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Culture & Communication

How ‘the no asshole rule’ boosts your culture in a growing small business.

An important rule in building your small business company culture - don't hire assholesAs I’ve mentioned before, in my opinion – most success in business (small business in particular) comes down to people.

It was Jim Collins’ seminal book ‘Built to Last‘ which really turned my thinking to where the value is in small business, and as I’ve said before – the hardest thing in small business.

In his book, one of my all-time favourites, Collins coined the phrase which I use a lot when helping a small business in its initial growth spurt:

People are not your most important asset. The right people are. Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.

How an asshole can help you grow your small business

In my holiday reading of Christmas 2011 I read the quirkily titled, but nonetheless well written and pertinent book, “The no assholes rule” by Robert Sutton. It was more fodder for my argument that small business owners and entrepreneurs really need to invest in the culture they set and maintain in their businesses. Here is an apt quote from the book:

“Assholes have devastating cumulative effects partly because nasty interactions have a far bigger impact on our moods than positive interactions - five times the punch, accordingly to recent research. Andrew Miner, Theresa Glomb, and Charles Hulin did a clever study in which each of forty-one employees carried palm-size computers. Each completed a brief survey via the device at four random intervals throughout the workday, over a two to three-week period. The device would alert the employee, a short survey would be presented on the screen, and the employee would have twenty minutes to report (among other things) if he or she had a recent interaction with a supervisor or a co-worker; and whether it was positive or negative. Employees completed a checklist about their current mood, whether they were ‘blue,’ contented,’ ‘happy’, and so on. The employees had more positive than negative interactions; for example, about 30 per cent of interactions with co-workers were positive and 10 per cent were negative. But negative interactions have a fivefold stronger effect on mood than positive interactions - so nasty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilised counterparts. These findings help explain why demeaning acts are so devastating. It takes numerous encounters with positive people to offset the energy and happiness sapped by a single episode with one asshole.” – Robert Sutton

Most of us have seen an asshole at work. If the growing business is yours (in which the asshole resides) you have the power to act and swiftly, to rectify the situation. Many people in larger organisations don’t have this luxury.

Go with your gut.

If someone in your small business is not treating people well – customers or fellow staff – do something about it. You set and maintain the culture, you are responsible for pruning it – demonstrating what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

Now, the asshole may have circumstances in their life that you are not aware of – there could be something else driving their behaviour. So don’t shoot from the hip and march them out the door, be a good manager and follow a genuine and proper process.

This is where a healthy weekly diet of the best management resource I have come across adds a tonne of value – listen to the weekly Manager Tools podcasts.

So, how can an asshole actually help your small business culture? By reinforcing your core values, ethos and culture – by standing up to an asshole and either reforming or rejecting them. As the owner and entrepreneur in your small business you set the example, take the lead – you are the leader.

What a small business owner/manager can do to improve their culture:

  1. Don’t hire assholes. Sounds obvious, but in the trenches you can let that initial poor behaviour of an asshole be acceptable, and start a snowball
  2. Insert into your recruitment policies that “we don’t hire or keep assholes”. And live it
  3. Use the Manager Tools feedback model to provide the asshole a chance to change, if they don’t move them out

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