'Don't hire jerks': Management advice that could change our experience at work

‘Don’t hire jerks’: Management advice that could change our experience at work

The headline ‘Don’t hire jerks’ caught my attention in the Australian Financial Review today.

The article featured some business/management advice shared specific to law firms on how to get profitable, from Harvard Professor Heidi Gardner.

But it was her blunt statement to not “hire jerks” that really stood out, as she urged law firm recruiters to better examine a candidate’s team experience and ability to collaborate on producing revenue, before making the decision to hire or promote them.

Arianna Huffington’s also on board the jerk-avoidance mantra, urging organisations to resist hiring and supporting “brilliant jerks”.

“The no dumb jerks rule is easy, the harder rule is no brilliant jerks,” she told a CNBC conference last year. “Often you come across people who are brilliant who you know are going to be great, but you know they are going to be toxic for the culture.”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is another whose in. He recently said his company does not hesitate to get rid of “brilliant jerks”.

“Some companies tolerate them. For us, the cost to effective teamwork is too high.”

Management advice is everywhere and often complex, but this little tidbit of ‘not hiring or tolerating jerks’ is so simple and easy, yet so often ignored. In law firms. In accounting firms. In every industry sector including small businesses, but especially in large professional services firms where such hiring mistakes are too often never reversed or fixed, and can result in numerous people being affected.

Indeed, at a time when sexual harassment occurring in places of work is finally getting more attention and scrutiny, it’s a hiring policy that organisations would be wise to catch on to.

Author Robert Sutton recently described the ‘don’t hire jerks’ policy as a simple fix for all the employers wondering how they can avoid or end sexual harassment in their organisations.

It’s one step, of many, for organisations to create more productive, effective, as well as safer environments for their employers. “Use interviews, background checks, trial periods and other employee selection methods. And just don’t hire the jerks,” he recently wrote.

Sutton’s done considerable research on what he labels as “workplace jerks”, particularly in Silicon Valley. He’s even sought to calculate the costs associated with jerk hires: for example having to find and replace staff, dealing with associated legal costs, lost productivity, HR time spent dealing with victims of bad behaviour.

He also notes the further destruction such bad behaviour can have, referencing studies that find rudeness can quickly spread from one person to another, and that jerks can attract jerks (which is why in large organisations, they may be seen hunting in packs), and that a leader’s abuse can quickly spiral down the hierarchy.

Too often, the lure of a seemingly ‘top-performer’ is so good, that hiring decision-makers are willing to ignore, or just clean up, the consequences of such a top-performer’s not-so-top behaviour.

I’ve heard countless stories from women who ascribe their level of unhappiness in their place of work — or their reason for leaving it — to a single person, or small group of people.

Such people are saboteurs who undermine their colleagues, ultimately affecting a person’s ability to successfully perform in their role (along with their professional development and personal wellbeing). They’re yelling at people. They’re belittling people. They’re undermining those in their teams, and possibly even harassing and bullying others.

Don’t hire, or tolerate, jerks. No matter how brilliant they are.

Put in the hard work before making hiring decisions, rather than dealing with the difficult consequences of such mistakes when they ultimately become a significant problem.

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