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So my buddy Tyler passed this on to me over the weekend, and it stirred a little brain sauce I felt I should share with you. In the piece, Kivi Leroux shares some of the complaints she’s been receiving from some of her NFP friends about patterns of incompetence that they run into at work. Here are some examples:

[…] what I do find a little surprising is how often I will meet a program or policy director, or even an executive director, for the first time, and upon learning what I do for a living, they will say, “Ugh. Our communications director is a complete idiot.”

[…] When I probe a bit further, here are the more specific complaints I hear.

“She knows zero about what we do. She is always asking really stupid questions.”

“She edits the articles I submit for the newsletter, and she dumbs it down so much or cuts it back so far that what we are left with is factually incorrect, and therefore embarrassing.”

“She wants to know about my day, because she says she needs to tweet it. WTF?”

“It’s her job to update the website and write the newsletter. So why is she constantly bugging me to write stuff for her?”

Okay, look…yes, people can be annoying, and yes, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out how to operate in an organization they just joined, especially if some of the staff has taken a dislike to them out of principle. But in ever one of the instances mentioned in the piece, there is also obviously a leadership problem within the organization. Here’s a quick overview:

Poor hiring practices. (Why did they hire this clown?)

An absence of employee development. (How does he still not know how to do his job?)

Lousy internal communications. (Why does she never seem to know what anyone is doing?)

Zero team work or esprit de corps. (Why do those Marketing people have to be so annoying?)

An absence of clearly defined goals. (Okay, I’ve allocated our budget. Now what?)

Not a whole lot of discernible guidance or supervision. (See everything above.)

Did I miss anything?

By the way, here are some of the comments I picked up from sharing the article on Facebook so far:

6/10 times the problem is poor training, leadership, or general communication. Another 2-3/10 can be poor job fits, in which case you should have open discussions with that employee about finding a different niche in your organization, or another job. That misplaced employee might recruit and train their replacement while looking for a new job. Then there is always the 1-2 rotten egg. […]  One of the strongest determinants of employee engagement is leadership. Are you, as a leader, communicating, rather than coercing, coaching rather than criticising, taking the time to set expectations, rather than assuming they should know? – Cherie Turner

Part of the problem is that when someone does their job very well it looks easy. What’s more a lack of understanding of what any job entails means that people can think something is very simple to do in short order. — On the other hand, I’ve also seen people in various job functions who refuse to keep up with the changes in their field. Or, worse, think they are and are just trying to overlay something new on the old ways of doing things. — That said, communication only works if both sides want it to work. Contempt for the other person’s work has a way of shutting down a person’s hearing and understanding of what is being requested of them. – Brenda Young

Yeah, I was thinking before I read the post … Ummm if you’re captain of that boat and your crew are all incompetent ( or if you think they are) what does that make you? – Joseph Allen Gier

So let’s talk about leadership for a second, because incompetent employees, crap internal communications and an absence of clearly defined organizational goals don’t happen when an organization is being properly led.

A note to managers, officers, business owners and corporate executives:

If all of your employees are competent, great. Keep on focusing on ways to translate that into growing market-share, designing the best products in your industry, making your customers rave about you, or whatever other criteria your business uses to define success.

But if some of your employees no longer are competent, then you have two choices: a) Train them properly, or b) replace them with someone who is. That’s it. Those are your only two choices. There is no c) option: look the other way and hope things work out.

As a business owner or manager, part of your job is to make sure that incompetent employees (and managers) don’t become a drain on your resources and overall morale.  It is your responsibility to make sure that everyone on your staff is the best possible person for the job that you can afford. You’re in charge. So if you have people like this on your payroll, what you need to do is basically this: fix your shit.

How to fix your shit in 5 simple steps:

1. Be competent.

I know this seems really basic, but if everyone observed this rule, our economy wouldn’t be in the crapper, unemployment rates wouldn’t be what they are.  So let’s talk about it.

Competence begins and ends with you. If you’re going to be in charge of something, you need to really know your shit.  And if you don’t, you at least have to be 100% committed to getting there as quickly and thoroughly as possible. That requires a “perpetually in beta” mindset. (Great leaders tend to operate in this mode. It is one of the most conspicuous distinctions between business leaders and mere managers, by the way.) There is no getting around this. The alternative is to be an incompetent boss. How do you think that’ll work out?

