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The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't Hardcover – February 22, 2007
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The No Asshole Rule was awarded a Quill Award as the Best Business Book of 2007.When Robert Sutton's "No Asshole Rule" appeared in the Harvard Business Review, readers of this staid publication were amazed at the outpouring of support for this landmark essay. The idea was based on the notion, as adapted in hugely successful companies like Google and SAS, that employees with malicious intents or negative attitudes destroyed any sort of productive and pleasant working environment, and would hinder the entire operation's success.Now using case studies from these and many more corporations that have had unquestioned success using variations of "The No Asshole Rule," Sutton's book aims to show managers that by hiring mean-spirited employees - regardless of talent - saps energy from everyone who must deal with said new hires.FEATURING A NEW CHAPTER ON THE RULE AND ITS SURPRISING IMPACT! In this new version of The No Asshole Rule, Bob Sutton provides an uproarious account of the world-wide reaction to his best-selling book. As he writes: "I didn't plan it. I never wanted it. I didn't believe it at first. And it still make me squirm." Sutton's talking about having been branded as "the asshole guy." But beyond the initial shock value of the provocative title, Sutton's epilogue goes on to detail the kind of impact this important book has had on corporate organizations and employees everywhere. His book has provided a major wake-up call to those individuals in the business world and beyond who somehow have lost sight that a little civility goes a long, long way when it comes to dealing with our fellow human beings - and leading an effective organization. This is one epilogue that is definitely worth reading.
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"A jerk; an inappropriately or objectionably mean, inconsiderate, contemptible, obnoxious, intrusive, or rude person"
I think "mean-spirited" captures it nicely. To be clear, the "Chronic A******s" are not people who are having a bad day -- these are nasty people by nature. To be Chronic "they have to show a persistent pattern, to have a history of episodes that end with one target after another feeling belittled, put down, humiliated disrespected, oppressed, de-energized, and generally worse about themselves." They are mean to peers and especially to those beneath them but they often suck up to superiors.
Ironically, and I suspect from little comments, anecdotes, and admissions, that Sutton can be a bit of one himself. In a revealing interview after the audiobook he snickered a bit that a co-worker glares at his visitors for him so they'll leave him alone, but will still think favorably. Of him. And get this: he advises all new Stanford faculty members to pick a few people to completely ignore. If you're not pissing a few people off, he said, you're not doing your job, and he seemed proud of that. So this fun little book is authored by an expert; these are kiss-up/kick down btihces and here is how they do what they do:
2.Invading one's personal territory
3.Uninvited personal contact
4.Threats and intimidation, both verbal and non-verbal
5.Sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems
6.Withering email flames
7.Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
8.Public shaming or status degradation rituals
12.Treating people as if they are invisible
Sutton gives quite a few examples of high-profile a******s -- often bosses, CEOs and business people I'd never heard of, but with chilling, despicable stories. Steve Jobs, Bobby Knight, etc. come to mind. On the good end of the spectrum find Men's Warehouse, Costco, Southwest Airlines, Ideo, and Google. But this book is mainly about practical advice:
*Why are there a******s?
They may bully their way to positions of power, especially when they have redeeming qualities that are considered essential.
*How do you determine if someone is Certifiable?
We're all a******s sometimes, but if it's repeated, demeaning, and it mostly targets people with lower status, the person may be Certifiable
*How do you deal with a mean-spirited boss or coworker, or employee when you can't just fire them.
Avoid them; prepare yourself psychologically and anticipate abuse.
*How do you weigh the value of a skilled employee who is also an a******?
Within an organization being mean-spirited is incompetence.
* How does an a****** hurt witnesses and bystanders?
Those who intercede become targets, and intimidation drives good people out as well. Morale and trust declines through the whole organization.
*When should you confront the behavior, when to ignore it?
It may depend on how badly you need your job!
*How can you devastate an a******?
Publicize their behavior in a venue that is not under their control.
*When does it make sense to care less about work, if the environment is hostile?
If you can't just quit, disassociate -- in these cases, "passion is an overrated virtue, and indifference is an underrated virtue."
*What should you do if you have employed an a******?
Get rid of them quickly, don't promote them, and if you can't dispose of them, make them a public example of what not to do.
*Where do you find a******s?
A******s find another a******s, and they stick together. So look for the close associates of known a******s.
* Why is it much better to not have a "no a****** rule" than to have one that is not enforced?
It draws attention to the toleration of mean-spirited people, and it parades hypocrisy.
* Just how costly are they?
Targets quit, and bystanders and witnesses quit too. Those who remain become indifferent or hostile. Theft rates increase. Absenteeism increases. This is quanitfiable with a TCA analysis -- "Total Cost of A******s"
* And what are the advantages of being one?
Well, you do get attention, when you absolutely need it.
*What happens after an organization purges an a******?
There is a often palpable feeling of relief, and a realization that they were not so valuable to the organization as they had appeared, after all.
One of the most disconcerting things I learned is how easily a "culture of mean-spiritedness" can develop. For one thing, if they are on hiring committees they will tend to hire people like themselves. Secondly, when they meet another a****** they adhere to one another with a bond that is not easily broken. Third, their behavior and attitude is infectious -- regular people are easily sucked in and begin acting like jerks, too. So, as Sutton put it, a******s breed a******s, and there you have it -- a snakepit. There is nothing like a "swarm of a******s," Sutton wrote, "to suck the life out of civility."
Once readers get past the slightly weird feeling of seeing Sutton's (mild) profanity in print, there is a realization that no other term would be quite as perfect for describing those nasty, negative individuals that can ruin a workplace.
Through a variety of stories and specific company examples, Sutton explores the idea that 'difficult people' aren't just annoying, but also destructive emotionally and financially. In one example, a firm went so far as to calculate the hard cost of dealing with a sales superstar who no one could stand -- counting lost productivity, counseling, employee turnover and other factors, the tab (aka TCA) totaled more than $150,000 a year. The organization didn't just go through this exercise for show, it formed the basis of a reduction in the offending salesperson's annual bonus!
If you happen to work for a company that is less thorough in dealing with these sorts of problems, Sutton does offer some coping strategies. But, his bottom line: life is too short to work with, for, or around 'difficult people'. And if you work for a company that willingly suffers them, it's probably not the place to be.
It should also be noted that eliminating 'difficult people' from the workplace does not mean creating a wimpy, milquetoast environment. In fact, Sutton is a firm believer in constructive conflict as a vital component of good decision making, and references companies like Intel where a healthy balance between politeness and professional disagreement has been struck.
This is the first of Bob Sutton's books that I've read, but I'll be back for more. For those of you looking for a sampler, you might consider reading Sutton's blog 'Work Matters'.