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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Towards Building A Civilized Workplace

Jerks, both of the competent & incompetent grade are seen across orgnizations. In fact, there is a body of knowledge available in classifying and dealing with them as well.
They come in different shapes & sizes:
- The competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasant;
- The lovable fool, who doesn't know much but is a delight;
- The lovable star, who's both smart and likeable; and
- The incompetent jerk, who...well, that's self-explanatory.

The truth is that good organizations take proactive steps to weed them out.
Came across this excellent note on Stanford University professor Robert Sutton's, new book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. I first read about the book, when Rajesh wrote about it here, when it got published. Subsequently, I saw it at the various airports that I go through regularly.

Sutton argues that assholes - those who deliberately make co-workers feel bad about themselves and who focus their aggression on the less powerful—poison the work environment, decrease productivity, induce qualified employees to quit and therefore are detrimental to businesses, regardless of their individual effectiveness. He also makes the solution plain: they have to go – without doubt or delay!!

Lets look at it : Nasty people don't just make others feel miserable; they create economic problems for their companies. There is a business case against tolerating nasty and demeaning people. Companies that put up with jerks not only can have more difficulty recruiting and retaining the best and brightest talent but are also prone to higher client churn, damaged reputations, and diminished investor confidence. Innovation and creativity may suffer, and cooperation could be impaired, both within and outside the organization—no small matter in an increasingly networked world. if word leaks out that your organization is led by mean-spirited jerks, the damage to its reputation can drive away potential employees and shake investor confidence.

Outlined Solution:

Publicize the rule by word and especially by deed

Plante & Moran, a company on Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work” list for nine years in a row, proclaims its rule openly: “The goal is a 'jerk-free’ workforce at this accounting firm,” and “the staff is encouraged to live by the Golden Rule.” At Barclays Capital, COO Rich Ricci says that “we have a no-jerk rule around here,” especially in selecting senior executives. “Hotshots who alienate colleagues are told to change or leave.”

Weave the rule into hiring and firing policiesPerkins Coie, a Fortune "100 Best Places to Work" in 2007, for the 4th year in a row, reject rainmakers for just this "no jerk" reason. As senior partners Bob Giles and Mike Reynvaan report, "We looked at each other and said, 'What a jerk.' Only we didn't use that word.”

Teach people how to fight

By all means build and encourage the culture of "constructive confrontation". Methods like “disagree and then commit,” are fine as second-guessing, complaining, and arguing after a decision is made sap effort and attention and thus make it unclear whether the decision went wrong because it was a bad idea or because it was a good idea implemented with insufficient energy and commitment.

Apply the rules to customers & clients
Organizations that are serious about enforcing the no-jerks rule apply it not just to employees but also to customers, clients, students, and everyone else who might be encountered at work. They do so because their people don’t deserve the abuse, customers (or taxpayers) don’t pay to endure or witness demeaning jerks, and persistent nastiness that is left unchecked can create a culture of contempt infecting everyone it touches

Manage the little moments
Putting the right practices and policies in place is useless if they don’t set the stage for civilized conversations and interactions. People must treat the person in front of them, right now, in the right way, and they must feel safe to point out when their peers and superiors blow it.

Enforcing the no-jerks rule
Executives who are committed to building a civilized workplace don’t just take haphazard action against one jerk at a time; they use a set of integrated work practices to battle the problem. At the workplaces that enforce the no-jerks rule most vehemently and effectively, an employee’s performance and treatment of others aren’t seen as separate things. Phrases like “talented jerk,” “brilliant bastard,” or “a bully and a superstar” are oxymorons. Jerks are dealt with immediately: they quickly realize (or are told) that they have blown it, apologize, reflect on their nastiness, ask for forgiveness, and work to change their ways. Repeat offenders aren’t ignored or forgiven again and again—they change or depart.

The most important single principle for building a workplace free of jerks, or to avoid acting like one yourself, is to view being a jerk as a kind of contagious disease. Once disdain, anger, and contempt are ignited, they spread like wildfire. A swarm of jerks creates a civility vacuum, sucking the warmth and kindness out of everyone who enters and replacing them with coldness and contempt.

In professional lives, never allow such things to happen –start by enforcing this in your immediate environments. If you are about to join a new organization, you can even do a reference check on your prospective boss says, Guy Kawasaki, aiding with a checklist of issues to be assessed prepared by Bob Sutton. On a related note, read this lovely article by Larry Bossidy on what your leader expects of you and what you can in turn expect.

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