Every winning organization in history has had at its head a supremely competent leader. Disney, Jobs, Ford, Chanel, Patton, Cousteau, Ferrari, Candler, Alexander, etc.  You don’t get to safely send astronauts to the moon and back by just being okay at math. You don’t get to turn a company you started in your garage to become a Fortune 500 in under 20 years by being kind of clueless about your market or industry. It just doesn’t happen.

Julius Caesar knew his shit. When he took on the conquest of Gaul (and later fought his rival Pompey for control of Rome), good old Jules wasn’t looking to sort of tell his legions to walk north, hang back and look forward to a fat payday. We’re not talking about a guy who sat around and delegated strategy to agencies, intelligence to research firms, and the fighting to cheap foreign labor. There wasn’t a damn thing he didn’t know about soldiering, about campaign logistics, about siege warfare, about politics and geography and morale. The guy lived for one purpose: to be the most capable and accomplished general on the planet. His legacy of success was so great that today, his name is synonymous with “leader.” Czar and Kaiser are variations of his last name. There’s a reason for that. (He eventually overreached and paid for that, but that’s Caesar the emperor, not Caesar the general.)

Every time I run into a manager, director, vice-president, CMO or even CEO who hasn’t bothered to remain informed about and fluent in the developments that have driven his or her field forward in the last 20, 10, 5, even 2 years, all I see is someone who has given up on being competent. I don’t care if the reason for that decision is laziness, being too busy, being distracted, or whatever the excuse happens to be. The end-result is the same: that person no longer has the appropriate set of competencies required to be effective at their jobs. Period. I’m sorry, but if you’re the least knowledgeable person in the room, you aren’t fit to lead. And if you’ve allowed your competencies to fall ten years behind the times, you need to go fix that shit because otherwise, all you are now is a liability to your organization.

Here’s something I have a difficult time understanding: for some bizarre reason, we don’t accept incompetence from brain surgeons, restaurant chefs, military officers, FEMA administrators, football coaches, and first responders, but we give business managers and corporate executives a pass. Why? Because it’s no big deal if a CEO or a CMO doesn’t know his shit? Well… actually, it matters. It matters to the 10,000 people who just got laid off because their boss just invested $150,000,000 in worthless acquisitions and ineffectual media spends. It matters to every employee of Circuit City and Blockbuster, neither of which should have gone belly-up for something as dumb as not being able to adapt to obvious market changes. It matters to all the folks at Microsoft advertising who lost their jobs this year, folks at RIM, who ten years ago thought they owned enterprise mobility, and everyone at Yahoo who is probably wondering if 3 CEOs in 12 months is a sign that they should update their CVs. It also matters to the folks at GM, the Olympic Games, the NFL and hundreds of other organizations who depend on their bosses to eventually (sometime this decade) figure out how to properly leverage Social Media and finally step into the 21st century. (It isn’t complicated, guys. Really. This is what I am talking about.)

As a leader, the success of your organization, whether it is a multinational corporation, a small team of developers or a small clothing retailer, is your responsibility. It’s a lot of pressure, I know. That’s leadership for you. It isn’t all titles, prestige and fat paychecks. Responsibility is worry that you won’t be as good as you hoped you would be. Responsibility is shame when you let your employees down. Responsibility is making sure that your organization comes before your ego, your swag and your golf swing. It means that you have to devote yourself to being the best possible leader that you can be. It demands it. That begins with being competent. Not only competent but ridiculously competent. So competent that if someone were to put you in a room with the world’s top 100 people with the exact same job as yours, you could kick all of their asses with how awesome you are at your job. You should want to be so competent that they all want to be you. If you aren’t that guy, then fix your shit and become that guy. Don’t start tomorrow or next week. Start right now. I shouldn’t even have to tell you this.

2. Surround yourself with competent people. 

We’ve already touched on this, but here are the basics:

Hire the best people possible. If you can’t convince the best people to come work for you, figure out why and then fix your shit.

If you can’t afford to hire top talent, then recruit young talent before it gets expensive. This isn’t difficult. It just takes work. You know… It really is as simple as building a network that you can leverage to identify and approach young talent for you. Be involved enough in your industry (or other industries that might breed the types of folks you want working for you) and key universities that you are constantly aware of either rising stars or kids still studying to become someone you might want to mold into an executive someday. The three rules here are these: Be there. Do your research. Invest early.

Once you’ve recruited your diamonds in the rough, train them. Develop them. Mold them. If they leave after a few years, it’s okay. People leave. So what? I guarantee that if your company becomes known as the place where top talent goes early in their careers before moving on to Apple, Nike, Disney or Ogilvy, that won’t exactly hurt your brand or your HR department. If you really want to keep those junior champions from leaving, just figure out what it is they’re walking away from, and fix. your. shit.

