Character in the Company: The ‘No Jerks’ Rule
What do you do when your top producer is poisonous to company morale? Do you keep him or can him?
I saw the President of a mid-sized manufacturer of commercial products recently face this dilemma. The company lived and died by sales. Their Sales Director—we’ll call him Sam—had the contacts, the experience and customers loved him. He accounted for over 50 percent of the company’s sales…and at least 50% of their morale problems.
Sam frequently made tough-to-meet promises to customers then returned to the office and barked orders. Without saying so, he made it clear that his work and timelines were more important than anyone else’s because, after all, without sales no one else would have a job.
He was being a jerk. And the leadership team let him because he was the goose laying the golden eggs.
Any behavior that is allowed to exist is, by default, acceptable.
Good employees began to grumble. Some left. Production lagged. Everyone but the Sales Director felt unsupported. Internal trust in the organization was waning. Their values of teamwork, collaboration and equality of all employees—carefully honed over years—became little more than words on a wall. They knew instinctively that any behavior that is allowed to exist is, by default, acceptable.
“Nothing hurts a company more than when bosses ignore, indulge or otherwise tolerate a jerk—or two or three—in the house,” according to Jack Welch. He established the “No Jerks Rule” when he was the CEO of General Electric during its glory days between 1981 and 2001. His rule was simple: Jerks are not allowed to stay in the company, no matter how good they are at their jobs. The hardest type of employee to let go is the high producer whose behaviors don’t match your company’s values.
Hire character. Train skill.
In the end, the President let Sam go. A new highly competent sales leader whose character matched that of the company’s was hired. Sure, it took time to recruit and train the sales leader and to reconnect with customers. Sales slipped for a few months after Sam left, but they recovered and so did the company.
They have implemented the “No Jerks Rule” into their hiring and retention practices. Trust has been rebuilt. It’s fun to come to work again. And sales are stronger than ever.
What’s it costing you to keep productive employees whose behaviors don’t align with your values?