—annual performance reviews, retention plans, employee empowerment and engagement programs—often end up being a colossal waste of time and resources. Her road-tested advice, offered with humor and irreverence, provides readers a different path for creating a culture of high performance and profitability.   

Powerful will change how you think about work and the way a business should be run.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

This has been on my list for a while but I’m finally getting around to it. Mostly because it’s a shorter read. I haven’t read a business book or a book about a specific company in a while so this will be fun to read

Key notes:

Chapter 1: The Greatest Motivation Is Contributing to Success – Treat People Like Adults

  • Great teams are made when every single member knows where they’re going and will do anything to get there
    • Great teams are not created by incentives, procedures, and perks. They are created by hiring tons of people who are adults and want nothing more than to tackle a challenge
      • And then communicating to them clearly and continuously about what the challenge is
  • Great teams relish a challenge
  • One of the best perks in a company is working alongside other high performers
    • Excellent colleagues, a clear purpose, and well-understood deliverables are a powerful combination
  • The most important job of management is to focus really intently on the building of great teams
    • If you hire the talented people you need and you provide them with the tools and information they need to get you where you need to go, they will want nothing more than to do stellar work for you and keep you limber

Chapter 2: every single employee should understand the business – Communicate constantly about the challenge

  • Ensure that communication flows up and down
  • Never underestimate the value of the ideas and the questions that employees of all levels may surprise you with
  • Don’t assume that people in your company are uninterested or too stupid
    • Either don’t hire stupid people or better yet don’t assume that people are stupid, just uninformed or misinformed
  • Truly understanding how the business works is the most valuable learning, more productive and appealing than employee development training

Chapter 3: humans hate being lied to and being spun – practice radical honesty

  • Being transparent and telling people what they need to hear is the only way to ensure that they both trust you and understand you
    • Practicing radical honesty is extremely important
  • Hold people to the standard of transparency of asking them if they’ve talked with the person directly with whom they have a conflict with
  • People learn to welcome criticism
    • Openly sharing criticism is a hard thing to get used to, but people will quickly come to appreciate how valuable this openness will be to the organization
  • At first, she would let people vent to her
    • Then she would ask if they’d talked to the person directly and they usually said no. And she questioned why not since they said it to her
    • Then she helped them to go over it again without the emotion
    • She reinforces the importance of giving specific examples of the problematic behavior and proposing solutions
  • Model honesty and people will pick the habit up
  • There was a mandate for all managers to set the standard with their teams that it was unacceptable to talk about people behind their backs or to come to them to complain about a colleague unless the problem was concerning an ethical violation
  • Provide mechanisms for feedback
  • Admit when you’re wrong and you’ll get better input
  • Anonymous feedback doesn’t make people more truthful
    • Anonymous feedback sends mixed messages

Chapter 4: debate vigorously – Cultivate strong opinions and argue about them only on the facts

  • Be fact-driven, but data-driven
    • Data doesn’t have an opinion
    • Data is not the answer but rather the basis for good questions 
  • Beware of data that looks great but doesn’t matter
  • Earn a reputation for selflessness
  • Orchestrate the debates you want

Chapter 5: Build the company now that you want to be then – Relentlessly focus on the future

  • Don’t let hiring become a numbers game
  • You’re building a team, not raising a family
  • Sometimes promoting is not the right solution
  • Adopt more fluid team building
  • Advice for all working people:
    • Stay limber
    • Keep learning new skills
    • Consider new opportunities
    • Regularly take on new challenges so that work stays fresh and stretches them
  • Put yourself in a startup founder’s shoes
  • Nostalgia is an early warning sign
  • Hire the people you need now for the future
  • Envision what you want your business to look like in 6 months and immediately start working towards that

Chapter 6: someone really smart in every job – Have the right person in every single position

  • Knowing when it’s time for people to move on goes hand in hand with bringing in top performers with the skills you need
  • Be a great company to be from
  • Retention is not a good metric of a great team
    • The measure should be how many great people you have with the skills and experience you need, and how many new people with the skills and experiences you need are you hiring
  • A business is about providing a service that makes a profit, it’s not about making employees happy
    • It’s great for employees to be happy, but it’s best for both them and the companies if they’re happy because they’re doing great work with great people
  • True and abiding happiness at work comes from being deeply engaged in solving a problem with talented people you know are also deeply engaged in solving, and from knowing the customer loves the product or service that you worked so hard to make
  • Motivation is about talent density and appealing challenges
    • The diversity of brilliance
  • Making great hires is about making great matches

Chapter 7: Pay people what they’re worth to you – Compensation is a judgment call

  • Be transparent with pay and have a good rationale for paying top dollar for high-performance 

Chapter 8: The Art of good goodbyes – Make needed changes fast and be a great place to be from

  • False promises will only leave people feeling betrayed
  • We should all be proactively preparing for the road ahead


  • One foundation of successful culture change is honesty about the challenges and the nature of progress along the way
  • When people feel they have more power and more control over their careers, they will feel more confident
    • Confidence to speak up more, to take more risks, to pick themselves up again when they make mistakes, and to take on more and more responsibility
  • Trust and believe that people have their own power and allow it to flourish

Closing thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book and all of the insights it had about creating a high-performing team culture. This reminds me of several other great books I’ve read (I’ll link them below) because it really relates to what I do for work.

Some of the insights that stuck with me that have a strong practical application are how to create a culture that truly makes people happy and keeps them engaged. Sometimes we think that we have to provide benefits to make our team happy. However, fulfillment actually comes from being able to work on great projects with talented people and provide something that the consumers of our products will really enjoy. This is what keeps people motivated and engaged, as well as attracts other talented and motivated people.

I would highly recommend this book for people who are leaders or managers in their organization, or just, in general, want to create a more motivated culture within their team. I think the insights here are valuable to almost anyone because we all usually find ourselves working with a group of people at one point or another.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

One of the biggest takeaways I got from this book which I’m currently applying to my team is:

  • Providing mechanisms of non-anonymous feedback and a culture of honest transparency will greatly enhance team dynamics

One thing I pushed for my team this past year was to implement consistent mechanisms of feedback so that we could surface issues when they arise in order to try and resolve them. I’ve also learned that half the time, as long as people feel heard, that’s usually what matters the most.

Moreover, this culture of consistent and non-anonymous feedback reinforced the principle that it was okay to talk about our challenges. It allows us to prove that we’re open to hearing concerns and willing to improve where we can. Doing so consistently builds trust within our team over time.


Insights on how to build a great team culture.

Similar books:


Rating: 4 out of 5.


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