By the way, that training, developing and molding thing, it only happens if done by competent people. If the managers and execs doing the developing are incompetent dumbasses, all you’ll manage to accomplish is turn perfectly promissing young professionals into messes of confusion and frustration. Competence breed competence. Discipline breeds discipline. Incompetent dumbasses breed incompetent dumbasses. (It’s just science.) Shape your organization accordingly.

3. For the love of puppies, start hiring outside of your industry.

Stop hiring the same 500 fucking people. Seriously. Stop it. I know their CV looks awesome, but look… ten years ago, they were director of whatever for competitor A. Seven years ago, they were VP of Business Development for competitor B. Five years ago, they were SVP of communications for competitor C. They’re just going round and round the same circle of crap, and all you are is the next stop. If they ever had great ideas, they’re gone. They’ve been sucked out of them by your competitors already. Now, these hires are only working for you because their last boss wouldn’t give them a raise. Worse yet, they’re only working in your industry because they’re too chicken-shit to go try something else. They’ve stopped being interested in learning anything new. They’re just looking to move up in the world and use you to give their career a 6.3% annual boost. I know these people. I can smell them down the hall the moment I walk into your offices. Stop hiring your competitor’s hand-me-downs. You’re hiring yourself into a cycle of failure and you need to snap out of it.

You know what works? When a designer who spent ten years working on sailboats goes to work for a race bike manufacturer. Or when a product manager from the pet toy industry goes to work for a faucet manufacturer. That designer from Pixar you met at the Pivot Conference or FusionMEx, she’s the missing ingredient in your medical imaging group’s patient UX team. It’s at the intersection of those worlds that cool stuff happens. Where it doesn’t happen, ever, is in a conference room filled with ten guys who have worked at the same jobs for the same kinds of companies for the last 35 years. Think.

So please, cut out the industry inbreeding, and start fixing your shit once and for all by making it a habit to inject your company with fresh DNA.

4. Communicate better.

Your employees’ job isn’t to “do their job.” It’s to do their job so that the company can become… (enter answer here). You have to figure out what that blank is, and you also have to figure out how to communicate that to your employees (and customers, for that matter). Just so we’re clear, I am not talking about mission statements.

Note: nobody cares about your mission statement. The only asshole who ever did was the consultant you overpaid to help you come up with it in the first place, and he sure as shit doesn’t care about it now.

No, what I mean is your purpose. Your raison d’etre. Your actual mission, without the statement. Even if it’s just for this month or this quarter or this year, figure out what it is.

What your purpose it is not: “To establish a global leadership position in the ball-bearing polishing industry.”

What it could be: Become #1 in customer satisfaction for our industry, starting at 10:04 this morning. Consistently be 18 months ahead of our competitors in terms of product innovation. Become the most highly recommended resort destination on the French Riviera. Earn a third Michelin star this year. Make the coolest looking purses in the world. Make the most comfortable toilet seats known to man. Etc. Get it? Start there. So what’s your company about? What do you want it to be? Clarify that simple vision. Strip it down to the core. Then communicate it to everybody you know, starting with your employees.

Once your organization knows what you want (and they also know the role they are to play in getting there,) good things will start to happen. People in your org will become mission-aligned. Silo walls will start to erode bit by bit. People will start to feel like they are working towards a common goal. If someone isn’t up to speed on something, the team will naturally help them get caught up. Good shit will happen.

But if all you do is give your employees individual or departmental goals month after month after month, or worse, expect them to carry on with little more than their job description and an endless stream of vaguely connected projects, all you’ll end up with is an organization that spends all day spinning its hundreds of stupid little self-serving wheels with nothing to show for it. Your best talent will get frustrated and leave, and before long, all you’ll be left with are people who only stick around for the paycheck and the benefits. Oh what wonders will you accomplish with a building-full of those highly-motivated overachievers!

If that last paragraph sounds like a horrible plan, fix your shit and learn to communicate better.

5. Say no to excuses.

Kill excuses. All of them. Ruthlessly exterminate those little fuckers. Why? because if you don’t, failure will spread like a bad case of herpes across your entire organization and infect everyone. Before you know it, rationalizing failure every time you fall short of reaching your goals will become your corporate culture’s very own little brand of crotch rot.

