Codes of Behaviour

You can’t build a civilised workplace by taking action against one jerk at a time; it takes a reliable set of polices and procedures to battle the problem
Narelle Hess, an Australian organisational psychologist with Challenge Consulting, says many organisations are confused about what constitutes bullying.

Narelle Hess, an Australian organisational psychologist with Challenge Consulting, says many organisations are confused about what constitutes bullying.

In Australia, WorkCover makes clear bullying can happen in any workplace and it is up to companies to take steps to prevent it well before it starts to risk workers’ health and safety. Employers are responsible for managing bullying and must have current policies and procedures to manage and mitigate the risks of bullying in the workplace.

By law companies must make codes of behaviour and policy guidelines known to all staff, and that those codes must be applied consistently, and regularly reviewed. The organisation warns companies in future are likely to find it extremely difficult to defend claims of workplace bullying unless they have not developed and appropriately implemented a workplace bullying policy within their organisation.

Robert Sutton approvingly cites the approach of SuccessFactors, one of the world’s fastest-growing software companies with revenues over $US30 million. One of the essential ingredients of that success, according to CEO and co-founder Lars Dalgaard, was the fact that it employed no jerks.

“All the employees SuccessFactors hires agree in writing to 14 ‘rules of engagement’,” Sutton explains. “Rule 14 starts out, ‘I will be a good person to work with — not territorial, not be a jerk’.

“One of Dalgaard’s founding principles is that ‘our organisation will consist only of people who absolutely love what we do, with a white-hot passion. We will have utmost respect for the individual in a collaborative, egalitarian, and meritocratic environment — no blind copying, no politics, no parochialism, no silos, no games — just being good!’”

Dalgaard is emphatic about applying this rule at SuccessFactors because part of its mission is to help companies focus more on performance and less on politics. Employees aren’t expected to be perfect, but when they lose their cool or belittle colleagues, inadvertently or not, they are expected to repent.

Dalgaard himself is not above the rule — he explained to me that, given the pressures of running a rapidly growing business, he too occasionally ‘blows it’ at meetings. At times, he has apologised to all 400-plus people in his company, not just to the people at the meeting in question, because ‘word about my behaviour would get out’.”

Sutton says executives who are committed to building a civilised workplace don’t just take haphazard action against one jerk at a time; they use a set of integrated work practices to battle the problem.

Page Break

“At the workplaces that enforce the no-jerks rule most vehemently and effectively, an employee’s performance and treatment of others aren’t seen as separate things. Phrases like “talented jerk”, “brilliant bastard”, or “a bully and a superstar” are oxymorons. Jerks are dealt with immediately: they quickly realise (or are told) that they have blown it, apologise, reflect on their nastiness, ask for forgiveness and work to change their ways. Repeat offenders aren’t ignored or forgiven again and again — they change or depart,” he says

And Sutton lists five intertwined practices that are useful for enforcing the no-jerk rule:

  • Make the rule public by what you say and, especially, do
  • Weave the rule into hiring and firing policies
  • Teach people how to fight
  • Apply the rule to customers and clients too
  • Manage the little moments
  • Being a jerk is contagious