No Assholes

After joining a new company, I initially nodded when I heard a colleague refer to the business’s “NA” policy – a reflex reaction borne from the corporate world of acronyms I had just left. The nod turned into furrowed brows when I failed to decipher the acronym.

My colleague saw my confusion.

“No assholes” she explained.

I didn’t have much experience with such a policy, but I was familiar with the company’s community donation policy – a portion of the company’s profits is donated to a local charity or community organisation every year. However, it wasn’t long before I saw the NA policy in action.

A client called us with some potentially lucrative business, however he wanted us to waive our donation policy for his own benefit. Instead of us making a donation out of our profits, he insisted we should be giving him the equivalent benefit. He wouldn’t budge. There was no way he was going to let us make a donation to a community organisation, when we could choose to give that money to him instead.

My colleague was impressive. Charming as anything she suggested that there wasn’t a good match between what the client wanted and what was important to our company. She suggested the client should talk with another company and closed off the call on pleasant terms. Cucumber.

This made a big impression on me. It showed me that the company’s values weren’t just ‘wallpaper’. They were real, and guided our decision-making. It said “the community donation system is a core part of what we do and what we believe in. If you can’t work with that, then we’re not a good match.”

We were also pleased to introduce the client to a competing company – let him be their problem, or maybe they were better matched.

Whether you subscribe to “life is short” or “time is money”, if there’s a clear mismatch in underlying values between parties then the best course of action might be to recognise the mismatch, agree to disagree, and go your separate ways. Otherwise you’re just getting into a relationship with an underlying problem. You’re deliberately signing up to spend time and energy dealing with inevitable issues. Or you’re happy to compromise your values, and deal with those issues for some other benefit.

If you have a set of values on a plaque or on a poster on your wall, I challenge you take a hard look at them and be real with yourself.

How real are your company’s values and how strongly are they embedded in your culture? How well do they reflect what actually happens? How strongly do they guide your strategy and decision-making? Would you be ok if sticking to your values meant turning away some business?

The New Year might be a great time to review what your company stands for, goals, what’s important to you, and describe how you will operate.

Done well, the process of developing a vision, mission and values can be a powerful way to bring your team together and refocused. I’ve seen it literally turn a business around.

By the way, NA sounds like a good policy to me, in business and beyond!

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