The Benefits Of A ‘No Jerks’ Policy In Retail

The Benefits Of A ‘No Jerks’ Policy In Retail

Recently, on this blog I wrote a couple of articles that seem to have resonated with my amazing retail network:

Lots of shares [thank you for sharing!], lots of “Likes” [which I am extremely grateful for – thank you!], and lots of very interesting comments and perspectives from readers on various group postings [I love reading comments and am always so appreciative when people take the time to share their thoughts.]. Clearly these topics are important to retail so I thought I would go in search of how various companies/people take a stand on how to eliminate the opportunity of inviting toxic coworkers into your organization. Here’s what I found:

Since most of us [if not all of us] have worked with someone who was objectively – just horrible, I believe that we need to be ruthlessly passionate about making sure that we are conducting business with and working with people who are honorable, honest, kind, and decent. We all deserve to have colleagues and coworkers who we trust, who we respect, who we can count on – and they deserve the same from us.

Define: Jerk

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To start the process to avoid bringing these people into our organization – we have to understand exactly what a “jerk” is: As noted on Working; Robert Sutton, Stanford University Management Science and Engineering Professor, who published The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t, “A jerk is defined as someone who oppresses, humiliates, de-energizes or belittles a subordinate or a colleague. He distinguishes between “temporary jerk,” those with the potential to act like jerks, and the “certified jerks” who are routinely nasty and pose the greatest threat to a company’s culture. Their dirty tactics include: personal insults, invading one’s personal space, uninvited personal contact, threats and intimidation (verbal and non-verbal), sarcastic jokes and teasing, public humiliation, rude interruptions, dirty looks, treating people like they are invisible, and two faced attacks.”

According to Merriam Webster this is what a jerk looks like:

  • a :  an annoyingly stupid or foolish person
  • b :  an unlikable person; especially :  one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded

Six Ways To Deal With Jerks

  1. Determine if this situation builds customer value or reflects cowardly leadership?
  2. Look in the mirror. Who do you need to become to deal with the jerk(s)?
  3. Invite the elephant to dance. Include the team in decisions concerning talented jerks. Talk over the situation openly. Craft a path forward together. [Again, everyone already knows and has an opinion – and possibly a solution]
  4. Protect and nurture a genius jerks if their unique value is worth the hassle.
    • Do others readily acknowledge their unique value?
    • Can you put them on teams that admire them?
    • Can you send them to the basement to be geniuses on their own?
  5. Help valuable jerks who aspire to improve.
    • Are they excuse-makers?
    • Do they blame others?
    • Have you seen improvement in the past?
  6. Remove incompetent jerks. Ask this question. Knowing what you know today, would you hire this person? [Source: Leadership Freak]

In our current labor/jobs market in the retail industry, where the most talented people can determine not only the success of, but the life and death of retail organizations, a positive workplace culture with maximized employee engagement is critical to performance. And the presence of jerks in a company can be a powerful negative force, one that executive and senior managers cannot ignore. Conversely, in organizations that embrace and model a culture that is ‘anti-jerk’, we are frequently able to identify the benefits of such a standard, and it becomes part of our brand promise to our employees and to our customers.

As SPM Communications noted in a blog post, “Another Reason To Love Our No Jerks Policy”:

At SPM we pride ourselves on our “No Jerks” policy – meaning we don’t hire jerks and we don’t do business with jerks. And a “jerk” can mean a variety of things: a meanie, a disinterested or lazy teammate, a cad and an opportunistic business partner. “No jerks” is always a good idea — I can’t think of a single scenario when it would be better to have a jerk on-site rather than a non-jerk, especially in the relationship-centered environment of public relations.

But non-jerks are particularly essential in a crisis. When there aren’t jerks, a team (meaning both client-side and agency) can work together in a respectful and collaborative manner to solve problems. When all teammates are valued and understand the value of others there is more springing into action and less foot-dragging; more trust and less fear; better decisions and less second-guessing And this proactive approach results in satisfied clients, happy PR professionals and ultimately, better outcomes for all.

How To Spot A Jerky Candidate

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  • The person took the job primarily for the paycheck. This becomes a problem when the new hire discovers the job isn’t as good as easy as hoped and approaches the business with a “they owe me” attitude.
  • Job roles and expectations weren’t clarified or transparent up front and the actual role turned out to be different than expected.
  • The new hire and the hiring manager don’t get along.
  • The person has a big ego and are absolute “Me Monsters”  – Avoid these if you can but sometimes they bring a lot to the table. In this case I would absolutely recommend using as assessment tool to verify behaviors that could clarify their personality.
  • The candidate hasn’t coached, trained or developed other people including peers and support staff because everyone is ‘too dumb, too lazy, too useless’ – according to them. True jerks think this way [and they also have the ego that doesn’t see the issue in sharing these kooky thoughts, so knowing this is very revealing].
  • The person’s work style doesn’t match the pace of the organization or the resources available. For example – retail group leadership that enters into a new business and they desperately try to replicate their last culture/team dynamic without consideration of the current team or workplace culture…even if it’s not broken.
  • The person who is inflexible and staunchly opposes change because they’ve “always been done it this way”.
  • The micro-manager (need I say more?!).
  • The person hasn’t collaborated in the past with the types of people he/she needs to collaborate with in the current job and doesn’t see their business partner as peers but subordinates. [Source: Lou Adler]

Digging into a candidate’s major accomplishments by asking vital questions, you’ll be able to determine all of the above. Truly great questions do double duty  – while avoiding hiring jerks is important, the same questioning pattern can be used to identify exceptional candidates.

