Can Work Be Civilized?

Are you familiar with a Stay Interview? It’s sort of the opposite of an exit interview. The Stay is proactive, not reactive, and it helps you gauge team members’ satisfaction. My team takes part in Stay Interviews as we drive to build responsive connectivity in our workplace. And create active engagement with the team, our customers and our suppliers.

“Staying” Connected on a Deeper Level
We learned a lot from the process of Stay Interviews and have started integrating ideas and suggestions into our employee community.  One of those ideas?  Form a book club at work with the intent to drive additional social interaction at the team level, outside of the daily grind of work.  It’s a way to get to know people without the pressure of delivery.

I hosted the first at my house, a casual, relaxed affair with equal amounts of conversation and laughter.  We talked about life, family, friends, and of course the book.  We were able to interact with each other on a much different and deeper level.  I personally gained a better appreciation for individuals’ personal stories and perspectives.

I picked the first book and eventually  realized maybe I am not the best person to pick a book.  I am not sure everyone felt energized by my choice, Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business.  So, we crowdsourced for the next book choice – each member could submit a title of interest, a list was compiled then everyone voted.  The winner: The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton.  I admit, when the votes were tallied and this book won – by a landslide – there was a moment when I paused and wondered, “Is there a message here?”

Who’s the A-hole?
But the book was very interesting. Its central theme is a quest to build a civilized workplace and survive one that isn’t.  The book originated from the author’s February 2004 HBR Breakthrough Ideas essay, More Trouble Than They’re Worth.

Sutton states that there should be a rule to recruiting, hiring and maintaining your workforce. The NO a-holes rule!  He admits he originally thought there was no way HBR would run it.  But they did. And he was shocked at the responses.  It resonated with countless people all over the world.  That feedback energized him, and was a catalyst for doing the research and writing the book.

I have to admit before I started the book I was thinking ‘OMG I am an a-hole, just ask my wife.’  But as the author quickly points out, everyone is an A-hole, sometimes.  He was not focused on temporary a-holes (thank goodness for me).  He suggests identifying “certified” a-holes.  To be a certified a-hole you pass a two part test:

  • Part 1: After talking with the alleged a-hole, does the target feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, etc?
  • Part 2: Does the alleged a-hole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful?

If you think that sounds like bullying, you’re right. He actually cites research that focuses on bullying.  It’s also referred to as interpersonal aggression, emotional abuse.  In my opinion, this test nails it and I have come across these people in my career – we all have.  These people DO make me feel de-energized, angry and often I want to scream. Honestly, it gets to me and I have to consciously practice emotional control or I lose it.

Character Building through Conflict Resolution
Some may think:  ‘that’s just work’, ‘comes with the territory’ or, ‘people have to act that way to get stuff done.’  But Sutton brilliantly distinguishes between being soft versus being able to execute.  He does not advocate for a conflict-free environment.  Quite the opposite – he is in favor of conflict and candor.  He defines that as true leadership.  But he is encouraging constructive conflict focused on working toward a better outcome.  Sutton encourages his readers to watch the people around them, notice how they treat those with more power and those with less – as a true sign of character.  In the end, he’s making a case for leadership with strong moral character.

His argument is essentially, we should try to rid the system of a-holes thereby creating a more civilized workforce or at least working environment.  I love the idea! I think we have work to do, but the fact that so many people have reacted to the concept makes me hopeful.

I thank my team for suggesting this one in the first place and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.  I look forward to the next one!