No Jerks Policy

Sep 21, 2022 | Blog Post

Last week we discussed how we keep our promises, which differentiates us from most of the competition. We mentioned how we offer free “discovery” to our prospective clients, and how one of the benefits of this offer is that it gives us an opportunity to evaluate the clients before we agree to work with them. Internally, we call this our “No Jerk Policy” (we actually call it the “No A**hole Policy but this is a PG-rated blog so we’ll censor ourselves).

This policy of ours, put in other words, means that we won’t tolerate working with people who consistently demonstrate selfishness, vindictiveness, lack-of-empathy, or general unpleasantness – no matter what the financial benefit may be. This goes for not only employees and vendors, but also clients. We’d rather have a $20k/month client who shares our values than a $200k/month client who treats us like crap. Why do we do this? Doesn’t it violate our fiduciary obligations?

Actually, no. We have found that in the long term, the “no jerk” policy increases our bottom line even though it may call for some short-term sacrifice. Why is that?

Reason #1 – Employee Mental Health

If a client is a jerk to me or my business partner during the discovery process, odds are they are going to be a bigger jerk to the business analysts, designers, and project managers once the job starts. This is certain to adversely affect our employees’ mental health and job satisfaction in a big way. A bad client will make our employees’ lives miserable, even if we pay them well, even if they like their co-workers, and even if they like everything else about our company. If it gets bad enough for long enough, then it can begin a “cycle of death” which goes like this:

  1. The employee’s misery adds negativity to the workers around them, which adversely affects productivity for the company.
  2. The employee, and perhaps those around them, quit.
  3. The employees who quit start to talk, and word gets out that our company is a bad place to work.
  4. It gets harder to recruit good candidates to replace those we lost, so we have to settle for lower-performing candidates.
  5. Our work product deteriorates.
  6. We can no longer attract top clients, so we have to work with more jerks.
  7. Repeat.

The more this cycle increases, the worse it gets. Absenteeism starts to increase, productivity starts to decrease, medical expenses increase, and ultimately we find ourselves out of business.

Reason #2 – The Power of Partnership

The most important lesson I learned in business school came from Professor Stuart Diamond who taught a popular class on negotiation skills. The first practice negotiation we did was where one side represented a formerly-great-but-out-of-work opera singer, and the other side represented an opera house that was in financial trouble. The goal was to see which side could get the most lucrative deal. In almost every case, the negotiators spent the class bickering over how much the venue would pay the singer. However, in one or two cases, the sides worked together and came up with additional revenue streams like joint recording deals, HBO specials, podcast series, etc. These one or two cases ended up (hypothetically) earning 10x or more what the bickerers would have made.

The lesson here is the power of partnership. Cooperation almost always results in more for everybody than fighting does. We firmly believe in this concept at CodeStringers. We want to deliver far and above what our contract says that we have to– not only because it’s financially beneficial but also because it’s a lot more fun!

On the flip side, however, partnership is impossible when you’re working with jerks. Jerks tend to place more value in being right than being rich.

Reason #3 – Our Mental Health

I’m not sure if they do this anymore, but prospective employers used to always ask candidates, “What is your biggest weakness?”

For me that answer is easy, migraines. I get migraines when I’m overly stressed, when I travel, when I’m exposed to too many flashing lights, and, strangely enough, when I’m forced to spend too much time with people who I don’t like. Therefore, if we violate our company’s “no jerk” policy, I will get migraines far more often, which means I can’t work, which means our company loses productivity.

Not everyone has this direct relationship between mental health and productivity, but I assure you, it’s there somewhere.

Conclusion

It should go without saying that no one likes to work with jerks. However at CodeStringers we go one step further and make it an official policy so that we don’t sacrifice long term viability at the expense of short-term gain.

To be honest, we have made mistakes in the past. We can’t say that we’ve always upheld our policy. There have been cases in which we were “on the fence” about whether a client violated our “no jerk” policy but ended up taking the job anyway. Needless to say, every time we were on the fence, the client turned out to be more of a jerk than we had originally thought, and it came back to haunt us later.

We like to think that we’ve learned from these mistakes and won’t make them again in the future. We encourage you to do the same.

Christian Schraga

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