This list started last year when a reporter asked, “The No Asshole Rule is fun to talk about, but does anyone ever actually use it?” It turns out that there is also a lot good news out there, lots of great leaders and many civilized places that people can work. I wrote an initial list back then, and I update it every now and then. This is the latest. This list is far from exhaustive, but check out the breadth of places and the different ways that the rule is used:
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway As Buffett's right-hand man and long-time Berkshire Hathaway Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger puts it in Snowball "We had the no asshole rule very early. Our basic rule is that we don't deal with assholes." Check out this post for more details and thoughts.
Barclays Capital. They don’t use the word “asshole,” because they are, after all, a respectable financial institution! BusinessWeek reports:
“Hotshots who alienate colleagues are told to change or leave. "We have a 'no jerk' rule around here," says Chief Operating Officer Rich Ricci.”
The Disbarred Lawyer. The Village Voice tells us that attorney Kenny Heller might be the most obnoxious in New York City and that the powers that be finally had enough of his antics:
‘After 50 years of heaping abuse on everyone within earshot and hurling accusations of conspiracies, "favoritism," and "cronyism" at countless judges and lawyers, the 77-year-old Heller has earned this distinction: No other lawyer in the city but Heller, according to records of his disciplinary hearing, has been ousted for "obstructive and offensive behavior which did not involve fraud or deception."’
‘Heller was disbarred for basically "being an asshole," as one adversary puts it. And in their profession, the rival adds, "that takes some doing."’
SPM Communications. Principal Suzanne Miller won a national contest for women-owned business, in part because her company applies the no-jerk rule to both employees and customers. As the Dallas Morning News reported:
“It struck a chord with the judges and audience,” she said. “Everyone has worked somewhere crappy." Ms. Miller described the contest as “American Idol for businesswomen.” About 900 applicants from around the country were whittled down to 20 finalists who assembled in Phoenix to present their cases before an audience and a panel of judges. “Part of the competition was to give a three-minute elevator speech on how we’re different and why we’ll reach the mark,” Ms. Miller said. Like the TV talent show, the contestants ran through a rehearsal, got ripped apart by coaches and then performed for real the next day. Ms. Miller basically got her spiel down to nine words: "Life is too short to work with mean people." Obama Campaign. As I wrote on this blog, an article in Politico suggests that the rule was applied in the campaign and helped them deal with setbacks and losses without freaking-out or blamestroming. Cheif strategist David Axelrod is quoted as saying to a fellow staff member ""There are no assholes,” Axelrod responded. “There are going to be no assholes on this campaign.”
Lloyd Gosselink and Perkins Coie. Lawyers may earn their bad reputations at times, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how many firms espouse and enforce “no asshole rules.” Joshua de Koning, is firm Administrator of Lloyd Gosselink Blevins Rochelle & Townsend, which is located in Austin, Texas. He wrote me that a few months back “I ordered my copy of The No Asshole Rule a couple of weeks ago from Amazon.com and am enjoying it thoroughly. The title caught my attention, not just because it's a great title, but because our firm has had the exact same rule (phrased in exactly the same way) since it's founding in 1984.” And they are not alone, Perkins Coie, a national law firm that with headquarters in Seattle has applied the “no jerk rule” for years, which has helped the firm to be named one of “the Top 100 Best Companies to Work for” five years in a row. See this story at Human Resources Executive Online for more about how the rule works at Perkins Coie (and other nuances of the rule).
Ms. Miller described the contest as “American Idol for businesswomen.” About 900 applicants from around the country were whittled down to 20 finalists who assembled in Phoenix to present their cases before an audience and a panel of judges.
“Part of the competition was to give a three-minute elevator speech on how we’re different and why we’ll reach the mark,” Ms. Miller said. Like the TV talent show, the contestants ran through a rehearsal, got ripped apart by coaches and then performed for real the next day. Ms. Miller basically got her spiel down to nine words: "Life is too short to work with mean people."
Obama Campaign. As I wrote on this blog, an article in Politico suggests that the rule was applied in the campaign and helped them deal with setbacks and losses without freaking-out or blamestroming. Cheif strategist David Axelrod is quoted as saying to a fellow staff member ""There are no assholes,” Axelrod responded. “There are going to be no assholes on this campaign.”
IDEO. I talk about IDEO, one of the most famous innovation firm in the world, in The No Asshole Rule. Check out Fast Company's and BusinessWeek's lists of the most innovative companies in the world. IDEO ranks 5th and 15th respectively -- alongside giants like BMW and Procter & Gamble. They also are explicit about applying the no asshole rule in hiring.
