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The No-Dickhead Policy

​Human beings are complex and irrational animals and, as such, putting a group of us together to work and achieve profitable outcomes is often fraught with difficultly. The hardest part is often trying to achieve a state of high-performance within teams, in order to provide an environment that allows individuals (as a team) to maximise their productivity.

Many articles have been written on theories and ideas on how to achieve this ideal. I’m just going to keep what I’m writing here really basic.

“Hire for attitude, train for skill”, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, “Your culture is your brand”. These quotes all boil down to the fact that the culture and attitude of individuals within organisations is the top priority for a firm wanting high-performing teams.

Peter Drucker’s quote – “Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got” – reminds us that these individuals all have inherent core values, which are often set very firmly and no amount of team-building workshops or leadership courses will alter their views on life, ethics, morality or humanity.

Therefore, the easiest way for companies to ensure they have the best chance of a strong culture is to recruit people whose core values are similar to the core values that are essential to the organisation. And get rid of the existing people whose values don’t (but that’s a whole separate article…).

Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos makes the point that in practice this is difficult to achieve, but says, “There are a lot of people in the world, and the difference between being willing to do the hard work of finding them (the good ones) and not doing so is the distance between mediocrity and greatness”.

Introducing: The No Dickhead Policy (NDP). I’m not going to take any credit for the name – that’s reserved for a certain safety manager ex-colleague and mate, whom may have heard it from Ray McClean, an Australian sports leadership consultant. NDP is a no-bulls**t way of describing how to identify and hire people with the right set of core values.

You can interview a lot of people in your search to create high-performing teams, most of whom will have pretty good resumes and experience. A big part of that distance between mediocrity and greatness is identifying the dickheads and saying no to them.

Here are some things to watch out for:

  1. When the expectation level is just that little bit too high, you could start questioning their motives.

  2. Good interviews with high performers are mostly free flowing, and behavioural questions are answered comprehensively and easily. If you’re struggling to get answers, there may be issues.

  3. Make sure your interview questions are aligned with the values of the firm. Don’t settle for the first answer all the time – probe, probe and probe again. You’ll often get/see tension when these values aren’t aligning.

  4. Experience is important, obviously. Particularly in senior roles. However, don’t let it blind you to the rest of the picture. Dickheads often use experience to cover up failings in other areas.

  5. Most people are nervous in interviews, but often you can spot the genuine ‘I really want this job’ compared to the ‘I hope they don’t work out I’m not that good’ nervousness.

  6. I call this the car-ride test. Imagine yourself going on a car journey with the candidate for X amount of hours (I usually say 5) and identify whether you’d likely have a good time, or want to kick them out of the car 20 mins into the journey. Simple – but pretty effective.

If your company can, organise a group of culture champions, or ‘dickhead police’. These employees are ones whose values are closely aligned with the values of the firm and attract other high performers. Get these people to take part in interviews – even outside their department – to enforce the NDP and support the assessment of whether the candidate will be a good fit for the firm.

Google’s Senior VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock talks in much more detail on this type of hiring process in his book, Work Rules!

Investment in the NDP is a lot cheaper than dealing with dickheads coming into the firm with negative energy, creating a toxic work environment and de-motivating teams. Ask the right questions, do an extra interview, listen to your instincts, get more people involved and do your due diligence. Get it right and you’ll have those high-performing teams so many companies want, but can’t or won’t bridge the gap to greatness for.