Just for entertainment purposes, here are a few of the excuses I’ve actually heard in meetings these past few years:

“We already tried that. It doesn’t work.” (No, you didn’t. And it does.)

“We’ve already committed to another solution.” (Yeah. It isn’t working. Change it.)

“It’s what we’re already doing.” (No, it most certainly isn’t.)

“That isn’t my job.” (Yes it is.)

“It isn’t in my budget.” (Yes it is.)

“It’s the economy.” (No, it isn’t.)

“Our competitors can afford to spend a lot more money on that than we do.” (So what?)

“That isn’t one of our core competencies.” (Why not?)

“We’ve just hired someone to do that.” (So why isn’t it being done?)

“Actually, we thought it was a huge success.” (Really? Are you serious?)

“We’re not in the video streaming business.” (No? Are you in the “staying in business” business?)

“I don’t know. Our digital agency handles that for us.” (Are you sure they know that?)

“Our IT manager doesn’t want us to do that.” (Oh? Is he your boss?)

“Legal won’t let us.” (Legal won’t let you? What are you, six years old?)

“We can’t compete against Chinese imports on price.” (So compete on something else.)

“There’s just no demand right now.” (Really? See below.)

No demand? Okay. Tell that to luxury car manufacturers. Lexus saw a 99.7% growth in June 2012 over June 2011. Acura saw a 76.5% increase in sales for the same months. Infinity: 66.1%. BMW sold almost 22,000 cars in June 2012 alone, just shy of the number of cars sold by Mercedes-Benz in May. Tell that to Kate Spade, whose direct-to-consumer sales were up 74% last year. Tell that to Fortune’s Top performing companies for 2011.

Here are some growth stats for you, just in case you haven’t kicked your organization’s dependence on excuses in the nads yet:

Oh, but the odds are stacked against you? Unfair competition and all that? Tell me all about how the world is unfair. Please. I’m all ears. Meanwhile, companies with a fraction of your resources are well on their way to kicking your ass and eventually displacing today’s Fortune 500 companies. It might take them five years, maybe even 10 or 20, but they’re not letting that get in their way. They’re figuring it out and pressing on. What are you doing?

Start to think of excuses as tiny little ball bearings that make it easier for you to fail a little more every day. That’s what they are.Excuses give you permission to fail. You didn’t get it done this month? Let’s walk over here to the wheel of excuses and spin it. Let’s see what the reason was this time… (Does it matter?) You can’t seem to retain your top talent? Spin that wheel. Your tablet can’t compete against Apple’s? Spin it. Your TV show was reviewed poorly? Spin it. Your Facebook ads aren’t converting? Spin that shiny wheel. You aren’t happy with where your company, your marketing, your product penetration or your career is going? That really sucks. So what are you going to do about it? Truth is, you have two choices: a) spin the wheel of lame excuses again, or b) figure out what didn’t work and fix your shit.

In closing… fix your shit. No, I’m kidding. (But not really.)

There’s no cosmic force at work here. Whether your company becomes an incompetent dumbass factory (or not) is up to you. Whether your company is drowning in idiotic silos (or not) is up to you. Whether your company falls out of the Fortune 500 club (or not) is up to you. None of this is rocket science.

All you really need to do is make a decision not to settle for mediocre bullshit, and then follow that impulse all the way through: be competent, surround yourself with competent people, look for ideas outside your professional bubble, communicate better and stop accepting excuses. There’s more, but if you follow these five basic little rules, you’ll be a lot better off this time next year and then we can talk about the next five.

So this week, please, instead of perpetuating the same droning routine of meetings, emails, presentations and more meetings that haven’t really gotten you anywhere these last few years, take a step back from the quick-sand of everyday busy-work, and take concrete action to start fixing your shit.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organizationisn’t a social media book. It’s a business management book, and it focuses on social media program strategy, management, measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, what are you waiting for? (Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Every doctrine has to start somewhere. Even this one.

Want to boost your repeat business, get tons of free referrals, acquire bunches of new customers and get lots of positive buzz for free? There’s a pretty simple way to do it that doesn’t have to cost you a whole lot. Can you guess what it is?

Simple: Purge your company of assholes.

In fact, let me share item #1 in my Better Business Doctrine with you real quick. Are you ready? Here we go:

The customer-facing organization with the fewest assholes wins.

That’s it.

A simple example, from the friendly skies.