Great Questions To Weed Out The Jerks

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  1. What’s your personal mission? This is an audacious question right out of the gate, but it’s important not only to set the tone, but also to find common ground between the organization’s purpose and someone’s personal mission. Our work requires endurance and resilience, the kind that is best fueled by purpose and meaning rather than a paycheck. Once I started I started asking questions around personal mission statement and questions around the candidate’s core business values in the video interview stages – I was able to find the people who understand the importance of an alignment between values and workplace culture [especially if theirs match ours]. It absolutely helps weed out the “me monsters” [aka: jerks] and finds people who are committed to a culture of “we”. When I send the candidates our ‘Candidate Kit’ for the in-person interview, the one item I ask them to prepare and send me is an email about two values in our business that resonate most with them and why. This is such a critical, but super simple, exercise to find people who have passion, who are aligned with our principles, and shows their communication style. We also utilize assessments to uncover any hidden behavior inclinations that could potentially counter their perceived potential fit.
  2. What’s a simple thing you’ve taught a team recently? I ask this question and assess the candidate answer in our recorded video interview process and then follow up in person and dig a little deeper. Retail candidates tend to be overworked and unhappy with their current role. This is a positive question and one that will give you an idea as to their ability to communicate and develop talent through communication. As retail leaders we are committed to teach simple tools, habits, and processes that make work more efficient and effective. We need know if our future talent, filling critical roles, can take on complicated problems and offer up simple and realistic solutions.
  3. What questions do you have for me? Great retailers grant a lot of autonomy to and empower their teams, and it’s important to find folks who ask salient questions about our business and are unafraid to voice their curiosity.

After asking these types of questions and having a small exercise that is directly related to the business I have never walked out of an interview questioning how to proceed with a potential candidate.

Just as importantly, when you’re interviewing someone you are establishing the culture and selling the company and the role, make sure that you’re not being a jerk—asking questions like “who would you invite to a dinner party” or brainteasers to determine “fit”. Aside from being weird, this style of interviewing is a complete waste of time. And that’s according to Google who “revolutionized” interviewing talent. After reviewing their hiring process, they found that how a candidate performed in these interviews had zero correlation to how that person performed on the job.

Include Your “No-Jerks” Statement In Your Brand Value

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Take a cue from the amazing Canadian creative agency, flipside – a company committed to having people make brilliant, beautiful, bold, and ballsy things happen daily:

WE STARTED THIS BUSINESS IN 2006 WITH ONE FIRM CONVICTION: ELEVATE COMPANIES WITH HEART. So we drew a line in the sand. Actually, we drew it in cement. We only do work for companies that we truly believe are run by nice people, that are doing good things in the world, in our community, and in their offices, and that are exceedingly kind and honest in their business dealings. As a result, we have the distinct pleasure of using our talents for good not evil every day. Which is pretty cool. Working with nice people helps us continue our quest to be nicer too. We’re a B Corporation. We give back like it’s a religion. We never hire jerks. And we always welcome pop-bys – because meeting strangers is fun and nobody pops by any more. Bring juice.

Putting your commitment in writing to only work with people who make your brand and your team better will be a huge turn-off and deterrent for those who have hidden agendas, questionable integrity, unhealthy thinking patterns, excessive confusion, procrastination, hopelessly low goals. In retail, though we certainly cannot control the quality of our customer, we can commit to being a best place to work for our team members, consistently – and this is a great place to start.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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4 thoughts on “The Benefits Of A ‘No Jerks’ Policy In Retail

  1. At Axcelora we have a Pollyanna policy. That is, we are only going to deal with nice people. Our Partners, Clients and Retailers/Restaurants must be nice. If they are not nice they will no longer be in our organization. Simple as that.

    Because we spend our days introducing clients to our friends in the restaurant and retail communities it is part of our business plan to only deal with nice people. You would never want to introduce a jerk to your friends.

    So far it has worked well for us.

  2. I like your article and find myself in agreement with most of your statements. With 25+ years as a senior retail executive I have experienced the active damage jerks can bring to an organization. The culture of any retail company is owned by the management. Most associates want to perform at a high level and they often openly seek guidance and approval to ensure they are on the correct path to building success blocks that become part of a strong wall of accomplishment. Management owns the masons in charge of building this wall a shadow of the leader either supports building strong blocks and able masonry or they do not. In building a solid strong straight wall the architects must ensure there are good plans well communicated and directed throughout their organization. One weak block that is attempting to be solid is not a serious problem if the masons are teachers, trainers and lead through service. Weak blocks become competent in an open organization like this. If the organization allows the long term distraction of weak ,corrosive management that does not provide complete and honest, timely feedback you have the potential of developing an organization that becomes jerk tolerant first and can become jerk driven and erosive to building the wall of performance which ultimately is the beginning to building a moat of competitive insulation that can drive the entire organizations productivity and build a positive environment that encourages excellence and empowerment. Neither of these attributes can be achieved in an organization that becomes jerk driven. If you have a “Jerk Problem ” management needs to tune in and perhaps do a self assessment.

    Good article and good luck to you.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Bob and I totally agree with you. One of the reasons I covered this topic is because so many retail organization cross their fingers and hope the toxic employees fix themselves or go away and it never works like that. You will lose lots of great people before the terrible one’s go away…to your point they become a “long term distraction” for the business, productivity, retention, customer experience, and overall growth. Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

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