Most organizations, especially big ones, have written policies that sound like censored versions of the no asshole rule. Many reinforce the message by posting it widely (usually with a list of other “core values”) and teach it during employee orientation sessions. Senior managers routinely talk about the virtues of mutual respect or words to that effect. Some leaders and organizations even use the uncensored version of the rule. Only a few organizations talk about the rule as a centerpiece of their culture.
Organizations that are serious about enforcing the no asshole rule apply it to customers, clients, students, and everyone else encountered on the job, not just to employees. They apply the rule to everyone because their people don’t deserve the abuse, customers (or taxpayers) aren’t paying good money to endure or witness demeaning jerks, and if persistent nastiness from any group is left unchecked, it creates a culture of contempt that infects everyone it touches.
Ten Steps to Enforcing the No Asshole Rule
- Say the rule, write it down, and act on it.
But if you can’t or won’t follow the rule, it is better to say nothing at all—avoiding a false claim is the lesser of two evils. You don’t want to be known as a hypocrite and the leader of an organization that is filled with assholes.
- Assholes will hire other assholes.
Keep your resident jerks out of the hiring process, or if you can’t, involve as many “civilized” people in interviews and decisions to offset this predilection of people to hire “jerks like me.”
- Get rid of assholes fast.
Organizations usually wait too long to get rid of certified and incorrigible assholes, and once they do, the reaction is usually, “Why did we wait so long to do that?”
- Treat certified assholes as incompetent employees.
Even if people do other things extraordinary well but persistently demean others, they ought to be treated as incompetent.
- Power breeds nastiness.
Beware that giving people—even seemingly nice and sensitive people—even a little power can turn them into big jerks.
- Embrace the power-performance paradox.
Accept that your organization does have and should have a pecking order, but do everything you can to downplay and reduce unnecessary status differences among members. The result will be fewer assholes and, according to the best studies, better performance, too.
- Manage moments—not just practices, policies, and systems.
Effective asshole management means focusing on and changing the little things that you and your people do—and big changes will follow. Reflect on what you do, watch how others respond to you and to one another, and work on “tweaking” what happens as you are interacting with the person in front of you right now.
- Model and teach constructive confrontation.
Develop a culture where people know when to argue and when to stop fighting and, instead, gather more evidence, listen to other people, or stop whining and implement a decision (even if they still disagree with it). When the time is ripe to battle over ideas, follow Karl Weick’s advice: fight as if you are right; listen as if you are wrong.
- Adopt the one asshole rule.
Because people follow rules and norms better when there are rare or occasional examples of bad behavior, no asshole rules might be most closely followed in organizations that permit one or two token jerks to hang around. These “reverse role models” remind everyone else of the wrong behavior.
- The bottom line: link big policies to small decencies.
Effective asshole management happens when there is a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle between the “big” things that organizations do and the little things that happen when people talk to one another and work together.
Assholes Are Us
Think about the times when you were the guy at the counter, when you were the asshole in the story.
If you want to build an asshole-free environment, you’ve got to start by looking in the mirror. When have you been an asshole? When have you caught and spread this contagious disease? What can you do, or what have you done, to keep your inner asshole from firing away at others?
The most powerful single step you can take is to follow “da Vinci’s rule” and just stay away from nasty people and places. This means you must defy the temptation to work with a swarm of assholes, regardless of a job’s other perks and charms. It also means that if you make this mistake, get out as fast as you can.
Remember admitting we’re an asshole is the first step.