Human Resources News & Insights

Could your handbook use some more profanity?

No one likes working with a jerk. But here’s a company that’s taking serious measures to keep them away.

New hires at SuccessFactors, a software firm based in San Mateo, CA, are required to sign off on a list of 15 corporate principles.

Number 15: “I will not be an a–hole.”

CEO Lars Dalgaard implemented that policy after years of corporate experience taught him that jerks (as we’ll call them) “stifle performance,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

As for the harsh language, he said the rule would be easier to ignore without it.

What also makes the rule tough to ignore is that Dalgaard isn’t afraid to enforce it. One time, he took a group of job candidates out to lunch at a local restaurant. Those who weren’t friendly to the waitstaff weren’t brought back to continue the interview process.

Ever worked at a company that needed a policy on jerks? Do you think a rule like Dalgaard’s is good for a company or just an impractical gimmick? Let us know your opinion in the comments section.

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  • Brian

    The problem is that Dalgaard is the one defining what an a-hole is. However I LOVE the idea of taking job candidates to lunch. I think it was Dave Barry who said, “If your friend is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, they’re not really nice”.

  • JVN

    Yes, the definition of a-hole is kind of like the definition of porn (and I’m paraphrasing a supreme court justice here), it’s hard to put into words exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it.

    I don’t think the language would fly around here, but I have to give Dalgaard credit for his take charge attitude. Jerks do “stifle performance”.

  • Dan Kaufman

    I absolutely LOVE the taking-out-to-lunch thing. Kudos to Dalgaard for taking head-on an under-reported and -acknowledged problem in corporate culture.

    I once had an employee who was very nice to clients, but treated our suppliers–and sometimes fellow employees–like crap. She didn’t understand how important it was to treat EVERYone well. It’s not just good business–it’s good for the soul.

  • CS

    Part of our second interview process always includes lunch or dinner. If the wait staff aren’t treated with courtesy the interview is over and small talk resumes. Our philosphy is that all people are treated equally. This process certainly eliminates a lot of candidates.

    The A-hole corporate principle makes the company sound rough. But it might eliminate the ones who seem to slip through the cracks and get hired.

  • Lucy

    I love it! Kudos to Dalgaard for implementing a straight forward approach. I like laying it all on the table and you can’t make expectations any more clearer than that! In this day and age of political correctness and being sometimes forced to perform a song and dance to get the point across, I can appreciate the directness. Taking candidates to lunch and/or dinner is an excellent idea too. I once did this for a candidate I was considering for a high level position. He showed up 45 minutes late with no excuse or apology, and that was the deciding factor.

  • Maria

    Was it Henry Ford who took prospective candidates to dinner and decided on hiring based upon whether or not they salted their food before tasting? Kinda the same principle….and I LOVE IT too.

    It’s brazen and brassy but it’s in black and white and makes employees think, right? AND it is subjective, BUT does it really matter?

  • HR in louisville

    Although taking candidates for a job out to lunch is a nice gesture, How many of them actually act like their “true self”, and not put on a show for their perspective employer? I have interviewed several potential employees that were very sweet during the interview, but once hired, showed their true self and it was not pretty. But, I do like the idea of making them sign to not be an a-hole.
    That’s good stuff.

  • JVN

    Louisville –

    I would tend to agree, but from the posts of our peers, it seems that some people can’t help but show their true unpleasant nature even over the course of a lunch. Look at the guy Lucy mentioned. 45 minutes late for a job interview lunch? No explanation or apology? Whoa! Don’t walk away from that candidate. Run!

  • Lilly

    I Love it! It’s about time we get back to straight talk. Life is so much easier that way.

    Political Correctness is BS that grew from frivolous lawsuits. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone sued Dalgaard because the implied word offended them.

    “Good grief”, said Charlie Brown

  • mike R

    To Brian and JVN:

    “The problem is that Dalgaard is the one defining what an a-hole is. ”
    “Yes, the definition of a-hole is kind of like the definition of porn (and I’m paraphrasing a supreme court justice here), it’s hard to put into words exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it.”

