If you are offended by this term, Robert Sutton in his book The No Asshole Rule writes this is the only word appropriate in this context. Why?
“There is an emotional reaction to a dirty title. You (an author) have a choice between being offensive and being ignored.” – Robert Sutton
Regarding advice on the topic, this author chose not being ignored.
Since my company, Daxko, has won several national “Great Places To Work Awards,” I often get asked to speak to HR professionals about culture. I espouse the term “corporate culture” is just spin if your executive team can’t define what it is. Also, literally defining your cultural differentiation is the first step a company must make before policies and procedures are defined.
It is the cornerstone. This is how you define cultural fit in your interview process; which, some say cultural fit is the most important determinant of a long-term successful hire.
I suggest the fastest way to define your cultural norms is to purposely hire an asshole. I mean a real one. Perhaps even a D-Bag. Urban dictionary defines a D-Bag as “an individual who has an over-inflated sense of self-worth who behaves ridiculously in front of colleagues with no sense of how moronic he appears.” You know you’ve worked with at least one of these. Who are we kidding?! You’ve worked with a lot of these.
There are other types of work assholes in the not-so-ridiculous category. Many are are actually quite smart:
- Leaders of all levels
- Sales Reps (although they can swing both ways)
- Compliance officers
- Tech wizzes (check out this SNL clip with Jimmy Fallon)
- Potentially everyone
But you can’t possibly know your tolerance for assholes until you hire some. The assholes can either make your company thrive or be a cancer. You’ll know very quickly the jerk-effect on your culture. I imagine Netflix must have hired many before they decided one of their cultural norms is “No Brilliant Jerks.”
HR pros continually try to protect hiring managers from hiring bad apples. They warn (aka mother) managers from making mistakes, beg them to analyze and compare candidates to be objective, and plead “don’t make a rash decision leaning toward hiring a jerk!”
Stop doing this unless you know what is successful in your company. Then define your culture. Then put tools in place (scorecards, etc.) to hire the right folks.
Let’s get one thing straight. Over the last decade the most successful leaders with the most successful (profitable) companies, with the most satisfied customers have cultures that establish trust first. This entails a focus on team-member motivators and strengths, an ability to connect and solicit feedback. They show humility and are transparent. My company subscribes to this model and has seen continual growth and profitability year after year in the tech industry.
But some cultures really do need assholes to thrive. Their cultural “differentiator” is valuing high rules and compliance (nuclear power plants, coal mines) or astronomical, world shifting product-developments which demand mind-numbingly, aggressive results (Apple and Amazon). Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos were (Jobs) and are (Bezos) notorious assholes. They likely bred asshole employees, too. They may have even hired those that valued results and ambition over “deep conversations about career growth.”
These companies tolerate a culture of fear because:
- They are highly successful, are very profitable and stockholders are generally happy.
- Turnover is a non-issue. For every person fired at any of these companies there are several candidates in the wings ready to take their place.
- The leaders have an uncanny ability to focus and articulate the company’s purpose. Employees know they are in for a wild ride but understand why.
So what is the better model?
Well, it could be both. Successful 21st century leaders in more typical companies combine both.
- They build trust first.
- Evangelize purpose continually.
- Take strong stands on accountability third.
One begets the other.
Only your company will know what model works for your culture. But if you want to fast track the “defining” process, hire an asshole.
Be on the lookout later this month for the new FOT video series called “No Scrubs”—brought to you by Chequed.com.
Dawn Burke, Sr. Consultant for Recruiting Toolbox and founder/advisor for Dawn Burke HR, is an HR leader, speaker, and writer specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture. Her HR/recruiting/leadership career has spanned the last 20 years, with past gigs including a foundational role as VP of People for Birmingham, AL’s award-winning technology company, Daxko (And yes, Kris Dunn and Dawn are making Bham the HR capital of the world! Who knew?). You can also check her out at DawnHBurke.com and a variety of other interesting places. Google her, it’ll keep you posted on what she is up to.
Most importantly: She is addicted to TV, knows most of the lyrics to Hamilton and West Side Story, loves to cry at movies (check out Cinema Paradiso for a cry fest!), thinks wine, a wheel of Brie and Milk Duds make a well-balanced dinner, and sings in her car daily. Her husband and cat are the Yin to her Yang.