Design for Impact, Not Ego
Rude and egotistical bosses and co-workers might make for great television like Succession and Mad Men, but in real life, they have no place in a flourishing workplace and design studio.
Design can be a challenging industry to work in, and many design studios have earned a reputation for churning talent. Long hours, grueling deadlines, middling pay, and a lack of respect for personal boundaries are tragically all too common.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The “No Asshole Rule”
At our B-Corp Certified design studio, we’ve implemented the “No Asshole” rule. We prioritize mutual respect and boundaries for how we communicate and what we expect.
We create healthy, collaborative relationships between our team and our clients. This is essential to delivering our best work.
A “No Asshole” rule is bigger than just being nice to each other. It’s about creating a culture of respect and collaboration that allows us to do our best work while also taking care of ourselves and each other. We believe that this is the key to building a successful design studio that is a force for good for our clients and team, the communities we serve, and the planet.
Sadly, the design industry has a reputation for rewarding hustle and results at the expense of health and humanity. This creates an environment where assholes thrive, and their behavior is excused as long as they produce results. But at our studio, we draw a line.
Process matters: how we work and treat each other is as important as the work we produce.
Another way is possible
Our CEO was inspired by experiences in Europe, where she saw that amazing design and work-life balance were not mutually exclusive. Inspiring work can happen without unrelenting and unkind taskmasters.
We want to do the same in our studio against an American economic culture obsessed with the bottom line and frenetic pursuit of hustle. By implementing the “No Asshole” rule, we’re creating a studio that we’re proud of and that we believe is a model for the future of the design industry. This means building the right client relationships and partnerships that support and build things together.
We aren’t alone
Business leaders and entrepreneurs are adopting this rule. There’s even research about assholes. (Don’t Google that phrase out of context.)
The term traces back to Stanford professor Robert Sutton’s 2007 book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. Sutton first introduced the idea in a Harvard Business Review list of “Breakthrough Ideas for 2004.”
In his contribution “More Trouble Than They’re Worth,” he writes:
“When it comes to hiring and promoting people, a simple but revolutionary idea is taking hold in the ranks of management: the ‘no asshole’ rule. Organizations just shouldn’t tolerate the fear and loathing these jerks leave in their wake.”
Is asshole too extreme a term? It might be for your organizational culture. That’s for you to judge from your experience. But the point is that the term matches the intensity of the stakes.
The ramifications of an asshole in your ranks go beyond a hit on your business and morale. The productivity of your team can be extremely damaged by a bona fide bully who consistently acts inappropriately.
Do humans have bad days? Yep.
Does disagreeing with a coworker make you an asshole? No.
In fact, if no one speaks up, challenges the status quo, or conjures up the courage to push an idea in a totally new direction, the business deflates.
But if you can’t smell the difference between having a bad day and a healthy conflict, maybe you’re the asshole.
Reflection is key
The origin of the word reflection comes from “bending back.” Discomfort can be a sign you are growing. Over time, we increase our flexibility and strengthen our muscles to get a clearer view of the cultures we build together.
Strengths-based coach Nick Jerez of (through)collective challenges his clients to identify perception gaps in their culture. This is the difference between an organization’s perception of how they treat people and how they actually treat people. It takes courage and candor to engage with this exercise.
Think about it. Assholes are rewarded in many work cultures but it’s rare for someone to self-identify as an asshole. That’s why personal and team reflection is vital to close the perception gap to cultivate engaging and caring work cultures.
What about the bottom line?
Some might snap back to this call for engaging and caring work cultures with something along the lines of Ok, hippies, welcome to the real world where money talks and bullshit walks…
Well, if your bottom line is the bottom line, what’s the actual cost of an unhealthy work culture?
In the Harvard Business Review, Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron reveal, “While a cut-throat environment and a culture of fear can ensure engagement (and sometimes even excitement) for some time, research suggests that the inevitable stress it creates will likely lead to disengagement over the long term.”
According to Seppälä and Cameron, teams who feel “valued, secure, supported, and respected” are more likely to have high rates of engagement, which is linked to positive business outcomes.
According to Gallup’s meta-analysis of engagement surveys and their impact on work, the results show that “engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees do—across industries, company sizes, and nationalities, and in good economic times and bad.”
Healthy workplace cultures aren’t just the right thing to do for people, they are the right thing to do for profit, too.
Gallup reports that “the behaviors of highly engaged business units result in a 23% difference in profitability.”
Culture change is possible
Implementing a “No Asshole Rule” doesn’t magically result in engaged employees, but it can help curtail behaviors that drive disengagement.
How we do business creates new precedents that ripple throughout industries and cultures. We make the road by walking it.
By advocating for a way of doing business within our day-to-day that prioritizes care, health, and relationships, we are part of a growing movement of rethinking the role of work in our lives and communities.
Maybe one day the “No Asshole” rule won’t be needed. But for now, no assholes, please.