    I think you have identified the problem with this practice right there. Many times we have a “problem” with someone and we don’t go through the steps to identify what it is. Is it something they said or did? Or is it because they remind you of someone you have a problem with? Or is it because you have problems with them based on their race, color, creed, nationality, veteran status, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

    As supervisors, we have a responsibility to be able to address behaviors on the job. We should be able to identify what behaviors are expected. When we take the stance “I know it when I see it” we are placing our companies at risk based on our personal beliefs and bias’. Granted it is extra work to figure out what really is wrong and what would be needed to fix it. But that is why supervisors are paid more. Many supervisor’s experience informs their beliefs and bias’ so that there is a business basis for what they expect. If the supervisor cannot explain what behavior was the problem or what behavior was expected, then the supervisor and the company has a problem. Those who dislike being sensitive to others perspectives or review their own prejudices and bias usually complain about political correctness out of frustration.

  • JVN

    Mike –

    Agreed. I am not applauding or thinking of adopting Dalgaard’s practice, just admiring his spunk.

    Have a great weekend!

  • RVP

    While a no a-hole policy seems like a great idea, how practical is it? Some environments are tough and the a-holes of the world thrive and the company thrives because of their personality. I would think that a lot of the people eliminated because of this policy are Type A people. We can all do without Type A people on us all the time, but can you imagine a company without any Type A Personallities. You would have a bunch of happy people all trying to please eachother all the time and while they may all get along, how much will get done? Worse – how much will be missed?

  • Heather

    Mike – I both agree and disagree with your statement. I fully understand it on the basis that one person may be viewing someone’s behavior as them being an a**hole while the person supposedly being one may not be intending to be one at all (hence what Brian and JVN have said). However, there are also many behaviors that would cause someone to receive that title that would be unnecessary to try to pinpoint and would still be deemed jerk behaviors by popular opinion. For example, take someone who was spoiled as a child and always got her way and didn’t overcome that as an adult. Perhaps she is always there on time, and got her work done efficiently. Yet, her self-centered behavior and disregard of others would easily get her labeled a b**** although SHE may not consider herself to be one. Does that mean that other employees should be taught to accommodate her behaviors? Are you suggesting that each individual behavior characterizing her as such should be pointed out and reprimanded? Involving political correctness, how would you even call those behaviors “rude” – if that word as well could be interpreted differently by different people and she does not see herself that way? Likewise, how much does it matter if she is not setting out to be a b**** yet other employees, and possibly clients, view her that way?

    It is that kind of “political correctness” that tends to infuriate me (not saying you would as I said, I DO understand your point) often times. It highlights what this world has come to. I hope that you, Mike, are not going to this extreme but it essentially boils down to a situation where, even if the majority vote view you as a b**** or an a**hole, if the person is not blatantly doing anything WRONG and does not see his or her behavior as being that way, we should all just try to understand that person’s perspective.

    It’s the same thing (going off on a quick rant here, sorry) that brings children to be the spoiled brats they often are today! If a child is misbehaving, spend less time trying to conclude a logical and psychological/physiological reason WHY, and spend more time DISCIPLINING the child! That’s why we have so d*mn many spoiled bratty DISRESPECTFUL ADULTS these days. People have, for some reason, taken to the idea of trying to figure out all these different reasons and approaches for why children act the way they do – reason with them, diagnose them, give them pills to handle their behavior, so that parents don’t have to accept any blame for how their kids turn out and kids don’t have to accept any responsibility or be accountable for their behaviors. Were your GRANDPARENTS raised that way?! Look at the elderly and older people and what THEIR idea of respect was. Virtually non-existent in today’s world. Sickening. Anyway – I’m done. Sorry.

  • Dale

    You can also tell a lot about a candidate by how they treat the support staff. Candidates that are rude to my assistant don’t make it through to the next step.

  • Cristina

    I think while unorthodox, including “attitude” as a corporate principle can make employees think of their behavior and its effect on others. Why not send a message that general rudeness is not acceptable?

    We’ve become very reluctant to take a stand or voice an expectation outside of strict dollars and cents or things that directly affect the bottom line; little by little we’ve become complacent with issues that although “abstract”, have a significant effect on the quality of the work-place and consequently, everyone’s productivity.