Sterling Foundation Management. Sterling helps wealthy individuals establish and management private foundations. CEO and co-founder Roger D. Sterling wrote me, after “stumbling” on The No Asshole Rule that: ‘This is a principle that I was told about early in my career as "Never do business with an Asshole," and which we have since adopted. We've applied it to both clients and employees, to greatly beneficial effect. I would reckon it of equal or greater worth than present value analysis, which I must have been taught a dozen times in the course of getting to a Ph.D. in applied economics.’
Gold’s Gym. Joe Gold was founder of the famous gym that produced multiple body building champions, including a certain future film star and California governor named Arnold. His management philosophy was: “To keep it simple you run your gym like you run your house. Keep it clean and in good running order. No jerks allowed, members pay on time and if they give you any crap, throw them out. There's peace where there's order."
van Aartrijk Group. Peter van Aartrijk is CEO and founder of this 14 person marketing and advertising. He has used the rule since 2000, when the firm was founded. As Mr. van Aartrijk told the Wall Street Journal in 2007:
I decided we would surround ourselves with clients who are fun to be with and are still very smart. All of what we've done since has been built around that simple philosophy -- a 'No Assholes Policy,' or NAP."
Mr. van Aartrijk reports that applies the rule to employees as well as clients, and that: that he routinely uses this policy to turn away clients:
"I probably turn away about 20% of the revenue we could be bringing in. But I think we gain over the long term, in relationships with clients; we're still growing 20% a year. We make new clients aware of the NAP up front. Most of them love it. Some send emails to others and blind-copy me, and they say, 'Be sure to ask him about his NAP.'"
Perhaps clients who are considering working with this company should take the Asshole Client for Hell Exam (ACHE) as a self-test first!
Robert W. Baird. This financial services firm was #39 on Fortune's 2008 Best Places to Work list. Now, they are up to #11. Fortune asks: "What makes it so great?" And they answer 'They tout "the no asshole rule" at this financial services firm; candidates are interviewed extensively, even by assistants who will be working for them." Since I first learned about Baird, I have spoken to multiple people from the company, including CEO Paul Purcell, who enforces the rules with zest and humor. Here are some of the details.
The Wine Buyer. The belief that the no asshole rule ought to be applied to customers can be seen in many industries. A California wine buyer explained how he applies the rule:
“In my business, we have a rule that says that a customer can either be an arsehole (I'm English originally) or a late pay, but not both. We have reduced stress considerably by excluding some customers on this basis.”
A related concept is “asshole taxes:” I know people in occupations ranging from plumber to management consultant who don’t “fire” asshole customers, but charge them substantially hire fees as “battle pay” for enduring the abuse.
“Asshole-Free Section” in a Bar. I love this recent post by Pam over at Writing, Work and Weasels:
‘Once, at my father’s pub, we had a particularly raunchy crowd of drunken, loudmouth idiots. One of our regulars took a piece of cardboard from a beer delivery box and a magic marker, and scrawled “Asshole-Free Section.” He stuck it on the corner of the bar where we were sitting, and we entertained ourselves for an hour or so saying “hey, didn’t you bother to read the sign?” to anyone who came to sit with us.’
Mozilla, the folks who bring us the Firefox browser. Asa Dotzler, their open source marketing genius, explained to me what it isn't efficient to be an asshole there, or in the open source world in general.
Washington Mutual, Before the Greed Set In. Lou Pepper was CEO of Washington Mutual in the 1980’s. Lou was a lawyer when he was brought in as CEO. It was then a small local bank that was losing about 5 million dollars a month. Everyone assumed that his job was to shutdown the bank or to sell it. Instead, Lou helped turned the company around and it has since become a huge and successful bank. When Lou heard about the book, he wrote me “I was CEO of Washington Mutual in the 1980s and had a clear rule for our hiring. It was hire the smartest we can so long as they are not assholes. In 1990, when my successor took, over he kept the same rule.” Lou told me that it was not the first time that he had applied the rule; he used it at the law firm that he led before taking the Washington Mutual job. (P.S. Alas, WaMu is now a victim of its own greed and collapsed as part of the meltdown. Under Lou Pepper, they became a great bank, but it didnt last.)
Bible Studies Class. This one still amazes me more than any other experience that I’ve had since publishing the book. I’ve written about it before, but no list of different places where the rule has been discussed and used would be complete without it. Psychology Professor Richard Beck wrote a post called "1 Corinthians and The No Asshole Rule." He starts out:
'Two weeks ago it was my turn to teach my adult Bible class at church. We are going through 1 Corinthians and I was up to teach the famous Chapter 13, "Love is patient, love is kind..."
And I thought to myself, "Richard, what are you possibly going to say in class that hasn't been said before about 1 Corinthians 13?"