Does this seem like common sense? Of course it does. And yet here we are, routinely forced to endure a passive-aggressive or plain argumentative jerks who would rather exercise their “authority” than provide customers – even stressed out customers – with pleasant experiences. Why is that? Let me answer that question: Because companies are still hiring assholes.

Let me give you a few personal examples:

1a. The Continental flight I was on a few months ago

Flight Attendant (sternly) to a passenger in the process of turning off their iPad, just not quickly enough: “SIR! I need you to turn that off right now!” (Stares angrily at passenger until the device is turned off, and walks away, visibly annoyed.)

This probably happens to flight crews 20+ times per day. Every time a plane pushes off from the gate and prepares its approach, passengers in the middle of a song, of a paragraph, of a game of Angry Birds or Brick Breaker take an extra 10-30 seconds to “comply” with the “please turn off your electronic devices at this time” announcement on the PA. I get it. It probably gets annoying after a while. But guess what: You’re a flight attendant. Asking people to turn off their electronic toys comes with the job. You don’t have to be an asshole about it. Case in point:

1b: The Delta flight I was on the following day

– Flight Attendant (with a smile, jokingly) to a passenger so absorbed by what he was reading that he missed the “turn off your electronic devices” announcement and kept his Kindle going: “Good book?”

– Passenger, sensing that he was the object of the flight attendant’s attention, looks up from his device: “I’m sorry?”

– Flight Attendant, nonchalantly points at the Kindle: “Good reading?”

– Passenger, smiling back: “Yeah. Very!” (Gets it. Laughs. Starts to look for the “off” button.)

– Flight attendant: “You can turn it back on as soon as we’re on the ground.” (Walks away. Stops. Turns around.) “The book. What is it?”

Passenger answers. Flight attendant repeats the title as if to remember it, nods as if interested, and returns to his station.

The difference between the two isn’t training or pay. It isn’t corporate policy or procedure. It isn’t even company culture. The difference between the two occurrences is this:

One of these flight attendants, at some point during the course of her day, week, month, year or career, decided to let her asshole flag fly. The other one didn’t.

The basic impact of an asshole on your customers

How every asshole on your payroll affects your brand equity and impacts your business on a daily basis.

The impact of just one asshole’s behavior in a customer-facing role doesn’t stop with the one customer they treat poorly. Ten rows of passengers witnessed the exchanges on both flights, and I can guarantee that the ten rows on the Continental flight (30 passengers) were not impressed, while those on the Delta flight surely were. The ramifications of this are simple:

Whatever shot Continental had at influencing these 30 people to develop a preference for flying its friendly skies, for being more loyal, for looking to book future flights with them first, just flew out the window, not because of price, not because of delays, not because the plane was dirty. The price was great. The plane left on time and was impeccable. Continental did everything right except one thing: Someone there allowed an asshole (and probably more than one) to take on a key customer service role. Delta, on the other hand, scored some points.

And just to be fair, I’ve run into my fair of assholes working for Delta too. Few domestic US airlines seem immune to this phenomenon these days, except for perhaps Alaska Air, whose service and hiring practices, to my knowledge are still impeccable.

That said, my experience with Delta flight crews recently has been stellar, and not just because of this little anecdote. (Expect another post about what else happened very soon.) The difference between the two airlines for me was limited to my experience, as it is for all of us. Before the recommendations and the word-of-mouth and the marketing, our own experience shapes our bias.

Every positive experience creates positive associations with a brand, while every negative experience creates a negative association with a brand. More positive than negative = positive bias, preference, even loyalty. Consistent negative experiences (especially those that repeat themselves, like frequent delays, rude employees, apathetic managers, or being talked down to by an unprofessional asshole) = negative bias, preference for your competitors instead of you, and cynicism towards your brand.

The wheels of this mental equation – more emotional than empirical – start turning every time the thought of your brand comes up, and you need to understand it isn’t linear. The way we process the negative and the positive isn’t as balanced as you might think. For whatever reason, until you have grown into a loyal fan of the brand, the equation tends to be heavily weighed towards the negative: What you did right six months ago – or for the last thirty years,- doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you did wrong yesterday or just last week. That’s part 1 of how the mental math of brand experiences work. Part 2 is this: People will easily forgive incidents and accidents: Lost luggage, no available upgrades, long lines at the counter, mechanical problems, etc. Those things are out of your control, and once the anger and frustration subside, they’ll get it. Those negative impressions will evaporate. But one thing customers won’t forgive of any company: Being deliberately treated badly by an asshole.

