The A-holes Rule.

I’m not a huge fan of rules.  Creative people as a species are naturally averse to them.  But if you want to develop a business with a strong culture you need some rules to guide you.

When I joined my first agency executive team our first order of business was to create some simple rules to govern the organization. Because we believed that a great organization is made of great people who enjoy working together the first rule we unanimously agreed on was the ‘No Assholes’ rule. For those not familiar with the rule, or the obviousness of the phrase, it means that your organization will not tolerate people who act like A-holes.

Preventing the A-holes from joining your team isn’t easy. Because they are on their best behavior in interviews. Sometimes we sniff them out (yeah, I said it). But often they sneak past our filters.  So as much as we try to prevent an A-hole from getting into our organizations in the first place, they get in. So now what?

You just get rid of them, right?  After all, no one likes an A-hole. Unfortunately it’s typically not that simple. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of talented A-holes. The drive, intelligence, confidence and will of a typical A-hole makes things happen. It’s common for them to make a quick impact and create immediate wins.

But that upside comes with an equally significant downside. Because A-holes are uncomfortable to be around, they drain morale and sap energy. The unfortunate reality is that when you retain an A-hole, it sends a terrible message about your values to your most valued employees. You’ll watch them drop like flies.  Among the employee your retain you’ll lose untold dollars in productivity as co-workers gather to talk about what an A-hole the A-hole is.

Of course the worst problem of all occurs when the A-hole develops a close relationship with the client.  Because then the agency has to decide whether they want to lose the valuable contributions of the A-hole and irritate or lose a client.

I recommend a proven 2-step process to handling such problem employees.  First, ask a handful of cross functional team members if they think the co-worker in question is an A-hole.  If the consensus is yes, put on your scrubs and perform the Assholectomy.

There simply is no room for the distraction, the division and the drama caused by A-holes. Accepting them tells the rest of the organization that it’s okay to be an A.  That can’t happen. Because eventually enough people will leave, or threaten to leave that you have no choice but to get rid of the jerk anyway.

After implementing the A-hole rule in the past, I’m proud to say we purged several very talented but very difficult people. And the culture, vibe, productivity  and love for the organization improved as a result. That’s why the ‘No Assholes’ rule will be printed on page one of The Perfect Agency Project handbook.

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Author: Adam Albrecht

Adam Albrecht is the Founder and CEO of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. He believes the most powerful weapon on Earth is the human mind. He also authors two blogs: The Perfect Agency Project and Dad Says Daughter Says, a Daddy-Daughter blog he co-writes with his 12 year old daughter Ava. Adam can be reached at adam@theweaponry.com.

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