  • mike R

    To Heather:

    I understand and agree. I am enfuriated when I try to address a problem in the workplace, when one or both parties are ready to pull the “I’ll sue you” lever when they know that it is about their behavior.

    Times have changed. I remember when that person coming to work every day and doing their job was pretty much EVERYONE and there wasn’t such an emphasis on social skills (except for sales). We have gotten to the point where the good worker (who may be introverted and not interested in forming friendships at work) is forced to develop these social skills to survive at work. Today we consider the A**hole as the one that points out to supervision when the amiable person is always talking and not working, late coming back from break, or taking shortcuts. They don’t wish to deal with the other person and want the supervisor to ensure that everyone works and that the distribution is fair. There was a time when the supervisor would welcome that information and deal with the slacker. It was the “slacker” who was thought of as “inconsiderate and nonproductive.” The other workers probably silently agreed with the employee who reported them. But we have gotten to the point where we want the employee to address these issues directly with their co-worker first and resolve it without supervisor intervention.

    I noticed over the years, that this dynamic is still alive and well in authoritarian structures like Accounting Departments and Payroll with a strong CFO and the work deals with black and white issues and numbers. When the jobs get more “people oriented” and the supervison structure is more loose, the dynamics change. I’m not saying either is RIGHT or WRONG. Today, as HR I have to get these people to work together and keep turnover down. That is why I focus on their behaviors. For the amiable person, I try to point out how their behavior is nonproductive and a distraction for other employees. For the other employee, I try to coach them to be more assertive. Jobs today require everyone to learn and stretch themselves.

    It takes MORE involvement and effort on the part of supervision to manage today. In the day, younger people were coached by their elders and there was a trust and a bond. If supervisor’s slack and not identify what everyone is expected to do and communicate that to their staff, then they will be seen as “taking sides” or “showing favoritism.” In this “sue happy” culture, that is not a good place to be.

  • mike R

    To Cristina:

    “I think while unorthodox, including “attitude” as a corporate principle can make employees think of their behavior and its effect on others. Why not send a message that general rudeness is not acceptable?”

    While your suggestion seems reasonable on the surface, the lack of specificity in the term “attitude” lends itself to interpretation and therefore further conflict.

    There was a time when the wealthy and affluent had the inside track on the best jobs and benefits. The term used not so long ago was they had better “breeding.” They went to the best schools, had the best nannies and coaches, and plenty of examples of “civilized behavior.” The less affluent had to struggle and survive. They were the “unwashed masses” who did the menial labor work.

    Of course, some of those attitudes and sense of entitlement exist today. We say we live in a classless society, but take a look at the “value” we place on a college education over “proven experience.” Just take a look at how readily we expect the UAW to take wage consessions to their signed agreements and yet when AIG says they had to pay their white collar employees because they had contracts, we hardly bat an eye. We place so much “value” in the money a person makes, but is there really anyone on this planet worth 100 to 1000 times the lowest wage employee in their organization? For every 1 million dollars an executive makes each year, its about 80 times minimum wage. For an exective making 10 million a year, it is 800 times the minimum wage. This sense also affected the compensation for those who died in the 911 attacks.

  • patrick

    I hope that #14 was not: “I will not use offensive, obscene, vulgar, or profane language in my professional communications.”

  • Don

    Kudos to Mr. Dalgaard. Number 15 seems all little un-professional but what the hey. I’m sure that this leaves a lasting impression on those that are hired. A problem I think we all have, whether we will admit it out-loud or not, is that we need to find out what kind of person we are talking to and still be within legal bounderies. Since there are alot of “professional interview” applicants around that have “training” in how to interview, it’s a great idea to put them in a situation that any kind of “training” they do get would not prepare them for this. Basically, the gloves are off. If the business requires kindness to customers and co-workers, what business wouldn’t, what better way than to put them in a situation to show the prospective employer that he or she is kind, considerate, friendly (boy scout othe can go here) and not know this is what the prospective employer is looking for. You have got to be creative and legal to know who you are talking to. Mr. Dalgaard, my hat is off to you. Kudos again.