I’m not a huge fan of rules. Creative people as a species are naturally averse to them. But if you want to develop a business with a strong culture and a rock solid, repeatable process you need some rules to guide you.
Prior to starting my own ad agency I had been part a fun, feisty and progressive agency called Engauge. We had offices in Atlanta, Austin, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Orlando. And we worked with some of America’s best brands, including Coca Cola, Wells Fargo, UPS, Nike, Chick-Fil-A, Nationwide, Walgreens, and Cisco. We had a lot of very talented people. And we had a great company culture. #weness But it didn’t happen by accident.
Rules That Free Us
When I joined Engauge’s restructured executive leadership team in 2011 our first order of business was to create some simple rules to govern the organization. Because we believed that a great organization is made of great people who enjoy working together, the first rule we unanimously agreed on was the ‘No A-holes’ rule. For those unfamiliar with the rule, or the obviousness of the phrase, it means that your organization will not tolerate people who act like A-holes.
Preventing the A-holes from joining your team isn’t easy. Because they are on their absolute best behavior in interviews. Sometimes we sniff them out (yeah, I said it). But often they sneak past our filters. So as much as we try to prevent an A-hole from getting into our organizations in the first place, they get in. So now what?
You just get rid of them, right? After all, no one likes an A-hole. Unfortunately, it’s typically not that simple. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of talented A-holes. The drive, intelligence, confidence and will of a typical A-hole help makes things happen. It’s common for them to make a quick impact and create immediate wins.
But that upside comes with an equally significant downside. Because A-holes are uncomfortable to be around, they drain morale and sap energy. The unfortunate reality is that when you retain an A-hole, (which means you are A-hole retentive) it sends a terrible message about your values to your most valued employees. You’ll watch them drop like flies. Among the employees you will retain you’ll lose untold dollars in productivity as co-workers gather to talk about what an A-hole the A-hole is.
Of course the worst problem of all occurs when an A-hole develops a close relationship with a client. Because then the business has to decide whether they want to lose the valuable contributions of the A-hole and irritate or lose a client.
There is a proven 2-step process to handling such problem employees. First, ask a handful of cross functional team members if they think the co-worker in question is an A-hole. Second, if the consensus is yes, you put on your scrubs and perform an Assholectomy.
There simply is no room for the distraction, the division and the drama caused by A-holes. Accepting them tells the rest of the organization that It’s okay to be an A. That can’t happen. Because eventually enough people will leave, or threaten to leave that you have no choice but to get rid of the A-hole A-nyway.
After implementing the A-hole rule in the past, I’m proud to say we purged several very talented but very difficult people. By dropping those stinky sphincters, the culture, vibe, productivity and overall love for the organization improved.
When I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016, the first rule we implemented was the No A-Holes Rule. But we didn’t just make it a rule. We baked this non-negotiable into the center of our brand identity. You’re probably wondering how we did this.
See the A in the middle of the word Weaponry? Notice that it has no A-hole? That’s because there are no A-holes at The Weaponry. #TrueStory #BakedInFromTheStart
By establishing this rule from the beginning we have had no A-hole problems at The Weaponry over the past 3 years. None. Not even a whiff of a personality problem. #snickering All of our full-time and part-time team members have been exceptional people who work great with others.
If you want to create a great work environment, team and culture you have to invite the right people in and keep the wrong people out. There simply is no room for A-holes. Even really talented A-holes. Because you will be cleaning up their crap until the day they leave. So create a policy and a process to prevent them from getting into your organization, and for removing them if they sneak in. By eliminating A-holes you will have avoided the negative distractions that kill both productivity and culture. Which means you and your team can focus on building a great business. And building great, long lasting relationship with each other.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message (like someone dealing with an A-hole) please share it with them.