Just as being an asshole  is a choice, – especially when dealing with a customer – hiring an asshole and keeping them on staff is also a choice. Because of this immutable fact, every company bears its part of responsibility in the hiring and promoting of assholes. Customers instinctively understand this, which is why when they run into one of your company’s assholes, they don’t blame the asshole for treating them poorly, they blame you. They blame the brand. The negative association they take home with them isn’t with that person (whose name and face they will forget inside of a week), but with you. Your assholes are faceless. All customers remember is the context: You. Your company. Your brand. The asshole just goes on being an asshole day after day, happy to have a job that pays him – even rewards him – for being a complete raging asshole all day long.

At the end of their shift, what you have to understand is that assholes in your employ don’t lose customers. You do. You spend your resources bringing them to the cash register, and every asshole on your staff spends all day making sure they never come back.

For this reason if none other, choose and evaluate your employees carefully.

The impact of just one asshole - amplified by social media

The real cost of letting assholes poison your brand from the inside.

If you are in business and have employees, let me be VERY clear about this: You are always only one asshole away from losing your best customer. The more assholes you have on staff, the faster and more often this will happen.

Not only that, but assholes tend to turn off, not only the one customer they happen to be unpleasant to, but everyone within earshot as well.

And today, ladies and gentlemen, “within earshot” isn’t just the ten rows on the plane or the ten people in the store waiting to check out. It is also potentially the hundreds of thousands of Facebook and Twitter users who might get a glimpse of that negative experience and be turned off in turn. Even millions, for that matter. (See previous 2 images, inspired by David Armano’s “Influence Ripples” theory (Edelman), below:)

David Armano's "Influence Ripples" (Edelman)

Let me give this a financial angle for you: Over the course of a year, one asshole on your staff, just one, can invalidate every dime your company has spent on advertising, marketing and PR. That’s the real liability of assholes. For small businesses, an asshole might only cost you $10,000 in wasted marketing, messaging or brand positioning. If you’re a bigger company, the same asshole (or a whole army of them, which is more likely) could cost you hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted marketing and brand management dollars.

That was part 1 of that equation. Part 2 is measured in lost revenue from disappointed customers taking their business elsewhere (your competitors thank you), lost revenue from all of the net new customers delighted customers would have recommended you to (but didn’t, because your assholes chased them away), and so on.

As a result, the higher the proportion of assholes to caring professionals a company has on staff, the more likely it is to have to spend more and more on marketing (with increasingly diminishing returns), while customer retention falls flat and even starts to dip into the red. Assholes aren’t just bad for customer service or your brand’s image. Assholes are bad for business. They are a counter-current to your hopes and dreams. They are the cancer that first weighs you down, then eventually makes your brand begin to fail, then wither, then die.

So let me repeat today’s lesson: The customer-facing organization with the least amount of assholes wins.

Don’t believe me? Ask Zappos. If you have never heard of Zappos, they sell shoes on the internet. That’s it. Well… LOTS of shoes. So many in fact that Amazon bought them for a pretty penny. Not only that, but Amazon decided not to make any major changes to Zappos’ leadership or culture. They left Zappos alone because the model works well just as it is. What’s Zappos’ secret? The customer experiences they create are stellar. Why are they stellar? Because Zappos pretty much has a “no asshole on staff” policy. Their hiring practices focus on this, and for good reason: They know that a happy customer is a loyal customer.

The simple truth (and we all know this) is that happy customers are good for business. In fact, no. They are GREAT for business: The happier a customer is, the more likely it is that they will come back, spend more, spend more often, and recommend you to all their friends. This is what you want. This is what makes businesses insanely successful. This. You don’t have to invent the iPad to be a huge success. Zappos just sells shoes on the internet. Virgin Airlines just flies people from airport to airport. Intercontinental Hotels (disclosure: client) are basically just… hotels. We’re not talking space walks or time travel, here. Your favorite restaurant, your favorite coffee shop, your favorite mechanic, none of them necessarily reinvented the wheel, right? They didn’t win a Nobel prize for revolutionizing their industries. No. What they did was this: They figured out that a happy customer is good for business, so they focused on that. They earned your trust, your respect and your loyalty. Want to know how they did that? By giving you theirs.

Let me let you in on a little secret: An asshole doesn’t think that way. An asshole doesn’t think about happy customers. He doesn’t care about happy customers. An asshole only thinks about himself: His own mood, his own frustrations, his own personal dramas, his own power trips. An asshole doesn’t give anyone their trust, respect or loyalty. Assholes just don’t think that way. And that is precisely the rub: No matter how well you pay them, you can’t make assholes give a shit. And that is bad for business. Very bad.

