Change According to Netflix Founder: “It’s Hard”


Brand strategy. Loyal customer bases. Steadfast CEOs. Comfort. Consistency. Memorability. Apple.  McDonald’s. Netfli…(a needle scratches off a record… um, I mean, the mp3 player crashes…)

Belated Response?

The Netflix Debacle

It might seem like I’m a little late in writing about this topic because it has been a couple of months since I got the email from Netflix founder Reed Hastings, that his movie rental company was breaking up with me.

Well, ok, it was more like an ultimatum.  Either I go with their digital streaming option or I’m history…

Then, just as my tears dried up and I was ready to come to terms with my flawed still-prefer-DVDs-to-streaming-way-of-watching-movies (or maybe I wouldn’t if they had more than my favorites from the 80s??), I got a make-up letter from Mr. Reed’s staff.

Yes, that’s right.  Reed broke up with me, but his “Netflix staff” did their best to give me a “Whoops… I am so sorry” note.

Leadership at Its Best, Take One

It’s only now that I’m able to talk about it, mostly because a month ago Reed admitted that his decision was hard to justify.. and that the new DVD site split from Netflix (Qwikster) became “the symbol of Netflix not listening.”

It’s taken me the last few weeks to consider the following about my video service provider:

“So… what would lead me to believe that Netflix is listening now?”

An Explanation and Some Reflection

The truth is that I’m just not what Netflix is looking for. And as my heart heals and my dignity begins to grow again, I’ve come to terms with how outdated I am in all of my DVD-rental splendor.  I get it.  Netflix wanted to grow with the times, needed to seek out new customers, yearned for the existing streaming users to grow with.

But their new fling just isn’t with me…

Digital Confessions…

Okay… I admit it… I once dabbled in digital foreplay with the new kid on the block; I was once a streaming user for a time… He was interesting, cute, and fresh… But with all of the interruptions in the service delivery and only half the new movies on the digital shelf… I just couldn’t keep up.

Oh yeah, and the 100% price increase to keep on board was a little hard on me, too.

Seems it was hard on a lot of people. And now it’s hard on Netflix.

Leadership at Its Best, Take Two

“Change is hard.” 

That’s what Reed told me.  I once fancied myself a ‘Change Management’ expert, but he had my number on this one.  I needed to change.  Me.  The consumer.  I needed to change if I were to remain a loyal customer.  Leadership at its best, take three.

Change is Really About Leadership

I reached down deep, though, and mustered the strength… I thought “No,” as the great William Bridges says:

“Change isn’t hard– TRANSITION is hard.  For me, harder yet is when you don’t have the right leadership to lead you through it.”

Leadership Jobs

Let’s face it, folks: change can be easy and very enjoyable.  Steve Jobs (Rest in Peace), did a pretty great job leading us through change.  Put the product strategy and rollout mumbo-jumbo away.

What he and his company did and still do very well is all about change management:

  • Using technology
  • Connecting with people
  • Buying music and media
  • Learning and USING media
  • Exploring our artistic sides again
  • Getting into global markets that were once considered unreachable for media

An Apple A Day

Apple doesn’t just market product sor make products for the consumer…

“The number one impact Apple has on the world is about change.”

Shoot!  They have us so good at change that we can’t WAIT for the next change, and people actually buy new versions almost every year!  Economically sound?  Heck NO!  Embraced with all of our hearts and souls?  Heck YES!  Change isn’t hard with Apple, it’s their growth strategy and we’re WITH them on it! 


And what about McDonald’s?  Ah, McDonald’s… they love us for who we are, and let’s face it– over a billion people for years and years love them for who they are.  They built their entire brand on decades of steady-eddy food that became addictions all over the world.

Deep down we didn’t want them to change, but we knew it would be better for us if they did.  They didn’t want to change.  For them, change was hard.

But we held strong: We said:

“You have to change McDonald’s; we love you and need you to change with us!” 

What did they say back?

We’re changing together.” 

Together.  Jim Skinner would never ask me to change my ways in order for me to stay loyal. And he’d certainly never dump me by email without even following up with a news circuit rotation to ease my pain and provide additional support.

Instead he and his leadership team are leading their mammoth organization through significant change.   


And so, Reed, I’m doing OK.  I know we had a good thing while it lasted, but  I understand now that you wanted more.  Things weren’t working as well for you as they were for me.

But I must ask:

“With so many other leaders finding their way of leading their consumer-mates through change and doing it pretty well, what happened?”

Why is steadfast, prominent, and visible leadership so important during times of change?  What should leaders hold themselves accountable for during transitions that impact their customers?  How can the way change is communicated impact a customer’s perception?  Do you think timely and consistent messaging is important during transition?  Why? I would love to hear your response!


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Christa (Centola) Dhimo is President & Founder, via Best Practices
She helps clients by aligning human capital performance with business results

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2 responses to “Change According to Netflix Founder: “It’s Hard”

  1. Christa,
    You raise some very good points. I like the use of the real life examples.I think we share some of the same thoughts regarding change. I also posted an article on the Netflix issue you may find of interest: . I think much was, and still is, to be learned from the way Netflix handled this matter. I like your mention of Bridges, I’m a fan of his work. Actually, I just wrote a recent article on his work as well: . Thanks for sharing.


    • Thanks for the read and for your note, Scott. I appreciated your posts as well. Interestingly, for me many lessons we can learn from the Netflix situation are lessons that were learned decades ago about the importance of the customer point of view. I suppose Netflix (Reed Hastings, really) just gave us a big reminder of what can often become a foregone conclusion: your customers may not always know what they want, but they sure as heck know what they don’t like.



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