Then it hit me. I started the class by doing a book review and reading selections from Dr. Robert Sutton's new book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.
'So, we reflected on all this in my Sunday School class. And after reflection on the No Asshole Rule, I read these famous words:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs..."
Basically, don't be an asshole.'
SuccessFactors. This Silicon Valley firm is one of the fastest growing software firms in the world. I have blogged about them extensively since publishing the books because they not only have a “no assholes rule,” they require all new hires to sign an agreement – they call it “the rules of engagement” -- that includes making a commitment not to act like an asshole. I also gave a talk on The No Asshole Rule to all 400 people in the company last January, just before the book came out – which was great fun, as the audience hollered and hooted constantly. Check out their website for goodies including a video of CEO Lars Dalgaard talking about the rule (and admitting that he is a recovering asshole) and also an article that I wrote for the McKinsey Quarterly that talks about their company (and other aspects of building a civilized workplace). As of May, 2008, SuccessFactors is still going great guns and I had a great time talking about the rule to a gathering of over 500 people in San Francisco -- employees, customers, suppliers, and so on -- in early June called SuccessConnect.
Arup’s “No Dickhead Rule.” Arup is one of the most renowned construction engineering firms in the world; in fact, they were recently profiled in The New Yorker (Check out this abstract for the ‘The Anti-Gravity Men”). As I wrote here, Robert Care, CEO of the Arup’s Australian and Asian operations recently wrote me that they instituted the “no dickhead rule” in his part of the firm:
"I work for a truly wonderful professional services company that is truly extraordinary and that is doing really well in many many ways. Three years ago I became the CEO of our Australasian operation. It occurred to me that there was an issue (not just in the Australasian part of our operations) that needed to be dealt with. I then heard something in September 2005 that started me thinking, and then talking to my close colleagues. They encouraged me to speak more widely in my organisation and eventually we evolved a 'no dickhead policy'. "
Goldcorp in Canada. The CEO Ian Telfer reports spending a lot of time enforcing the rule:
"There is a bestseller right now called The No Asshole Rule. It is all about: 'Don't hire any assholes.' So I spend a lot of time picking who we're going to hire. You need someone with technical qualifications, but you also have to find someone who can work with other people and respect other people."
Hamilton Canada: The Jerk Free City? I confess that this is stretching it, as it is a proposal that has not been implemented. One of my favorite articles on the book appeared in the Hamilton Spectator. Author Jay Rob proposed, “Let’s Try To Be a Jerk Free City.” Rob’s half serious proposal was that they adopt "Hamilton: The Jerk Free City" as their official slogan. And he added:
To stand by our slogan, we'd have stand firm on our no-jerk rule. We wouldn't work for them. Do business with them. Or elect them. Everyone would get a shot at redemption through eight-week intensive courses run by previously invisible receptionists, cleaning staff and admin. assistants. Folks who refused to get along would have to move along. If the Aerotropolis doesn't fly, let's pave over some farmland and build a walled-in suburban compound of McMansions where ill-tempered big-shot bullies could snarl at each other and leave the rest of us alone.”
Shakespere Miami: As Colleen Stoval, their Artistic Director, wrote me:
Behavior in the theater can easily become very destructive. Directors routinely turn a blind eye to bad behavior in the name of nurturing or retaining top talent. Some talented actors think that to be a "real" leading actor, they need to behave like jerks. This attitude can become destructive and quickly poison the morale of an entire cast. Anyone applying for a position with Shakespeare Miami is not only told about our "No Assholes" rule, they are required to sign an agreement to abide by it. It is posted on our website: www.shakespearemiami.com.
The diversity of this list delights me. Sure, there are still too many jerks out there and too many organizations (and apparently cities) where every day feels like a walk down Asshole Avenue. But there are also a lot of smart and civilized people who are fighting back and, better yet, winning. I’d love your comments. In particular, if you have some new examples of places that talk about and apply the rule, please tell me!
P.S. These examples focus mostly on “top down changes,” but organizational norms can also change when persistent and influential people work to set the right example and to point out – even in public – when behavior happens that demonstrates the wrong way to behave. A good example of this comes from a British manager who wrote me that he works in a firm that is infested with assholes, but since he read The No Asshole Rule, he and several colleagues are working to change their norms. He described one of the most effective methods as follows
‘I now attend a lot of management meetings where I have started to introduce the idea of a civilized work place and that we lose available efficiency and effectiveness due to people being de-motivated. When I am now faced with negativity or an "Asshole" I have started to use a new approach of: “surely you don’t want us to breed that type of feeling in the business or listen to what you just said.” I have found this head on approach very successful.’