A fork in the road for every organization:

Do you know one way to make sure your customers are always happy? Only hire people who want your customers to be happy too. People who want to be helpful, who want to fix problems, who take pride in making someone’s day better instead of worse. People who genuinely want to see the company do well. People with pride and self respect and ambition beyond their own bank account or advancement. Do you think this is too hard? It isn’t. Just hire better.

Want to guess how to guarantee that your customers will not be happy? Hire assholes to take care of them. (It works every time.)

That’s your choice: Door A or Door B.

Door A: Hire super nice, helpful people and your business will soar.

Door B: Hire assholes, and your business will forever struggle to stay afloat.

Every time you run into one of your employees (or candidates) and he or she acts like an asshole, I want you to think about that. I want you to think about how much harder you want to have to work to make your business successful once they start pissing off every customer and client they come in contact with.

Taking a step back so you can see your entire business now, how many assholes do you really want on your payroll, and how many customers do you want to put them in front of? Pull out a piece of paper and write down a number. Do it. Write it down. How many assholes do you want on your payroll?

Next to that number, write down how many assholes you have on your payroll now. Go through your mental org chart, and start counting them in your head. When you’re done, write down how many assholes you know are in your company right now. If that number is higher than the first number you wrote down, you have some cleaning up to do.

In closing, let me leave you with the top 5 ways to make sure that your company starts becoming asshole-proof.

Top 5 ways of asshole-proofing your company:

1. Don’t hire assholes. They are bad for business, and they breed inside organizations like weeds.

2. Don’t promote assholes. The only thing worse than an asshole is an asshole with authority (including the authority to hire and promote assholes when you aren’t paying attention).

3. Give your current assholes the “opportunity” to go work for your fiercest competitor. Do this immediately. Make sure the door doesn’t hit them in the ass on their way out.

4. Once removed, replace your former assholes with nice, smart friendly people. (They’re out there and they want to work for you, but your assholes probably already turned them down. Go find them and invite them back.)

5. Reward all of your employees for NOT being assholes.

That just about takes care of it for today. Any questions?

Inspired (in a good way) by conversations with Julien Smith, Geoff Livingston, Keith BurtisChris Brogan, Kristi Colvin, Tyler Durden, Jeffrey Jacobs, Peter Shankman, among others.

*          *          *

And in case you haven’t picked one up yet (or your favorite client seems to be having trouble figuring out how to bring social media into their organization), you can pick up a fresh copy of Social Media ROI at fine book stores everywhere. If you have sworn off paper, you can also download it for iPad, Kindle, Nook or other e-formats at www.smroi.net.

Tip: Leave it sitting conspicuously on your desk when your boss does his rounds. It seems to be a good conversation starter.

(Click here for details, or to sample a free chapter.)

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Lance Armstrong, by Olivier Blanchard - 2005

Lance Armstrong, by Olivier Blanchard - 2005

Sometime this year, chances are that you will get a chance to hire one or several individuals to come join your team. On his blog some time ago, Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art Of Recruiting” post gave us some pretty crucial pointers that are worth printing and pinning to our respective office walls.

The first of these is this:

“The art of recruiting is the purest form of evangelism because you’re not simply asking people to try your product, buy your product, or partner with you. Instead, you are asking them to bet their lives on your organization.”

Bingo.

But it goes well beyond that. Some companies hire for skills or talent. Others, on the other hand, hire for vision and attitude. The difference is this: Companies that hire for skills and talent tend to attract relatively talented, ambitious folks who do a terrific job… for a while. Until they get bored. Until their work grows stale. Until they start looking for greener pastures. They do great work, and then they leave. The process gets repeated. The process gets repeated. The process gets repeated. Other than adding neat pages to their employers’ portfolios (and their own), nothing much happens.

Companies that hire for vision and attitude, however, kick ass. They always do. The people they hire are agents of change. They’re evangelists. They’re contextual commandos. They’re dreamers and groundbreakers. They’re risk takers. They take the companies they work for further than they were when they first landed there. They attract more people like them and build cultures around their companies.

A good friend of mine, Randy McDougald, hires for vision and attitude, and the results are unbelievable. His business is booming. His customer base is growing. His customers are actually creating a community – a culture – even, around his stores.

Resumes are a good first step. Skills are a nice foundation… But attitude, passion and enthusiasm are the traits that Randy considers when hiring new folks. Believe me, I know every one of his employees, and I can tell you this: I would hire them all in a heartbeat.

