Here is an excerpt from a “classic” article written by Robert Sutton for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company in 2007. To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.
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Nasty people don’t just make others feel miserable; they create economic problems for their companies.
- the use of its software by more than two million employees at over 1,200 companies around the world
- the use of its software by employees speaking 18 languages in 156 countries
- growth three times that of the company’s nearest competitor
- enthusiastic recommendations of the product by nearly all customers
- dramatically low employee turnover
- employing no jerks
That’s right—no jerks—although the word SuccessFactors really uses (except on its Web site) is a mild obscenity that starts with the letter A and sort of rhymes with “castle.” All the employees SuccessFactors hires agree in writing to 14 “rules of engagement.” Rule 14 starts out, “I will be a good person to work with—not territorial, not be a jerk.” One of Dalgaard’s founding principles is that “our organization will consist only of people who absolutely love what we do, with a white-hot passion. We will have utmost respect for the individual in a collaborative, egalitarian, and meritocratic environment—no blind copying, no politics, no parochialism, no silos, no games—just being good!”
Dalgaard is emphatic about applying this rule at SuccessFactors because part of its mission is to help companies focus more on performance and less on politics. Employees aren’t expected to be perfect, but when they lose their cool or belittle colleagues, inadvertently or not, they are expected to repent. Dalgaard himself is not above the rule—he explained to me that, given the pressures of running a rapidly growing business, he too occasionally “blows it” at meetings. At times, he has apologized to all 400-plus people in his company, not just to the people at the meeting in question, because “word about my behavior would get out.”
As Dalgaard suggests, 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.
The problem is more widespread than you might think. Research in the United Kingdom and the United States suggests that jerk-infested workplaces are common: a 2000 study by Loraleigh Keashly and Karen Jagatic1 found that 27 percent of the workers in a representative sample of 700 Michigan residents experienced mistreatment by someone in the workplace. Some occupations, such as medical ones, are especially bad. A 2003 study of 461 nurses found that in the month before it was conducted, 91 percent had experienced verbal abuse, defined as mistreatment that left them feeling attacked, devalued, or humiliated. Physicians were the most frequent abusers.
There is good news and bad news about workplace jerks. The bad news is that abuse is widespread and the human and financial toll is high. The good news is that leaders can take steps to build workplaces where demeaning behavior isn’t tolerated and nasty people are shown the door.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.
Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, is cofounder of its Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. This article is adapted from his book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, New York: Warner Business Books, 2007.
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