Okay, okay, we’ll come back to Randy’s golden touch later this week. Right now, here are Guy’s ten bits of advice when it comes to hiring your next team member:

1. Hire better than yourself.
2. Hire infected people.
3. Ignore the irrelevant.
4. Double check your intuition.
5. Check independent references.
6. Apply the Shopping Center Test.
7. Use all your weapons.
8. Sell all the decision makers.
9. Wait to compensate.
10. Don’t assume you’re done.

(You can check out the full version here.)

What Guy hints at but doesn’t get into is the fact that sometimes, you’ll run into enigmas. Multi-talented folks who don’t quite fit any of the profiles that you’re used to running into, like accountants, copywriters, account executives, product managers or media Planners. Sometimes, you meet people who transcend traditional professional roles. People whose impact on their industry or communities could be felt for years. Decades, even. Some of us would call them game-changers, but I guess “change agent” is a little more subtle. David Armano sometimes calls them “T-shaped” and “sun-shaped” people and I kind of like that.

Only when you run into them, they still haven’t had a chance to break out their superpowers, but they’re just about to. All they need is that little extra push. That little extra help and encouragement. Just a sprinkle of faith on your part.

Among the brightest stars in this group are people like Peter Drucker, Lance Armstrong, Sir Richard Branson and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Mahatma Gandhi. Steve Jobs. The list is long. To a lesser extent, folks like John Winsor, John Moore, Michele Miller, David Wolfe, Kevin Farnham, Valeria Maltoni, Loic Lemeur and William Gordon also belong on the much longer list of kids who didn’t quite fit the mold and grew up to re-invent (or expand the boundaries of) their respective industries and communities.

Consider that they were all kids once. They all applied for that first job. I’d be willing to bet that a great deal of people on that list were turned down by well-meaning managers more concerned with hiring what they knew and understood than taking a chance on something that didn’t quite fit between the lines.

Shame on them.

Why do you think so many of them end up branching off on their own? It isn’t necessarily because they want to spend years working their butts off to be able to say “hey, I did it my way!” No. It’s because they didn’t have a choice. It’s because the people who could have chosen to take a chance on them didn’t.

You would be amazed at how many companies that sell “different” don’t actually have the huevos to actually practice what they preach.

Trust me, there’s nothing more tragic than to see passionate, talented, groundbreaking kids get turned away again and again and again by hiring managers because they didn’t quit match the position’s profile.

“We’re looking for someone with more experience.”

“We’re looking for someone who’s worked in this specific industry.”

“We’re looking for a carbon-copy of the last guy who sat in that chair… only in a different flavor. Because we like to talk about being different and better and more innovative, but we don’t really have the courage to put our money where our mouth is.”

If your company is guilty of this, it’s time to stop. Right now.

One, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by turning away what could very possibly be the most crucial strategic investment your company will ever make.

Two, unfortunately for you, maybe your fiercest competitor won’t be as blind as you were.

Three, you’re breaking spirits. You probably don’t realize it, but you are, and for that, there is no excuse. None. And the karma on this isn’t something you ever want to even ponder.

So here’s a tip: When a dreamer – one of the crazy ones – comes rapping at your door, don’t turn them away because they don’t quite fit the profile that you had in mind. Skilled is necessary. Different is good. Prolific is great. Passionate is even better. Enthusiastic is magical. Unique is genius.

Always consider the pros and cons carefully, but don’t be afraid to take a chance on the occasional wild card.

If you’re willing to ask your new hires to bet their lives on your organization, shouldn’t you also be willing to bet your organization on them?

This isn’t a rhetorical question.

While you ponder the finer points of your answer, here’s one last thing to think about: Exceptional doesn’t mean “really good”. Exceptional means “unique”. It means “the exception to the norm.”

It means different.

Don’t lose sight of that. That tiny little bit of insight could make the difference between your company becoming everything it could be, or just being… well, what it is.

Remember that your company’s mojo doesn’t come from your products or your logo or your tagline. It comes from your people. So if you haven’t done so already, get out of the skills market mentality and hire like your life depends on it. Hire the best that money can buy. Hire the exceptional. Hire the extraordinary. Invest in your own future.
You owe it to yourselves and to your customers. And in this economy, the difference between survival and failure may very well depend on rethinking what types of people you want working for you.
Related reads: H.R. 2.0 and Innovation Starts Here

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